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Beyond the Time Machine – 1

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Author: Matt Boyd
Photography: Bruce Wartleib

The Legend of the DeLorean
The Road to stardom for DeLorean Motor Cars’ sole model—the DMC-12—was a bumpy one; any one of several obstacles could have been enough to derail the project before a single car was built. About 9000 were manufactured between 1981 and 1983, at times production driven seemingly on the determination of the company’s founder and namesake, John Z. DeLorean alone. By the time the DMC-12—usually known simply as the DeLorean—made is silver screen debut, it was more than two years out of production, the company was bankrupt and John Z.—one of

the most influential and colorful characters in automotive history—was fighting federal drug trafficking charges. He was eventually acquitted when it was determined that FBI agents had entrapped him by suggesting he smuggle cocaine inside DMC-12s he imported from the Dunmurry, Ireland assembly plant. Nevertheless, the scandal, coupled with production delays, cost overruns, supplier problems, and the general poor health of the auto industry in the early ’80s brought a premature end to the enterprise.
Famed designer Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the original DMC-12, and its shape compares favorably with any of his Maserati, Lancia or Lotus creations. The distinctive lines of the car have aged well—something that cannot be said of most of its contemporaries. You have to remember that this car was drawn up during an era where a screaming chicken on the hood of a Trans Am was considered sporty and vinyl tops, porthole windows and rich Corinthian leather were considered the height of Domestic automobile fashion.

The stainless steel body was futuristic without being cheesy, and the clean lines and balanced proportions don’t end up looking like vehicular bellbottoms after the fad has died out. Perhaps the styling cue that did not age gracefully is the louvered rear window, but given that the DeLorean featured a drivetrain mounted behind the driver, choices were limited if a swooping rear contour was to be maintained. Other rear-engined sportscars of the ’70s, such as the Triumph TR-7, Fiat X1-9 and the Porsche 914, had awkward notched rear window/deck profiles. The DeLorean was a graceful step forward, but to pull it off the louvers were an unfortunate necessity.
Under those louvers was the much maligned Peugeot-Renault-Volvo 2.9L V-6. In reality, this was a fairly sturdy and good-performing engine—in European trim, at least. But American expectations of a sports car with the DeLorean’s bold looks were that it produce tire-shredding torque in abundance. That the little V-6 could not do, burdened as it was restrictive US emissions controls. In Euro-trim, the engine was good for a spritely 170 horses, but US regs strangled it down to just 130. This was offset some by the car’s relatively light weight—around 2700 pounds. The result was respectable performance, but hardly the world-beater John Z. had originally envisioned. Manual transmission cars could scoot to 60mph in about 8.5 seconds, while automatics took about a second longer.

In the end, the DeLorean’s legacy became one of style, innovation and the quirky legend that surrounded the company and its founder. It remains one of the more recognizable automotive experiments of recent times, and it maintains an active and enthusiastic collector following—fertile soil for a diecast company looking to revisit a peculiar and provocative automotive tale, and irresistible when you throw in the memorable movie tie-in.

Updated: June 30, 2011 — 11:25 AM

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