How the DeLorean Works


John DeLorean, founder of the DeLorean company, poses in a DMC-12. See more pictures of exotic cars.
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The year was 1985. Then it was 1955. Then it was 1985 again. "Back to the Future" took moviegoers on a wild and entertaining trip through time. Michael J. Fox might have had his name at the top of the marquee, but for many the real star of the film was his time machine -- a DeLorean DMC-12.

The car was undeniably exotic with its stainless-steel panels and upward-swinging doors. It was also unfamiliar to many "Back to the Future" fans, despite the fact that DeLoreans had been on the market since 1981. Then again, the company had gone bankrupt in 1982, reportedly after making fewer than 10,000 cars, so they were pretty rare.

The DeLorean DMC-12 might have had only a brief production life, but its legacy has endured. Fans of the "Back to the Future" films sought out unsold DeLoreans in every corner of the automobile world. The manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) for the DMC-12 was $25,000, but for years, dealers were selling them at a loss just to get rid of them. Collectors today might pay thousands more to live out the fantasy of triggering the flux capacitor once they hit 88 miles per hour.

In this­ article, we'll look at the DeLorean's features and specifications and how a Texas-based company plans to produce DMC-12s more than 20 years after the original company folded.

In the next section, we'll look at the DeLorean's features.

DeLorean Features

Back to the Future made the DeLorean famous, but flux capacitors are not included in your average DMC-12.
Back to the Future made the DeLorean famous, but flux capacitors are not included in your average DMC-12.
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

The two features on the DeLorean that immediately stand out are the brushed stainless-steel panels that cover the body of the car and its gull-wing doors. The DeLorean's body is a fiberglass construction -- the steel panels are attached with powerful adhesive to the body. Since all DeLoreans have these stainless-steel panels, they all look alike. DeLorean offered a few options that allowed customers to make some personalization possible, but paint jobs were not on the list. Nevertheless, some early DeLorean owners took it upon themselves to have their car painted -- a difficult task considering the stainless steel.

The famous DeLorean gull wing doors
The famous DeLorean gull wing doors
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

It's the doors that really capture people's attention. The DeLorean's gull-wing doors open upward rather than outward. When fully extended, the doors look like the wings of a gliding bird -- thus the name. While the doors feature a gas strut attachment, this is not what opens the doors. In fact, the gas strut, which looks like a pneumatic pump, is meant to slow down the door's ascent so that it won't bounce at the end of its extension.

The mechanism that actually pushes the door open is a torsion bar. Made by Grumman Aerospace, these twisted stainless-steel bars act like a spring. DeLorean attached each door's axis to a torsion bar, which is designed so that when the door is closed, the torsion bar is in a tensed condition. Unlatching the door allows the torsion bar to move from a stressed position to a relaxed one, opening the door in the process.

Original DeLoreans have a fuel-injected V-6 engine produced by Peugeot-Renault-Volvo. The estimated horsepower for this engine is about 130 hp. The engine sits in the rear of the vehicle, making the back significantly heavier than the front. Some drivers feel this made the car more difficult to drive, calling it "tail-happy." Despite its sports car status, critics panned the car's performance -- it could accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 10.5 seconds, significantly slower than other sports cars on the market.

The DeLorean's gas mileage is a matter of conjecture, though through various reports it seems that 18 to 20 miles per gallon (mpg, or 29 to 32 kilometers per liter) is a fair estimate. The DeLorean company claimed the cars could top 130 mph (209 kilometers per hour), though "Road & Track" magazine claimed they could only get the car up to 105 mph (196 kilometers per hour). It seems that in almost every respect -- affordability, speed and acceleration in particular -- the DeLorean came up short of its competitors.

In the next section, we'll look at how some passionate film fans have made DeLorean restoration a viable industry, and how a Texas-based company is bringing production back online.

DeLorean Motor Company

The DeLorean manufacturing plant in Northern Ireland
The DeLorean manufacturing plant in Northern Ireland
Bill Pierce/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Out of the 9,000 or so cars that made it off the production line, DeLorean enthus­iasts estimate 7,000 are still on the road -- the others are piles of scrap or were used to salvage parts for other cars. Many DeLorean owners think of their car as a collectible more than as a vehicle. They might take it out for a special event or for a DeLorean owners' gathering, but most resist the urge to use it as their daily vehicle.

It can be a challenge to maintain a car when it's been more than 20 years since anyone made parts for it. Enter the new DeLorean Motor Company (DMC). Based out of Texas, the DMC specializes in repair and restoration projects with DeLoreans. They also sell pre-owned DeLoreans and recently entered into the world of DeLorean production from the ground up.

You can find DeLoreans sold by p­rivate owners for as little as $6,500, but if you want one that has been extensively restored it'll cost you significantly more than that. As of this writing, the DeLorean Motor Company prices its feature car at $45,000. Of course, it's a 26-year-old car with only 1,050 miles on it, so it's a rare find.

The restoration process is thorough and extensive. Each restoration job is priced according to the number of parts and hours of labor required to do the job. DMC has an enormous inventory of original DeLorean parts, parts made by the original suppliers still in business and new reproduction parts (new parts based off the design of original parts).

If you don't have a car to restore and you don't want to buy a used vehicle, you can now purchase your very own new DeLorean made from a combination of original and reproduced parts. The base price for a new DeLorean is $57,500. If you get one with the works -- maxing out your options and forgetting about the price tag -- it'll cost you nearly $72,500. But really, who can put a price on a dream?

The DeLorean Motor Company plans to start making between 20 and 30 new cars every year starting in 2008. Once the news reached the media, the press and the public flooded DMC with phone calls. As the story spread, more people called in to ask about new DeLoreans -- one DMC official says that if they were taking preorders the entire 2008 production would be sold already.

There's a small but strong DeLorean community in the United States. The DeLorean Motor Company hosts small gatherings for DeLorean owners, offering them the chance to talk about maintenance and discuss repairs and restoration techniques with experts. Despite the shortcomings of the car and the brief but chaotic life of the company that spawned it, it looks like the DeLorean is making a comeback.

To learn more about DeLoreans and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • "DeLorean DMC." HistoMobile. http://www.histomobile.com/histomob/internet/92/histo02.htm
  • "DMC DeLorean Motor Company." http://www.home.no/delorean/dmcinc.htm
  • Sterlicchi, John. "Back to the present for DeLorean." Guardian Unlimited. August 30, 2007. http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,,2159150,00.html
  • The DeLorean Motor Company http://www.delorean.com/
  • United States Patent Number 4,378,658. "Mounting for a vehicle door."
  • "Universal Studios' 'Back to the Future' ride heads into the past." Associated Press. September 3, 2007.