The DeLorean DMC-12—Beyond the Time Machine

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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.


Though they appear quite similar at first glance, Sun Star’s 1:18 production DeLorean and the four movie versions share surprisingly little in terms of parts. This is not a criticism—the two products are clearly targeted at different audiences and each is presented appropriate to its market. Because the stock version will draw a buyer with more interest in scale realism, the production DMC-12 is considerably more detailed, particularly in the engine bay and on the undercarriage. In fact, the undertray modings are completely different, with the stock version getting a multipiece chassis with separately molded front and rear suspension subframes, exhausts and engine/transaxle components. The movie cars get much more generic “sci-fi” chassis, with various unidentifiable mechanical bits, but little in the way of scale authenticity. The street car’s steering works, while the movie cars make do with fixed axles.

The street car’s engine is accessible under the louvered hatch and secondary engine cover, and it is well molded with decent detail and a nice mix of colors. The movie cars have no conventional engine, as the space is consumed by the dramatic time-travel apparatus on the rear deck. This is at least as detailed as most engines at these models’ price point, so don’t feel short-changed. Wheel moldings are comparable between the street car and the first two movie cars. The third and fourth movie cars have period-specific rolling stock, but all are equally well executed. And the movie cars actually have the advantage in the interiors—the quality of detail among all is equal, but the movie cars are more interesting for the extra gizmos and switches.

The highlight for all versions is the finish on the stainless steel bodies. Obviously the models aren’t real stainless steel, but they do quite a nice job of simulating both the tint and the texture. All are worthy additions to your collection, but for different reasons. The street car will satisfy those looking to commemorate the compelling, melodramatic and brief history of one of America’s last independent automakers. The movie cars are a fun piece of nostalgia for those of us who enjoyed the lighthearted fun of the Back To The Future films.

Sun Star Diecast Inc; (305) 651-6249;


Updated: April 3, 2007 — 10:00 AM
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