To further prove that there is literally no process followed in choosing topic vehicles for this series, our final machine this week isn’t Korean, isn’t French and isn’t a mobility scooter either.
I don’t claim to know a whole lot about DeLoreans. Fortunately the internet is stacked to the brim with sites full of DMC-12 enfactmentation and trivia, so don’t expect this particular dose of R.A-S.H to offer you much in the way of insight or wisdom. But then;
“Marty, where we’re going, we don’t need insight or wisdom.”
“DE LOREAN-the man, the company, the car”
Never a bloke short of an ego, the opening paragraphs of the 1981 DMC-12 publicity brochure are heaped in weighty praise of the soon-to-be notorious Mr John Zacharia.
“After 25 years of spectacular personal accomplishment in the automotive industry”
All you amateur General Motors historians will know about John’s contributions to the motoring scene; delivering a succession of important muscle-rich cars onto the market (ably assisted by a team of many hundreds of talented assistants…), and very much fortifying the image of Pontiac for a number of years. On balance, from my safe pan-Atlantic viewpoint, De Lorean did a lot of good stuff for the General. Including the Chevy Vega. What a hero.
After retiring from the big Gee Emm, De Lorean didn’t stop tinkering with cars for very long, with his own new company starting up in ’73. There then came a lengthy development period during which various engine choices were mooted and many exotic materials and manufacturing techniques were explored, improved or abandoned. Eventually, in 1981, out popped:
“A total performance car that would be economical to run and safe to drive, without compromising quality and comfort for price”.
It seemed such a rational, worthy, earnest promise to offer. Value, economy, safety and power. What an intoxicating blend! If only some other company had thought to offer that combination. Apart from the countless ones who did, that is. For over fifty years. It seemed, astonishingly, that this amazing looking Silver beastie was being sold as if there were almost nothing unique about what it actually did.
Never mind. It was 1981 and:
“the long-awaited transportation revolution has now begun, and a leader has emerged to show us the way… the De Lorean”
If it seems I have a downer on the DMC-12 then I’ll tell you a secret; I absolutely adore it. Forget That Film, (well, don’t, because I absolutely love BTTF, too), the DeLorean will always, for me, live in a strange category that is difficult to ratify. Being a child of the ‘eighties is probably part of it, but I like to think that I’d be a fan of the car if the film had never been made. I mean, I’m a fan of the Bricklin SV-1, a car with many parallels to the DeLorean, but I like Johns’ car more.
I think, most probably, I love it for how it looks.
There’s just something other worldly about it. It’s not pretty like a Ferrari or playful like a Porsche. It doesn’t dwell on aeronautical nor marine cues, doesn’t hark back or pastiche anything that has gone before it. Giugiaros’ (yes, he of the Hyundai Stellar!) bold shape would become an instant classic, and one that nobody has dared to reference or emulate. Those four, ultra-conventional headlamps, that window-in-window arrangement, the turbine-spoke wheels, the avoidance of curvature. Park one of these anywhere, even today, even in a small rural village in England, and it will draw a crowd. Perhaps because of the film; perhaps because the man-on-the-street doesn’t realise that approximately nine thousand of these things were built. I’m sure people actually think that The Time Machine and The DeLorean were one and the same.
Pre BTTF, the brochure puts it well here:
“The DeLorean sparks the imagination like a classic vision of things to come”
On discussing the styling, without so much as mentioning the intents of the designer, they summed things up succinctly:
“You cannot create a masterpiece with arbitrary lines”
Of course, the headline-grabbing feature was the choice of gullwing doors which rose on “cryogenically preset torsion bars”. They were also linked to an onboard smoke-generator which created a dramatic mist which would curl out of the doors when you opened them. No, not really. But there may well have been some Lucas content to the electrics which would achieve much the same effect.
Eschewing the usual range of clearcoat and pearlescent metallic paints, the exterior was famously finished in:
“Softly brushed stainless steel (which) cannot fade or chip…”
….but could attract greasy fingerprints like you couldn’t believe. The example they have on display in the foyer of the Coventry Transport Museum was sometimes so heavily mottled with fingerprints that the car actually looked to be finished in camouflage.
Aside from the frequent need for degreasing;
“Delorean motor company had a serious commitment to total driver satisfaction”
With the amount of emotional baggage the DMC-12 is encumbered with, reading the sales brochure is a slightly surreal experience. The BTTF factor is so high that it almost seems bizarre that the car should have a dashboard, controls and a steering wheel like any other car. The thing is, it wasn’t until 1985 and Mr Zemeckis turned up, that the DeLorean became anything other than just another car.
That said, the driving environment was suitably alien to most people. Stooping under those doors you slid into a low slung cockpit and reclined into deep bucket seats with pronounced nose up to the seat bases. In front of you there was a federal 85mph speedometer and a very Lotus Esprit-like HVAC control panel. The insides didn’t really scream “sportiness” out loud, but it was gradually being pointed out that we weren’t really supposed to be thinking “sportiness” either.
There were definite sports-car signs under the flesh, where there lurked a Lotusey Backbone chassis with tuning-fork ends, the rearmost ones surrounding the engine. The brochure speaks of a 35/65 rear weight bias, which seems likey to be accurate when you see the engine mounted right out at the back. Presumably the traction in snow was terrific but I don’t recall the DMC-12 ever being praised for its delicacy of steering, crisp turn-in or neutral chassis behaviour. The bigs ‘n littles combination of 14″ wheels at the front, 15″ at the back must have been deliberate to suit this choice of layout.
With all that weight up the bum it was fortunate that the engine that eventually ended up in the DeLorean didn’t exactly have an excess of power. It was described as a:
“Healthy and fuel efficient 2.85 litre V6 power plant….. develops 130 SAE net horsepower.
Yes, the PRV Douvrin V6. Teamed with the automatic transmission I can’t imagine power oversteer being number one in the list of perils that DMC-12 owners would have to face on a daily basis.
When I acquired this brochure it came with a XEROX copy of a check raised by De Lorean and raised under the title “60th day payment for DMC”, paid to Consolidated International Incorporated. It’s evidence of the scale of monies that were moving to and fro towards the collapse of the De Lorean empire by the mid ’80s. I have no idea how significant this cheque (for over a million dollars) actually was, but it’s a nice piece of ephemera to add to the glamour of the brochure itself.
There was, of course, also a bus which De Lorean intended to sell under the name DMC-80, but that never made full scale production. The DMC-12, though, will no doubt retain its legendary status for all of time. A regret of mine is that, despite the fact that I used to know somebody who owned one of these, I never got to drive it. Something tells me that it would be a massive disappointment if I did, but the words on the paper tell me:
“you’re in for a thoroughly rewarding experience when you drive a DeLorean.”
And if I never do; well, at least I own the brochure.
(Disclaimer: All images were captured, by me, next to the toaster, in the kitchen, of my 1981 DMC-12 brochure. All copyright remains property of whoever wants it)