1981 DeLorean DMC 12

Photo by: Bring a Trailer

Bring a Trailer

The DMC DeLorean: The Car Behind The Madness

By: Conner Golden and MotorTrend

Here's everything you need to know about the DeLorean. From fun facts and buying tips to recent auctions and tons of info about the famous Hollywood icon.

October 21, 2020

DMC DeLorean Essential History

We’re not delving into the DeLorean Motor Company’s short and fantastically scandalous history — if you’re hungry for that blockbuster tale, there are many, many in-depth write ups, books, shows, and movies on the subject of John Z. DeLorean’s meteoric rise to the heights of the automotive industry and his subsequent crash-landing after a controversial drug trafficking sting. It’s a fantastic story, but we’re here to talk about the stainless steel gullwinged wedge that was at the center of all this hullabaloo.

Development for the DeLorean began in the mid-1970s, with the first prototype appearing in 1976, and the first production cars in 1980 after a raft of development issues. It really was an international effort; Italian superstar designer Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the raked body, while DMC sought engineering expertise from Lotus founder and racing legend Colin Chapman. Power came from the rear-mounted Peugeot-Renault-Volvo (PRV) V-6, making this an Italian designed, British-engineered American car built in Ireland with a Franco-Swedish heart powering the whole thing.

Immediately, the DeLorean established itself as one of the most aesthetically distinctive cars on the market. With the exception of five gold-plated examples, every DeLorean left the factory sans paint or finisher of any kind, instead wearing its raw stainless steel body panels proudly. The dull silver finish gave it a striking look, and was a defining feature — plus, small scratches could be buffed out with sandpaper. The mid-century Mercedes-Benz 300SL made gullwing doors famous, but the DeLorean and its subsequent status as a Hollywood icon cemented those upward-hinged doors as a defining DeLorean trait.

So, stylistically, the DeLorean was a tour-de-force, but mechanically, it fell as flat as its side profile. That 2.8-liter PRV V-6 pushed out a wheezy 130 horsepower and 153 lb-ft of torque, just enough to shuffle the 2,700-pound car to 60 mph in around nine seconds when fitted with the five-speed manual transmission; the deed took around 11 seconds with the three-speed automatic. DeLorean owners would have done well to leave the restaurant after all the Lamborghini Countachs had gone to avoid being caught at a light next to one. Top speed was a low-for-the-form-factor 109 mph.

In October 1982, after the DeLorean had vastly overshot its initial $12,000 price target by more than double and a string of high-profile legal issues presented setbacks, the DeLorean Motor Company went bankrupt. The DeLorean saw just two years of production, with only 9,000 cars built before the factory closed for good. It seemed the wild DeLorean was destined to be a strange and rather sad footnote in the annals of automotive history, but its starring role in the 1985 film Back to the Future immediately elevated the defunct car to iconic status, henceforth inextricably intertwined with the popular movie trilogy.

In 1995, a Texas-based company bought the rights to the name and a good portion of DMC’s spares and tooling. After years as the place to have DeLoreans serviced, restored, and refurbished, the current incarnation of DMC announced plans for limited, small-batch production of all-new DeLoreans through the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act.

DMC DeLorean Highlights

Approached strictly as a car and removed from its Back to the Future cultural context, the DeLorean is, fundamentally, a rather unremarkable car with wild styling and an even wilder conception story. It’s not particularly great to drive, even by standards of the time, nor is it fabulously rare. If you’re one of the many enthusiasts interested in DeLorean ownership, it’s very likely that it’s entirely the result of nostalgia.

Whether you purchase it as a conversation piece, rolling garage sculpture, or Cars and Coffee cruiser, you likely know what you’re getting into by now. Enjoy it for what it is and expect nothing more than its stunning good looks and ridiculously cool doors. However, if you aren’t a purist, there is an established catalog of upgrades and engine swaps that can transform your casual cruiser into something that goes as fast as it looks.

DMC DeLorean Buying Tips

RM Tonkin Delorean

RM Tonkin Delorean

1982 DeLorean DMC 12

Photo by: Bring a Trailer

Bring a Trailer

For the most part, it’s not hard to find a DeLorean in good nick. A good portion of these cars are enjoyed as curios and fair-weather cruisers, many with odometers that have yet to roll past 50,000 miles. That’s a shame, as despite the distinct lack of gumption, the PRV V-6 is a stout and robust engine, capable of high mileage with just regular serving. Really, most of the DeLorean’s mechanical and electrical problems arise from age and lack of use, not for lack of solid engineering. Better still, the sort of body rust you’d see on a typical early ‘80s car is much less of a concern thanks to the stainless steel panels, though the chassis underneath is still susceptible.

If you are in the market, we suggest you look for one that has enjoyed both regular exercise and servicing; don’t shy away from cars that have higher mileage, provided there’s a thick sheaf of maintenance records accompanying it. If you do need service or restoration, the Texas-based DMC HQ would be more than happy to work on your car, and if you’re local, give a thorough pre-purchase inspection. If you’re the patient type, we’d suggest waiting to see what becomes of the all-new made-to-order DeLorean saga currently developing behind the scenes.

If you can’t wait, spend some time camped out on online auction sites to snipe the cleanest example (with a manual transmission) you can find. Most DeLoreans worth your time will run between $35,000 and $45,000, so it’s still well within the grasp of enthusiasts on a moderate budget.

DMC DeLorean Recent Auctions

1981 DeLorean DMC 12

Photo by: Bring a Trailer

Bring a Trailer

DeLoreans are relatively numerous, despite their short production run, and aren’t very high-dollar, so they populate the docket of many an auction house, including Bring a Trailer. Here is a selection of DeLoreans that sold relatively recently.

For all of MotorTrend’s exclusive stories, photos, videos, and technical deep dives on the all the latest cars, trucks, and SUVs, head to www.motortrend.com. Looking to buy a new car truck, or SUV? Be sure to give the MotorTrend Buying guide a look.

This article was originally published on Automobile.com for MotorTrend.

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