The DeLorean automobile is a sports car that was manufactured by the DeLorean Motor Company for the American market in 1981 and 1982 in Northern Ireland. It is most commonly known simply as the DeLorean, as it was the only model ever produced by the company. The DMC-12 featured gull-wing doors with a fiberglass "underbody", to which non-structural brushed stainless steel panels were affixed. A DeLorean was featured as a home-made time machine in the Back to the Future trilogy.
The first prototype appeared in March 1976, and production officially began in 1981 (with the first DeLorean rolling off the production line on January 21) at the DMC factory in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland. During its production, several features of the car were changed, such as the hood (bonnet) style, wheels and interior. Approximately 9,200 DeLorean's were assembled before production stopped in late 1982. Today, it's estimated about 6,500 DeLorean's still exist worldwide.
In October 1976, the first prototype DeLorean (then referred to as the DMC-12) was completed by William T. Collins, chief engineer for the DeLorean Motor Company (having formerly worked with John DeLorean at Pontiac and Chevrolet). Originally, the car's rear-mounted power plant was to be a Citroën engine, as seen in this first prototype, though a Wankel rotary engine was also considered. For production, a French-designed and produced PRV (Peugeot-Renault-Volvo) fuel injected V6 was used. Collins and DeLorean envisioned a chassis 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 in the time frame available.
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 currently being employed by Lotus. The Backbone chassis is very similar to the Lotus Esprit, and the underbody was manufactured using vacuum assisted resin injection (VARI), a process licensed from Lotus.. The original Giorgetto Giugiaro body design was left mostly intact, as were the distinctive stainless steel outer skin panels and gull-wing doors.
DeLorean required $175 million to develop and build the motor company. DeLorean eventually built the DMC-12 in a factory in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland, a neighborhood a few miles from Belfast city centre. Most of the project was financed by the British government, who required the factory be in in Northern Ireland, in an attempt to quell the sectarian violence present there at that time. Construction on the factory began in October 1978, and engineering delays and budget overruns meant production did not begin until early 1981. Still, to go from a greenfield site to a state of the factory – and develop a car to be built there at the same time – in just 28 months is still a remarkable accomplishment by today's standards. Though the workers were largely inexperienced, but were paid premium wages and supplied with the best equipment available. Most quality issues were solved by late1981 and the cars were sold from dealers with a 12 month, 12,000-mile (19,300 km) warranty (common for that era) and an available five-year, 50,000-mile (80,000 km) service contract.
The DeLorean Motor Company filed for bankruptcy 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 DeLorean to remain in production. 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. 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. The body dies used to stamp the unique stainless panels were either scrapped or dumped into the ocean, to be used as weights for a fishery. Fortunately, thousands of new, unused body panels remain, and the supply of most all of them is assured for many more years.
About 9,200 DMC-12s were produced between January 1981 and December 1982. Most were 1981 models, carrying VINs ending in BD000500 to BD007199. About 2,500 1982 models were produced between in the period of time between January and December 1982, though many of these cars had the VIN's changed after purchase by Consolidated International to make them appear as 1983 models. 1982 models can be identified by the VINs ending in CD010001 to CD011786. The cars re-numbered to become 1983 models are VINs ending in DD015XXX, DD016XXX, and DD017XXX VINs which were originally 10XXX, 11XXX and 12XXX VINs. Approximately 100 partially assembled DeLorean's on the production line were completed by former managers of the factory, hired by Consolidated International (now known as Big Lots), who purchased the remaining parts and unsold cars, along with other items from the factory. The VINs on these cars are from DD020101 to DD020105.
Right-hand drive models
DeLorean's were primarily intended for the American market despite being produced in Northern Ireland. All production models were therefore left-hand drive (designed to be driven on the right side of the road). Early on though, 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, where traffic travels on the left.
To sell DeLoreans in the United Kingdom would mean producing a right-hand drive configuration of the car. 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 underbody 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.
The following is the best known available data on the right-hand drive DeLoreans. It's believed that only 17 right-hand drive factory-authorized 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 a company in the UK called Wooler-Hodec. 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 VIN numbers: 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 the first batch of cars had a black interior and all had manual transmission except VIN 12175.
- 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 Wooler-Hodec cars in several ways. These three cars all had roof mounted radio aerials, very small round front side marker lights, no rear side marker lights, white forward-facing door lights, fog-light switch, and textured body rubstrips on the stainless steel panels. No catalytic converters or Lambda equipment were fitted as British legislation did not require them. The car with the registration number AXI 1697 was reputedly a fully UK homologated example which would have been shown at the British motor show at Birmingham, UK in October 1982.
The DMC-12 features a number of unique 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 expressed 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 company. Three DeLorean cars were painted at the direction of the US-company, and these cars were all very early production models. 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 plastic body fillers 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 requires great skill and experience. Originally, DeLorean envisioned that severely damaged panels would simply be replaced rather than repaired; each DeLorean service center today typically 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 an air pump in the Bricklin SV-1, although these designs had structural or convenience issues. 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 DeLorean'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 DeLorean. 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 parking lots relatively easy. Much like the doors fitted to the Lamborghini Countach, the DeLorean doors featured small cutout windows, because full-sized windows would not be fully retractable within the contours of the door panels.
The underbody and suspension of the DeLorean 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 DeLorean's smooth ride wasn't a surprise. A last minute change in the vehicle's factory ride height – belived to be due to a change in the U.S. regulations, had an adverse effects on the car's handling capabilities and gave the car a “nose high” look. Many owners have subsequently replaced or modified the front and rear springs to return the ride height and handling to the original design specification.
Steering is 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 170 horsepower (130 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 40 horsepower (30 kW) reduction to the vehicle's power output, a loss which seriously impeded the DeLorean's performance. 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. Conversely, the DeLorean achieved respectable fuel economy numbers for the day, and the DeLorean today will typically get in the low-20 miles per gallon range in the city, and the mid-high 20 miles per gallon range on the highway.
The car was initially referred to as the DMC-12 because of its projected original (1978) price of $12,000. A decline in the value of the dollar, inflation and higher interest rates pushed the eventual suggested retail price to $25,000 when the car was introduced in 1981; this is equivalent to approximately $62,300 in 2007 dollars.
The DMC-12 was only available with two factory options including a no-cost manual transmission or automatic transmission ($650) and the choice of a gray or black interior. Several dealer options were available, including a fitted car cover ($117); floor mats ($84); black textured accent stripes ($87); gray accent stripes ($55); a luggage rack ($269); a ski-rack adapter ($121) and fitted sheepskin seat covers ($495).
The standard feature list included stainless steel body panels; gull-wing doors with cryogenically-preset 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 moldings; intermittent windshield wipers; four-wheel power assisted disc brakes; and an electric rear window defogger.
The first of the two original DeLorean prototypes is still in existence, and is currently in a private collection in Houston, Texas. The second, shipped to Lotus for development and evaluation is reported to have been destroyed in the 1990's.
In addition to the prototypes, several "pilot cars" still exist. These cars, used for testing of the DeLorean, had been thought destroyed. Production of the DeLorean started at VIN 500. VIN 500, notable for being the first production DeLorean to roll off the line in 1981, is on display in the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Both are in private collections.
For Christmas 1979, A DeLorean/American Express promotion planned to sell one hundred 24k gold-plated DeLorean's 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 is located at 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 that was planned for introduction later in the 1982 model year. 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) clocked up; it carries the latest VIN for the last DeLorean, #20105, though it is an earlier production car that was unfinished for reasons unknown, and the final assembly and installation of the gold panels was actually completed in Columbus, Ohio in 1983 by Consolidated International. 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. 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.
A fourth gold car was privately plated by it's owner in 1981 and was later sold to a private individual in Canada. It's current whereabouts are unknown.