|Manufacturer||DeLorean Motor Company (DMC)|
|Assembly||DeLorean Motor Cars, Ltd. (DMCL) Dunmurry, Belfast, Northern Ireland|
|Designer||Giorgetto Giugiaro at Italdesign|
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door coupé|
|Engine||2.85 L (174 cu in) V6 PRV engine ZMJ-159|
|Power output||130 hp (132 PS; 97 kW) and 153 lb⋅ft (207 N⋅m) of torque|
|Wheelbase||2,413 mm (95.0 in)|
|Length||4,267 mm (168.0 in)|
|Width||1,988 mm (78.3 in)|
|Height||1,140 mm (44.9 in) doors closed|
1,962 mm (77.2 in) doors open
|Curb weight||1,233 kg (2,718 lb)|
The DMC DeLorean (often referred to as the "DeLorean") is a rear-engine, two-door, two-passenger sports car manufactured and marketed by John DeLorean's DeLorean Motor Company (DMC) for the American market from 1981 to 1983—ultimately the only car brought to market by the fledgling company. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and noted for its gull-wing doors and brushed stainless-steel outer body panels, the sports car was noted for a lack of power and performance incongruous with its looks and price. Though its production was short-lived, the car became widely known when featured as the time machine in the 1985 Back to the Future media franchise.
With the first production car completed on January 21, 1981, the design incorporated numerous minor revisions to the hood, interior and wheels before production ended in late December 1982, shortly after DMC filed for bankruptcy and after total production reached about 9,000.
Despite the car having a reputation for poor build quality and a less-than-satisfying driving experience, the DeLorean continues to have a strong following driven in part by the popularity of the Back to the Future movies. An estimated 6,500 DeLoreans are still on the road.
When details surrounding the DeLorean were first announced in the mid-1970s, there were numerous plans and rumors that the DeLorean would have many advanced features, such as elastic reservoir moulding (ERM), a unit construction plastic chassis, a mid-engine layout, airbags, 10 mph bumpers and Pirelli P7 tires; none of them would materialize in the production vehicle.
Originally, the car was intended to have a centrally-mounted Wankel rotary engine. The engine selection was reconsidered when Comotor production ended and the favored engine became the Ford Cologne V6 engine.
Appearing in October 1976, the prototype was completed by American automotive chief engineer William T. Collins, formerly chief engineer at Pontiac and the prototype was known as the DSV-1, or DeLorean Safety Vehicle. As development continued, the model was referred to as the DSV-12 and later the DMC-12 since DMC was targeting a list price of $12,000 upon release.
The Ford V6 engine would soon be abandoned in favor of the complete drivetrain from the Citroën CX 2000 — deemed a more reliable choice. The 1,985 cc (121 cu in) engine from Citroën was ultimately deemed underpowered for the DeLorean. When Citroën learned of DMC plans to turbocharge the engine, Citroën suggested that DMC find another engine. Eventually the fuel-injected V6 PRV engine (Peugeot-Renault-Volvo) was selected. As a result, the engine location had to be moved from the mid-engined location in Prototype 1 to a rear-engined location in Prototype 2; a configuration which would be retained in the production vehicle.
The chassis was initially planned to use elastic reservoir moulding (ERM), which would lighten the car and lower its production costs. DeLorean had purchased patent rights to the essentially untested ERM technology, and it was eventually found unsuitable.
The interior on Prototype 1 was significantly different than the production vehicle. Prototype 1 had a prominent full-width knee bar as it was intended to be a safety car. A medium brown leather covered the seats but were much flatter and didn’t have the comfort and support of the production seats. A black center steering wheel with a fat center was intended to hold an air bag and the driver had a full set of Stewart-Warner gauges. A central warning system would check various fluid levels and even warn of low brake pad thickness though even at this time it was suspected this feature wouldn’t show up on production cars.
These and other changes to the original concept led to considerable schedule pressures. The design was deemed to require almost complete re-engineering, which was turned over to engineer Colin Chapman, founder of Lotus Cars. Chapman replaced most of the unproven material and manufacturing techniques with those then employed by Lotus, including a steel backbone chassis.
After several delays and cost overruns, production finally began in late 1980. Around this time DMC officially dropped the name DMC-12 on its now $25,000 car in favor of the model name DeLorean. The DeLorean sports car, as it was described in advertisements, began production in December 1980 with the first production car rolling off the assembly line on January 21, 1981.[a]
The DeLorean Motor Company was placed into receivership in February 1982 and filed bankruptcy in October 1982. Consolidated International purchased the unsold DeLoreans and partially completed DeLoreans still on the assembly line and assembled approximately 100 DeLoreans to finish the remaining production on December 24, 1982.
Sales and production
Prior to the release of the DeLorean, there was a waiting list of anxious buyers, many of whom paid over MSRP, however that exuberance subsided very quickly and production output soon far exceeded sales volume. October 1981 was the highest month of sales for DMC with 720 vehicles sold but by December, the US was falling into recession and interest rates were rising which further negatively impacted sales. Despite this, instead of reducing production, John DeLorean doubled production output, further adding to the backlog of unsold cars. By the end of 1981, DMC had produced 7,500 cars but had only sold 3,000. By this point, DMC was in a financial hardship having only sold 350 units in January 1982 and in February 1982, DMC was placed into receivership.
In February 1982, unsold 1981 model year cars were “priced for immediate clearance” in hopes to make room for the more expensive 1982 model year cars. In March, telegrams were sent to all 343 dealerships requesting each buy six cars to help save the company; none of the dealers responded with a sales order. By this point, dealers were sitting on unsold inventory as were the quality assurance centers and hundreds more sitting on the docks in Long Beach, California. By the end of May 1982, production at the factory was shut down. Another attempt in July 1982 was made to revive sales by offering discounts to dealerships and offering a 5-year/50,000-mile (80,000 km) warranty with the first year or 12,000-mile (19,000 km) portion secured by a major insurance carrier but this was not successful.
Bruce McWilliams, VP of Marketing for DMC and later acting President for DMC America, after resigning his position said, “The car could never be sold in the numbers John DeLorean predicted".
Production information was lost or scattered upon the shutdown of DMC and production figures for the DeLorean have never been verified based on official factory records. Despite some unexplained VIN gaps, based upon VIN information, owners have been able to piece together the approximate quantity of DeLoreans produced.
In February 1982, DMC was placed into receivership and the factory continued to operate at a reduced production rate until the end of May. When Consolidated International acquired the unsold and partially assembled cars in November 1982, it brought back workers to complete the cars remaining on the assembly line. It was decided to make the remaining completed 1982 model year cars into 1983 models. The remaining cars' VINs were re-VINed into 1983 cars by taking the original VIN number and adding 5000 to it and changing the "CD" in the middle of the VIN to "DD" thus making a 1983 model. For the 1981 model year, there were 6,700 DeLoreans produced (VIN 500-7199). For the 1982 model year, there were 1,999 DeLoreans produced (VIN 10001-11999). For the 1983 model year, there were 276 DeLoreans (VIN 17000-17170 and 20001-20105) bringing the total estimated production to 8,975 cars.
The DeLorean 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 DeLorean was a product of Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italdesign and is paneled in brushed SS304 austenitic stainless steel. Except for three cars plated in 24-karat gold, all DeLoreans 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. In order to train the workforce, a small number of pre-production DeLoreans were produced with fiberglass bodies and are referred to as "black cars" or mules.
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 fiberglass underbody. The underbody is affixed to a steel double-Y frame chassis, inspired by the Lotus Esprit platform.
Another distinctive feature of the DeLorean is its gull-wing doors. The DeLorean features heavy doors supported by cryogenically preset torsion bars and nitrogen-charged struts. The doors featured small cutout windows, because full-sized windows would not be fully retractable within the short door panels. Although early production cars had fitment problems due to faulty striker plates and issues with weather seals, these were tolerable because gull-wing doors allowed occupants to enter and exit the car in tight parking places as well as attracting attention from people nearby.
Engine and drivetrain
The engine is a Peugeot-Renault-Volvo (PRV) 2.85 L (174 cu in) SOHC V6, rated at 130 hp (132 PS; 97 kW) at 5500 rpm and torque of 153 lb⋅ft (207 N⋅m) at 2750 rpm. These PRVs were a development of the 2.7-litre V6 in the Renault 30 that was designed and built under special contract with the DeLorean Motor Company.
When the DeLorean first arrived in the US, the car had a higher-than-expected wheel gap in the front suspension. Despite having significantly less weight in the front, the front and rear springs had the same spring rate and used lower quality steel which resulted in the nose-high look. Some people have cited a last minute change in US bumper height requirements led DMC to raise the vehicle just prior to delivery, however this is not true. Design drawings show that the design met NHTSA minimum bumper and headlight heights of the time.
Steering is rack and pinion, with an overall steering ratio of 14.9:1, giving 2.65 turns lock-to-lock and a 35-foot (11 m) turning circle. DeLoreans are equipped with cast alloy wheels, measuring 14 inches (360 mm) in diameter by 6 inches (150 mm) wide on the front and 15 inches (380 mm) in diameter by 8 inches (200 mm) wide on the rear. These were fitted with 195/60-14 (front) and 235/60-15 (rear) Goodyear NCT steel-belted radial tires. The DeLorean is a rear-engine vehicle with a 35%–65% front–rear weight distribution.
The automotive press was generally complimentary. Motor Trend, Car and Driver and Road & Track made generally positive remarks about the car, particularly its commendable fuel economy, and argued that the DeLorean is more of a GT car rather than a sports car or race car, given a disappointing performance in comparative tests.
Later reviews have been harsher. In 2017, Time included the DeLorean in its list of the 50 worst cars of all time. In his book Naff Motors: 101 Automotive Lemons, Tony Davis described the build quality as "woeful". Top Gear writer Richard Porter included it in his book Crap Cars, calling it "dismal".
DMC's comparison literature noted that the DeLorean could achieve 0–60 miles per hour (0–97 km/h) in 8.8 seconds when equipped with a manual transmission. When equipped with an automatic transmission, the DeLorean would accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour (0 to 97 km/h) in 10.5 seconds as tested by Road & Track magazine. The car's top speed was 109 miles per hour (175 km/h) when tested by Road & Track magazine, described as "not quick for a sports/GT car in this price category."
DeLoreans, early production models in particular, suffered from poor build quality as well as mechanical issues. Early production cars needed as much as 200 hours of work at DMC Quality Assurance Centers prior to being shipped to dealerships for delivery. DMC eventually sent 30 factory workers to the quality centers in the US to learn about the problems and how to fix them. Quality did improve over time and by 1982 many of the quality issues had been resolved. A total of four recalls were issued by the factory to correct problems such as a sticking throttle, front suspension issues and an inertia switch.
Other quality issues included other problems surrounding the front suspension, clutch pedal adjustment (or lack thereof), brake rotors, instruments, in particular the speedometer, power door locks and weak alternators. Many early DeLoreans were delivered poorly aligned with the toe-in incorrectly set leading to premature tire wear. In addition, many dealers were reluctant to perform warranty work on DeLoreans since DMC owed them money for past warranty claims. Some dealerships were not able to perform repair work properly as DMC never issued a proper service manual. The lack of quality service at dealerships was a point of frustration for many DeLorean owners at the time, particularly those who paid over sticker price to purchase one of the first cars.
Pricing and options
Upon release in 1981, a DeLorean had a base MSRP of $25,000, or equivalent to $70,000 in 2019. MSRP would increase in 1982, to $29,825, equivalent to $79,000 in 2019, and again in 1983, to $34,000, equivalent to $87,000 in 2019.
Automatic transmission, priced at $650 MSRP, was the only extra cost factory option. Interior color choices were grey or black. The grey interior became available mid-1981 model year. The standard feature list included stainless-steel body panels, gull-wing doors with cryogenically treated torsion bars, 5-speed manual transmission, Bridge of Weir leather seats, air conditioning, AM/FM cassette stereo system, power windows, locks and mirrors, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, tinted glass, body side moldings, intermittent windshield wipers, and electric rear-window defogger.
Several dealer options were available, including a car cover, sheepskin seat covers, floor mats, car care cleaning kit, black textured accent stripes, grey scotch-cal accent stripes, a luggage rack and a ski-rack adapter.
Although there were no typical yearly updates to the DeLorean, several changes were made to the DeLorean during production. Instead of making changes at the end of the model year, DMC 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 production run.
The original hood of the DeLorean had grooves running down both sides. It included a fuel filler flap to simplify fuel filling. These cars typically had a locking fuel cap to prevent fuel tampering or theft by siphoning. In August 1981, the fuel flap was removed from the hood (although the hood creases remained). After the supply of locking caps was exhausted, the company switched to a non-locking fuel cap (resulting in at least 500 cars with no hood flap, but with locking fuel caps). The final styling for the hood included the addition of a cast metal DeLorean emblem in the lower right corner and the removal of the grooves, resulting in a completely flat hood.
Closing the gull-wing door from the inside can be achieved by using a grab handle. For people with shorter arms, DMC installed leather pull straps attached to the grab handle. Beginning with late-model 1981 cars, DMC revised the location of the leather pull strap to be centrally mounted and integrated into the lower door panel.
The rear trim panel has an armrest extension that is visibly two separate pieces on early 1981 models; this armrest has a tendency to break loose as people get in and out of the vehicle. In late 1981, this was resolved by having the armrest extension integrated into the rear trim panel, the assembly wrapped in vacuum formed vinyl.
Although the styling of the DeLorean's wheels remained unchanged, the wheels of early 1981 models 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 center caps was painted silver to add contrast.
In 1981, the DeLorean came with a Craig AM/FM stereo radio with cassette. Since the Craig radio did not have a built-in clock, one was installed in front of the gear shift on the console. The Craig radio was replaced with an ASI radio in the middle of the 1982 production run. Since the ASI radio featured an on-board clock, the clock on the console was removed at the same time.
The first 2,200 cars produced used a windshield-embedded antenna. This type of antenna proved to be unsuitable with poor radio reception. Oftentimes the radio would continually "seek", attempting to find a signal. A standard whip antenna, which was later changed to a manually retractable antenna, was added to the outside of the front right fender. 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. The final antenna was an automatic retractable version installed under the rear induction grill behind the rear driver's-side window.
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 80 amp Ducellier alternator supplied with the early-production DeLoreans 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. Beginning with cars built in late 1981, DeLoreans were fitted from the factory with a 90 amp Motorola alternator, which solved this problem.
Notable and unique DeLoreans
In March 1975, DMC entered into a contract with Italdesign to have Giorgetto Giugiaro design the DeLorean sports car. John DeLorean and Bill Collins approved one of the many designs, and the styling mock-up that was made from “epo-wood” (wooden framework with a special epoxy plaster) was shipped to the DMC office in Michigan on July 31, 1975. This mock-up would serve as the template for the prototype. The original full-size epo-wood DeLorean styling model was modified in the first quarter of 1979 to reflect the refreshed design used in production.
Prototypes and pilot cars
Only one of two DeLorean prototypes still exists. Prototype 1 sold at the bankruptcy auction in 1984 for $37,000. The car remained in a private collection until 2005 when it was sold, received a complete restoration and is now on display at the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
An estimated 28 pilot cars were built. The pilot cars are best identified by the subtly different interiors and sliding side windows. These cars, used for evaluation and regulatory testing of the DeLorean were previously thought to have been destroyed. However, a few of the pilot cars have survived and are owned by private parties.
With the 1980 NADA meeting approaching, DMC planned to show a final “production” version of the DeLorean, however there were no production cars ready at the time or even any production stainless steel panels. Earlier, in the summer of 1979, the revised Giugiaro styling mock-up was shipped to Visioneering, a Detroit based company, to create data needed to make the stamping dies for the stainless panels. This project would expand to create dies used to create a “production” car for the NADA show. Using a prototype chassis supplied by Lotus in late 1979, Visioneering completed the assembly of this car at a cost of $750,000. The car was presented at the 1980 NADA show and was later used for engineering development and technical training as well as press photos. The Visioneering car would eventually be sold at the bankruptcy auction in late 1984 for $21,000. The car is in a private collection.
Legend turbo cars
It was determined that the DeLorean needed additional power when automotive magazine road tests showed 0–60 mph (0–97 km/h) times for the DeLorean between 9.5 and 10.5 seconds, while its rivals were in the 7.5–8.5 second range. There had been interest in turbocharging the DeLorean early on, but the DMC engineering staff was busy with other projects, so DMC decided to go outside to develop a turbocharged version.
DMC entered into a contract with Legend Industries, based in Hauppauge, New York, a firm having previous success with turbocharging Fiat Spiders for Fiat USA. DMC wanted to increase power without sacrificing fuel efficiency. DMC wanted a wide power band and did not want a surge of power similar to the Porsche 930 Turbo. Legend used twin IHI RHB52 turbos along with twin intercoolers. The results were an engine capable of accelerating smoothly in fifth gear from 1,500 rpm to full turbo boost at 2,500 rpm, reaching 150 mph (240 km/h) at 6,500 rpm.
Legend converted four DeLoreans (two twin-turbo cars and two single-turbo cars.) In a test run at Bridgehampton Raceway in 1981, the twin-turbo DeLorean was quicker than a Ferrari 308 and a Porsche 928. The twin-turbo DeLorean tested 0–60 mph in 5.8 seconds and the 1⁄4 mile (402 m) in 14.7 seconds. John DeLorean was so impressed with the engine, he committed to ordering 5,000 engines from Legend Industries. DMC planned to offer a turbocharged engine as a $7,500 option in 1984. Before any of the 5,000 cars could be put into production, DMC had declared bankruptcy, which drove Legend Industries, as well as other suppliers, into bankruptcy.
For Christmas 1980, a DeLorean/American Express promotion planned to sell 100 24K-gold-plated DeLoreans for US$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. This car, VIN #4301, equipped with an automatic transmission and black interior, sat in the bank lobby for over 20 years before being loaned to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
The second gold-plated American Express DeLorean was purchased by Sherwood Marshall, an entrepreneur and former Royal Canadian Naval Officer. This car, VIN #4300, is equipped with a manual transmission and a saddle-brown interior. Marshall donated his DeLorean to the William F. Harrah Foundation/National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.
A third gold-plated 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 that was sourced later. The car was first acquired by the winner of a Big Lots store raffle. This car, VIN #20105, is in a private collection.
Two other privately-commissioned gold-plated DeLoreans exist (one being VIN #1542) but their whereabouts are unknown.
DeLoreans were primarily intended for the American market. All production models were therefore left-hand-drive. DMC was aware as early as April 1981 of the need to produce a right-hand-drive (RHD) version to supply to world markets, specifically the United Kingdom. DMC faced the choice of building right-hand-drive models from scratch or performing a post-production conversion. Given the cost of new body molds, tooling, and a host of specific parts that a factory-built right-hand-drive configuration would require, the company opted to investigate the idea of a post-production conversion using Wooler-Hodec, a company based in Andover, Hampshire. About 30 early DeLoreans were shipped to Wooler-Hodec and the best 20 were to be converted to RHD. However only 13 were completed before DMCL went into receivership which subsequently led to the closure of Wooler-Hodec.
Three other factory authorized RHD cars were built. Known as AXI cars, these cars were registered and used by the factory in Northern Ireland, with registration numbers (license plates), AXI 1697, AXI 1698, AXI 1699 and have minor differences from the Wooler-Hodec cars.
After the liquidation of DMC, many of the factory company cars were sold at various auctions around the UK, some of which were converted by former Wooler-Hodec employees and DMCL engineers to RHD resulting in eight known post-factory RHD conversions.
Back to the Future
The DeLorean is most notably featured as the time machine in the Back to the Future film trilogy. 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 that was destroyed at the end of Back to the Future Part III, two additional cars were abandoned, and the fiberglass replica was scrapped. Universal Studios owns two of the remaining cars, occasionally putting them on display or using them for other productions. A fully restored Back to the Future DeLorean can be viewed at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
New DeLorean production
In 1995, Stephen Wynne, a British car mechanic from Liverpool created a separate company based in Humble, Texas, using the DeLorean Motor Company name. Wynne acquired the trademark on the stylized DMC logo, along with the remaining parts inventory of the original DeLorean Motor Company.
After the passage of the Low Volume Vehicle Manufacturing Act, DMC Texas announced that it planned to produce replica DeLoreans. DMC anticipated building approximately 50 vehicles per year over six years with an estimated retail price of US$100,000. DMC Texas encountered hurdles such as reproducing parts no longer available from new old stock, and finalizing an engine supplier. In January 2021, the NHTSA issued a final ruling to allow low volume vehicle manufacturing.
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- Clarke, R. M. (1995). DeLorean: 1977–1995 Gold Portfolio. Cobham: Brooklands. ISBN 1-85520-331-6.
- DeLorean, John Z.; Schwarz, Ted (1985). DeLorean. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. ISBN 0-310-37940-7.
- Haddad, William (1985). Hard Driving: My Years with John DeLorean. Random House, Inc. ISBN 978-0394534107.
- Williams, Chris (2018). DeLorean DMC-12 [sic], The Essential Buyers Guide (2018). Veloce Publishing. ISBN 978-1-787112-32-2.
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