The DeLorean DMC-12 is a sports car originally manufactured in Dunmurry, a suburb of south west Belfast, Northern Ireland by John DeLorean‘s DeLorean Motor Company for the American market in 1981-82. Most commonly known as the DeLorean, it was the only model produced by the company which would go into liquidation as the US car market went through its largest slump since the 1930s. The DMC-12 features gull-wing doors with a fiberglass “underbody”, to which non-structural brushed stainless steel panels are affixed. A modified version of the car became iconic for its appearance as a time machine in the Back to the Future film franchise.
The first prototype appeared in March 1976, and production officially began in 1981 (with the first DMC-12 rolling off the production line on January 21). During its production, several features of the car were changed, such as the bonnet (hood) style, wheels and interior. Approximately 9,000 DMC-12s were made before production halted in late 1982. Today, about 6,500 DeLorean Motor cars are believed to still exist.
Texas entrepreneur Stephen Wynne started a separate company in 1995 using the “DeLorean Motor Company” name and shortly thereafter acquired the trademark on the stylized “DMC” logo as well as the remaining parts inventory of the original DeLorean Motor Company. The company, at its suburban Humble, Texas location, completes newly assembled cars from new original stock (NOS) parts, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and reproduction parts on a “made to order” basis using existing Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plates.
In October 1976, the first prototype DeLorean DMC-12 was completed by William T. Collins, chief engineer and designer (formerly chief engineer at Pontiac). Originally, the car was intended to have a Citroen/NSU Comotor Wankel rotary engine, mounted amid-ship. The engine selection was reconsidered when Comotor production ended, and the favored engine became Ford’s “Cologne V6.” Eventually the French/Swedish PRV (Peugeot–Renault–Volvo) fuel injected V6, was selected. Also the engine location moved from the mid-engined location in the prototype to a rear-engined installation in the production car. The chassis was initially planned to be produced from a new and untested manufacturing technology known as Elastic Reservoir Moulding (ERM), which would lighten the car while presumably lowering its production costs. This new technology, for which DeLorean had purchased patent rights, was eventually found to be unsuitable.
These and other changes to the original concept led to considerable schedule pressures. The entire car was deemed to require almost complete re-engineering, which was turned over to engineer Colin Chapman, founder and owner of Lotus. Chapman replaced most of the unproven material and manufacturing techniques with those then employed by Lotus. The backbone chassis is very similar to that of the Lotus Esprit. The original Giorgetto Giugiaro body design was left mostly intact, as were the distinctive stainless steel outer skin panels and gull-wing doors.
In an interview with James Espey of the new incarnation of the DeLorean Motor Company of Texas, a drawing surfaced showing that the car was potentially to be called Z Tavio. John DeLorean’s middle name and his son’s first name were both Zachary while Tavio was his father’s name and his son’s middle name. Due to only sporadic documentation, there is little more that is currently known about the Z Tavio name and why it was ultimately rejected in favor of the DMC-12.
DeLorean required $175 million to develop and build the motor company. Convincing Hollywood celebrities such as Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr to invest in the firm, DeLorean eventually built the DMC-12 in a factory in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland, a neighborhood a few miles from Belfast city centre.
The company had originally intended to build the factory in Puerto Rico but changed their plans when the Northern Ireland Development Agency offered £100 million towards it, despite an assessment by consultants hired by the NIDA that the business had only a 1-in-10 chance of success.
Construction on the factory began in October 1978, and although production of the DMC-12 was scheduled to start in 1979, engineering problems and budget overruns delayed production until early 1981.
By that time, the unemployment rate was high in Northern Ireland and local residents lined up to apply for jobs at the factory. The workers were largely inexperienced, but were paid premium wages and supplied with the best equipment available. Most quality issues were solved by 1982 and the cars were sold from dealers with a 12 month, 12,000-mile (19,300 km) warranty and an available five-year, 50,000-mile (80,000 km) service contract.
The DeLorean Motor Company went bankrupt in late 1982 following John DeLorean‘s arrest in October of that year on drug trafficking charges. He was later found not guilty, but it was too late for the DMC-12 to remain in production. Approximately 100 partially assembled DMCs on the production line were completed by Consolidated International (now known as Big Lots). The remaining parts from the factory stock, the parts from the US Warranty Parts Center, as well as parts from the original suppliers that had not yet been delivered to the factory were all shipped to Columbus, Ohio in 1983–1984. A company called KAPAC sold these parts to retail and wholesale customers via mail order. In 1997, DeLorean Motor Company of Texas acquired this inventory. There has also been a long-standing rumor that the body stamping dies were dumped into the ocean to prevent later manufacture. More recently, evidence emerged that the dies were used as anchors for nets at a fish farm in Ards Bay, Connemara.
About 9,200 DMC-12s were produced between January 1981 and December 1982. Almost a fifth of these were produced in October 1981. About one thousand 1982 models were produced between February and May 1982, and all of these cars had the VINs changed after purchase by Consolidated to make them appear as 1983 models. There are the 15XXX, 16XXX, and 17XXX VINs which were originally 10XXX, 11XXX, and 12XXX VINs. Only twelve 12XXXX VIN cars still exist. These are the Wooler-Hodec right-hand drive cars (see below)
The DMC-12 features a number of unusual construction details, including gull-wing doors, unpainted stainless-steel body panels, and a rear-mounted engine.
The body design of the DMC-12 was a product of Giorgetto Giugiaro of Ital Design and is panelled in brushed SS304 stainless steel. Except for three cars plated in 24-karat gold, all DMC-12s left the factory uncovered by paint or clearcoat. Painted DeLoreans do exist, although these were all painted after the cars were purchased from the factory. Several hundred DMCs were produced without stainless panels, for training workers, and are referred to as “black cars” or “mules”, in reference to their black fiberglass panels instead of stainless, though these were never marketed. Small scratches in the stainless steel body panels can be removed with a non-metallic scouring pad (since metal pads can leave iron particles embedded in the stainless steel which can give the appearance of the stainless “rusting”), or even sandpaper. The stainless steel panels are fixed to a glass-reinforced plastic (GRP, fiberglass) monocoque underbody. The underbody is affixed to a double-Y frame chassis, derived from the Lotus Esprit platform.
The unpainted stainless body creates challenges during restoration of the cars. In traditional automotive body repair, the panel is repaired to be as original (“straight”) as possible and imperfections are sculpted back to form with body filler like Bondo or lead (body solder). This poses no problem (aside from originality) with most cars, as the filler will be hidden by the car’s paint (for example, most new cars have filler hiding the seam where the roof meets the quarter panel). With an unpainted stainless body, the stainless steel must be reworked to exactly the original shape, contour and grain—which is a tremendously difficult job on regular steel (a dented or bent panel is stretched and a shrinking hammer or other techniques must be used to unstretch the metal) and even more difficult with stainless due to its tendency to work-harden. Furthermore, it is exceedingly difficult to paint stainless steel due to difficulties with paint adhesion. DeLorean envisioned that damaged panels would simply be replaced rather than repaired; each DeLorean service center today has at least one experienced body repair person on staff, and there are decades worth of new stainless panels still available in most instances.
Another novel feature of the DMC-12 is its gull-wing doors. The common problem of supporting the weight of gull-wing doors was solved by other manufacturers with lightweight doors in the Mercedes-Benz 300SL and a hydraulic pump in the Bricklin SV-1, although these designs had structural or convenience disadvantages. The DMC-12 features heavy doors supported by cryogenically preset torsion bars and gas-charged struts. These torsion bars were developed by Grumman Aerospace (and built by Unbrako in the UK, a division of SPS Technologies of Jenkintown, PA) to withstand the stresses of supporting the doors. A popular misconception of the DMC-12’s gull-wing doors is that they require far more side clearance to open relative to ordinary side-hinge doors, such as when parked in a parking lot. In fact, the opposite is true: the DMC-12 requires far less clearance than side-hinge doors, and this can be physically demonstrated. This misconception of side clearance may stem from a misunderstood location of the hinge point of the doors by persons unfamiliar with DMC-12s. These doors, when opening, only require 11 inches (264 mm) clearance outside the line of the car, making opening and closing the doors in crowded spaces relatively easy. Much like the doors fitted to the Lamborghini Countach, the DMC-12 doors featured small cutout windows, because full-sized windows would not be fully retractable within the short door panels.
The underbody and suspension of the DMC-12 were based largely on the Lotus Esprit, with a four-wheel independent suspension, coil springs, and telescopic shock absorbers. The front suspension used double wishbones, while the rear was a multi-link setup. In its original development stages, the car is said to have handled quite well. Considering that Lotus’s reputation was built largely on the handling prowess of the cars the company produced, the DMC-12’s smooth ride wasn’t a surprise. Unfortunately, for reasons not yet explained, Lotus’ development front end height was raised on production cars, adversely affecting the car’s handling capabilities. Lotus design drawings clearly show that their original design met NHTSA minimum bumper and headlight heights of the time. Many owners have subsequently replaced or modified the front springs to return the front height to the original design specification.
Steering was rack and pinion, with an overall steering ratio of 14.9:1, giving 2.65 turns lock-to-lock and a 35 ft (10.67 m) turning circle. DMC-12s were originally fitted with cast alloy wheels, measuring 14 in (356 mm) in diameter by 6 in (152 mm) wide on the front and 15 in (381 mm) in diameter by 8 in (203 mm) wide on the rear. These were fitted with Goodyear NCT steel-belted radial tires. Because the engine is mounted in the very rear of the vehicle, the DMC-12 has a 35% / 65% front/rear weight distribution.
The DMC-12 features power-assisted disc brakes on all wheels, with 10 in (254 mm) rotors front and 10.5 in (267 mm) rear.
John DeLorean had originally envisioned that the car would produce somewhere around 200 horsepower (150 kW), but eventually settled on a 150 horsepower (110 kW) output for the engine. However, United States emissions regulations required that parts such as catalytic converters be added to the vehicle before it could be sold there. This caused a 20 horsepower (15 kW) reduction to the vehicle’s power output, a loss which seriously impeded the DMC-12’s performance. When this combined with the suspension system changes, the US version was regarded as disappointing. DeLorean’s comparison literature noted that the DMC-12 could achieve 0–60 mph (0–96 km/h) in 8.8 s, respectable for the early 1980s, but Road & Track magazine clocked the car at 10.5 s. It is possible that the factory performance numbers were achieved using a European-spec car with the 150 horsepower (110 kW) engine.
The car was named the DMC-12 because of its original price of US$12,000. New DMC-12s had a suggested retail price of $25,000 ($650 more when equipped with an automatic transmission); this is equivalent to approximately $63,909 in 2012. There were extensive waiting lists of people willing to pay up to $10,000 above the list price; however, after the collapse of the DeLorean Motor Company, unsold cars could be purchased for under the retail price.
The DMC-12 was only available with two factory options including a no-cost manual transmission or automatic transmission and the choice of a grey or black interior. Several dealer options were available, including a car cover; floor mats; black textured accent stripes; grey scotch-cal accent stripes); a luggage rack and a ski-rack adapter. The standard feature list included stainless steel body panels; gull-wing doors with cryogenically treated torsion bars; leather seats/trim; air conditioning; an AM/FM cassette stereo system; power windows, locks and mirrors; a tilt and telescopic steering wheel; tinted glass; body side mouldings; intermittent/constant windshield wipers; and an electric rear window defogger.
Although there were no typical “yearly” updates to the DeLorean, several changes were made to the DeLorean during production. John DeLorean believed that model years were primarily a gimmick used by automobile companies to sell more cars. Instead of making massive changes at the end of the model year, he implemented changes mid-production. This resulted in no clear distinction between the 1981, 1982, and 1983 model years, but with subtle changes taking place almost continuously throughout the life of the DeLorean. The most visible of these changes related to the hood style.
The original hood of the DeLorean had grooves running down both sides. It included a gas flap to simplify fuel filling. The gas flap was built so that the trunk could be added to the total cargo area of the DeLorean. These cars typically had a locking gas cap to prevent siphoning. In 1981, the hood flap was removed from the hood of the cars (although the hood creases stayed). This style was retained well into 1982. Based on production numbers for all three years, this hood style is probably the most common. After the supply of locking gas caps was exhausted, the company switched to a non-locking version (resulting in at least 500 cars with no gas flap, but with locking gas caps). The final styling for the hood included the addition of a DeLorean logo and the removal of the grooves, resulting in a completely flat hood. According to senior personnel who worked at the Dunmurry factory, initial elimination of gas flap hoods has a simple if unglamorous explanation—Chuck Benington, Managing Director, did not like the gas flap design.
John DeLorean was 6 ft 4 in (193 cm) tall, and he designed the car to comfortably fit someone of his stature. For shorter people, the addition of a pull strap made closing the doors much easier from the inside. Pull straps were manufactured as an add-on for earlier vehicles in November 1981. These attach to the existing door handle. Late-model 1981 cars, and all cars from 1982 and 1983, have doors with integrated pull straps.
The side bolstering in the DeLorean was originally separate from the main interior pieces. There is a tendency to place pressure on this piece when entering and exiting the car. This will eventually cause the bolstering to become separated from the trim panel. To help fix this problem, cars built in and after late 1981 have one solid trim piece with the bolster permanently attached.
As an addition to later cars, a foot rest or “dead” pedal—in the form of an unusable pedal—was added to the cars to help prevent fatigue while driving. This is one of the few changes that is directly tied to a model year. These were built in to only a few of the late 1981 vehicles, and were added to all cars starting with 1982 production.
Although the styling of the DeLorean’s wheels remained unchanged, the wheels of early-model 1981 vehicles were painted grey. These wheels sported matching grey center caps with an embossed DMC logo. Early into the 1981 production run, these were changed to a polished silver look, with a contrasting black center cap. The embossed logo on the centre caps was painted silver to add contrast.
In 1981, the DeLorean came stocked with a Craig radio; this was a standard 1980s tape radio with dual knob controls. Since the Craig did not have a built-in clock, one was installed in front of the gear shift. DeLorean switched to an ASI stereo in the middle of the 1982 production run. Since the ASI radio featured an on-board clock, the standard DeLorean clock was removed at the same time.
The first 2,200 cars produced used a windshield-embedded antenna. This type of antenna proved to be inadequate for most motoring needs, so a standard whip antenna was added to the outside of the front right quarter panel. While improving radio reception, this resulted in a hole in the stainless steel, and an unsightly antenna. As a result, the antenna was again moved, this time to the rear of the car. Automatic antennas were installed under the grills behind the rear driver’s-side window. While giving the reception quality of a whip antenna, these completely disappear from view when not in use.
The small sun visors on the DeLorean have vinyl on one side, and headliner fabric on the other side. Originally these were installed such that the headliner side would be on the bottom when not in use. Later on in 1981, they were reversed so that the vinyl side would be on the bottom.
The original Ducellier alternator supplied with the early production DMC-12s could not provide enough current to supply the car when all lights and electrical options were on; as a result, the battery would gradually discharge, leaving the driver stranded on the road. This happened to DeLorean owner Johnny Carson shortly after he was presented with the vehicle. Later cars were fitted from the factory with a higher output Motorola alternator which solved this problem. This also is believed to be the reason behind the improvement in the sound quality of the horn. Earlier models emitted a weak sound, not loud or strong enough to be effective in normal traffic.
Right-hand drive models
DMC-12s were primarily intended for the American market despite being produced in Northern Ireland. All production models were therefore left-hand drive. Evidence survives from as early as April 1981, however, which indicates that the DeLorean Motor Company was aware of the need to produce a right-hand drive version to supply to world markets such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
The company faced the choice of building right-hand drive models from scratch, or performing a post-production conversion exercise. Given the cost of new body molds, tooling, and a host of specific parts that a factory build right-hand drive configuration would require, the company opted to investigate the idea of a post-production conversion using a company based in Hampshire called Wooler-Hodec Ltd.
Only 16 right-hand drive factory-authorised DeLoreans were ever produced. These cars can be divided into two distinct groups:
- The first batch, known by enthusiasts as the “Wooler-Hodec cars”, were converted by the UK company of that name. Evidence still exists in the form of a DMC factory memo which orders 20 cars to be converted to right-hand drive. Due to the factory’s closure, this order was never completed and today a total of 13 cars survive, carrying the VINs: 510, 12171–12181 & 12199. VIN 510 is understood to be the first of this batch of cars converted and was later sold at the factory auction in 1984. The other twelve cars were auctioned off by the receivers in early 1983. As a result, several of these cars were registered at the same time and have the Northern Irish registration (licence) number “SIJ xxxx”. All of this first batch of cars had a black interior and all had manual transmission except VIN 12175. This car is the only factory-authorised right-hand drive black interior automatic car and is owned by Andrew Withers, former Editor of the UK DeLorean Owners Club.
- The second batch were registered and used by the factory in Northern Ireland, with registration numbers (license plates), AXI 1697, AXI 1698, AXI 1699 and are referred to by enthusiasts as the “AXI cars”. These three cars (VINs 5565, 5592 and 5638) differ from the first Wooler-Hodec cars in several ways. These three cars all had roof mounted radio aerials, indicator repeater lights, no side marker lights, white forward-facing door lights, fog-light switch, and textured body rubstrips on the stainless panels. No catalytic converters or Lambda equipment were fitted as British legislation did not require them. VIN 5565 with the registration number AXI 1697 was a fully UK homologated example which would have been shown at the British motor show at Birmingham, UK in October 1982. It includes a unique rearward-facing twin exhaust, no catalytic converters and the UK specification engine as used by Volvo, but retaining the usual Renault anclillaries. The transmission final drive was also set at 3.88:1 versus the standard 3.44:1. Attention was paid to other unique details such as correctly offset wing mirrors.
Recent research has revealed that VINs 752 and 758, once thought to be factory authorized Wooler Hodec right-hand drive cars, are post-factory conversions carried out by private individuals. Some of the right-hand drive cars have speedometers reading to 140 mph (230 km/h), instead of the US-specification 85 mph (137 km/h).
A common misconception surrounding the factory-authorised right-hand drive DeLoreans is that they were all fitted with different, so-called “Euro-spec”, tail lights as part of the right-hand drive conversion programme. This is not the case. Due to the nature of these cars as prototypes, they were not officially type-approved for use in the UK. Owners who bought these cars at auction in the early 1980s encountered difficulty in registering them as new vehicles in the UK. At this point a former DeLorean Motor Cars executive offered to modify and register the cars so that they could be used in the UK. These modifications included:
- Different seat belt units fitted.
- The fitting of Rubbolite tail light clusters with a built-in foglight function. The foglight is a legal requirement in the UK.
- The fitting of a foglight switch to one of the centre console dummy switches.
- A custom-made tail light surround and number (licence) plate bezel.
- Swapping the front turn signal lenses for ones of a different, more rounded style.
- Swapping the rear side marker lenses for amber ones.
Over half of the 16 right-hand drive cars had these modifications carried out. In recent years several owners of these cars have replaced the Rubbolite lights with original federal style tail lights in an effort to return the cars to their original specification. Some owners have also fitted federal style licence plate bezels on their cars.
There were a number of official alterations made to the right-hand drive cars’ lights. The extent of these modifications varies between the first batch of “Wooler-Hodec” cars and the later “AXI” cars:
All of the 13 Wooler-Hodec cars were modified to the OEM front turn signal lens fixing method in order to make them fit flush with the front fascia. The cars’ headlights were also changed for right-hand drive spec lights that incorporate a UK sidelight feature. The rest of the lights appear to have been left untouched by Wooler-Hodec during the conversion process.
By contrast, the three “AXI” cars had further modifications to the amber front door lights, which were exchanged for clear lenses of the same style. Perhaps the most significant alteration on the “AXI” cars is the deletion of the front and rear side markers. These are replaced by a single small round European style indicator side repeater, situated on the front wing (fender). The body rubstrips are also of a different configuration in order to cover the areas which would otherwise have had federal side marker lenses fitted.
Back to the Future
Several special-edition DMC-12 cars have been produced over the years, and the car is most notably featured as the time machine in the Back to the Future film trilogy. The PRV engines of the cars were dubbed over with recorded V8 sounds. Six DeLorean chassis were used during the production, along with one manufactured out of fiberglass for scenes where a full-size DeLorean was needed to “fly” on-screen; only three of the cars still exist, with one having been destroyed at the end of Back to the Future Part III, two additional cars left to rot, and the fiberglass replica being torn apart for scrap. Universal Studios owns two of the remaining cars, occasionally putting them on display or using them for other productions, and the last resides in a private collection after having been extensively restored.
Only one of several DeLorean prototypes is still[when?] in existence, and is currently[when?] for sale after undergoing a complete restoration at DeLorean Motor Company of Florida (DMCFL). There have also been major finds in the last few years[when?] of “pilot cars”. These cars, used for testing of the DeLorean, had been thought destroyed. The test car featured on the front cover of Autocar in 1981 announcing the DeLorean to the world was found in 2003 in a barn in Northern Ireland; it is currently undergoing restoration. Production of the DeLorean started at VIN 500. VINs 502 and 530 were used by Legend Industries as a proof of concept for a twin-turbo version of the standard DeLorean PRV-V6 engine. Only one other twin-turbo engine is known to exist: it was purchased in the late 1990s by an individual owner.
For Christmas 1981, A DeLorean/American Express promotion planned to sell one hundred 24k-Karat Gold Plated DMC-12s for $85,000 each to its gold card members, but only two were sold. One of these was purchased by Roger Mize, president of Snyder National Bank in Snyder, Texas. VIN #4301 sat in the bank lobby for over 20 years before being loaned to the Petersen Automotive Museum of Los Angeles. It has a black interior, and an automatic transmission.
The second gold-plated American Express DMC-12 was purchased by Sherwood Marshall, an entrepreneur and former Royal Canadian Naval Officer. Mr. Marshall donated his DeLorean to the William F. Harrah Foundation/National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada. This car, VIN #4300, is the only one of the three existing gold-plated examples to be equipped with a manual transmission. This car has a tan interior. Like its golden siblings, it is a low-mileage vehicle with only 1,442 miles (2,307 km) on the odometer.
A third gold-plated car exists with 636 miles (1,018 km) on the odometer; it carries the VIN plate for the last DeLorean, #20105, though final assembly was actually completed in Columbus, Ohio in 1983. This car was assembled with spare parts that were required by American Express in case one of the other two that were built were damaged. All necessary gold-plated parts were on hand, with the exception of one door. The car was assembled after another door was gold-plated, though the added door does not precisely match the rest of the car in color and grain. The car was first acquired by the winner of a Big Lots store raffle. Consolidated International, which owned the department store, had purchased 1,374 DMC-12s during the DeLorean Company’s financial troubles, acquiring the remaining stock after the company went into receivership. Now held by a private owner in La Vale, Maryland, the third and last gold-plated DeLorean is currently for sale at the price of $250,000. This car and the example in Reno have saddle-brown leather interiors, a color scheme which was intended to become an option on later production cars. However, these two cars were the only DeLoreans to be thus equipped from factory parts.
DMC Texas’ new build cars
DMC Texas (based in Humble, Texas) announced on July 30, 2007 that the car would be returning into very limited production (about twenty cars per year) in 2008. The newly produced cars would have a base price of $57,500 and have new stainless steel frames; with optional extras such as GPS, an enhanced “Stage 2” engine, and possibly a new modern interior. The cars would be made with 80% old parts and the rest new. This project was featured in an episode of Modern Marvels. The term “return to production” is something of a misnomer, the cars are built on DeLorean underbodies built by the original company in the 1980s and retaining their VINs. The cars’ titles will show the year of the underbody’s manufacture. They are, therefore, not new DeLoreans, but complete rebuilds of the car from the underbody with enhancements.
On October 18, 2011, it was announced that an all-electric model would be available for sale by 2013. It will have a 200 hp (149 kW) motor, accelerate from 0 to 60 in 8 seconds, and have a range of 100 miles (160 km) between charges. It is expected to sell for $90,000 USD.
A press release issued by the DeLorean Motor Company October 14, 2011 states the Electric DeLorean (DMC EV) will sport a 400 volt AC induction liquid cooled electric motor producing 260 hp (194 kW) and 360 lb·ft (490 N·m) of torque providing 0-60 mph acceleration of 4.9 seconds.