The final creative financing scheme, involving a white powdery substance and new Central American "partners," added an element of infamy
Wealthy Type-A car guys can't seem to resist starting their own companies (named, of course, after themselves). But for every Porsche, Lamborghini, and Ferrari, there's a Bricklin, Tucker, and. DeLorean. John Z. DeLorean, at least, seemed to have the automotive chops to make his company a long-term survivor. He was a thoroughly unconventional GM executive, the son of immigrants, and public school educated, he was hip, handsome, and a non-conformist-all of which were the kiss of death at ultra-conservative GM. Acknowledged as the father of the first muscle car-the Pontiac GTO-by the early 1970s, DeLorean had thoroughly burned his bridges at GM by participating in the tell-all book, On a Clear Day, You Can See General Motors.
DeLorean began his venture by bringing in some Pontiac engineering associates and by licensing a new bit of technology called Elastic Reservoir Molding, which was in theory capable of producing strong lightweight plastic chassis. For initial financing, DeLorean hit up entertainment friends like Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr. The DeLorean plant was constructed near Belfast in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland, after narrowly beating out Puerto Rico. The British government made a substantial investment and numerous tax breaks to encourage the company to locate there, hoping that reduced unemployment in Ulster would lead to fewer car bombings and parades through the other side's neighborhoods during the period of "the troubles."
As it turned out, the revolutionary new manufacturing process was a bust, and Colin Chapman of Lotus had to be called in to rework the car with a Lotus-style backbone chassis. His deft suspension work gave the DMC-12 a fine balance of ride and handling. Surprisingly, given its extreme rear weight bias (about 40/60 front to rear), the car never acquired the reputation as a tricky handler. Giugiaro's handsome body and non-structural stainless panels over GRP construction stuck, along with gullwing doors. All production cars were bare stainless, with either black or gray interiors, and with automatic transmissions and luggage racks among the few options.
Records indicate that three cars were painted by the factory. Insist on documentation if anyone claims theirs is one of them. Non-factory painted cars are worth about 25% less, which takes into account the expense of stripping and regraining a car.
Ultimately, though, the DMC-12 was like the Tin Man from "The Wizard of Oz"-if it only had a heart. Originally, DeLorean wanted a Citröen-made Wankel engine. When this failed to materialize, he had to settle for the 2.8-liter Peugeot/Renault/Volvo ("PRV") V6. In federal tune, the engine produced a paltry 130 hp. The enthusiast publications were unanimous, even for the malaise era, that the car's performance was unremarkable: 0-60 mph in around ten seconds and a top speed of around 125 mph. Aftermarket twin-turbo kits quickly sprang up.
Quality of early cars was mediocre (although nowhere near that of the Pantera a few years before), and like Ford, DeLorean set up multiple U.S. quality assurance centers to take care of things. As the inexperienced Ulster workforce caught on, quality improved dramatically. Still, a high list price, disappointing performance, cost overruns, and a series of recessions in the early 1980s spelled the end for DeLorean, with about 9,000 cars built between 1981 and 1983. Another major selling obstacle, according to an in-period dealer, was that customers weren't interested in having a car that looked just like everyone else's. So what was a major attention-getter at first, the unpainted panels, became a turn-off to consumers in the end.
DeLorean's final creative financing scheme, involving a white powdery substance and new Central American "partners," added an element of infamy-and led to the joke, "How do you find a DeLorean? Just follow the white line down the road."
In some ways, the DeLorean is like the Avanti. A few passionate supporters simply would not let it die. A humble, Texas-based firm bought all of the intellectual property, N.O.S. parts, and the right to reproduce anything for the cars and is said to have the ability to produce all-new cars from its stock of parts. For that reason, even though it's an orphan, DeLorean ownership presents few problems today. Just about everything is available and not much is pricey, with the exception of body panels, in demand for collision repairs.
Obviously, rust isn't an issue with the stainless bodywork, but backbone chassis should be carefully inspected for damage. PRV engines can suffer from premature camshaft wear, as any Volvo 265 or Peugeot 604 owner can attest. Regular oil changes and cooling system maintenance can help, and the folks in Texas can even offer uprated cams, heads, and engine management systems to boost power to a healthy 195 hp, without engine-life-shortening turbos.
The market for DeLoreans has seen a bit of activity lately with the "Back to the Future" generation coming into some disposable income. Around $25,000 (the car's original list price) is what it takes to buy one you'd want to own. Modest performance and relatively high production numbers will forever keep it off the A-list, but the car's exotic looks, low demands, and checkered past make for an interesting affordable collector car.