The Carchive: The De Lorean DMC-12

DMC12a
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.”
DMC12b
“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”.
DMC12c
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.
DMC12e
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”
DMC12f
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.
DMC12f
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.
DMC12g
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.
DMC12h
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)

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.

16 Comments

  1. I'm curious about what kind of headlights we would have got were it not for the federally-mandated sealed beams…because weirdly, they work. Possibly the only car where they just plain work with the styling.

  2. Okay, I give up. I told myself I would figure out what R.A-S.H. stands for, but I can't stand not knowing any longer. Someone please tell me.

    1. While we're at it, in the third picture from the top there is a yellow rubber glove and a bottle of lotion. Someone please DON'T tell me why.
      Thank you.

    2. If I've remembered right (plus some quick googling), it stands for Rusty's Archive – Showroom Hyperbole.

  3. Anyone else notice the gauges? Like how the car is idling at 1500 rpm with zero oil pressure? Yep – that's a PRV V-6!

    1. There's also something seriously wrong with the charging system. This brochure is not trying to sell you the car, it's trying to warn you to run away from it.

  4. I'm not a huge fan of the De Lorean, but I'll cut John some slack. He could have stuck with the bean counters at GM. Some said he was destined to be its president. But he wanted to make his own sportscar, his own way. And he did. He had to make a lot of compromises, he had to make some deals. He didn't wind up with a Porsche slayer on the cheap. But he made a whole bunch of the cars he wanted. As for that check, it's been a very long time since a million bucks bought very much in the car industry. These days, the majors are spending multiple billions developing model refreshes. For a cobbled together startup, done with skimpy funding and a very odd development and production plan, he was able to accomplish a great deal before it all crashed and burned.

  5. Awesome!
    Interesting tidbit – Consolidated International is headquartered here in Columbus, Ohio, USA, now known as Par International. They are the parent corporation of what was then Odd Lots and nowadays is Big Lots. They were started by Sol Shenk and Jerome Schottenstein who were great surplus people, good at finding deals and moving them to new buyers. They had a friend and occasional business partner named Marvin Katz who is a family friend of mine. He bought my grandfather's trucking business when grampa's heath was failing, and I've rented warehouse space from him over the years. I promise this is all going somewhere.
    When Delorean failed, Consolidated still held a bunch of notes from DMC. In the receivership deal they ended up getting all the inventory – meaning parts, partial cars, tooling, etc. They moved it all from Ireland to Columbus, OH. They didn't know what to do with it – at that time Deloreans were failed cars out of favor. Marvin happened to have space to store it and some interest, so his company bought all of it. Years later (1994-1995 or so?) I got to poke around in the stuff and try to help him sell some of it. I managed to sell a couple things but the market hadn't quite heated back up at that point. It worked out for the best though because the company behind the Texas based re-birth of the Delorean bought it all, lock stock and barrel, and moved it to Texas.
    It was pretty bizarre to poke around an old buggy factory (Columbus Buggy Works) checking out partial Delorean shells, motors, doors, glass, hatches, etc. Pretty good stuff for a late teen age hoon.
    I don't have 100% of the business details right, I'm sure, as again these were my teen years so car parts were more interesting than receivership details. Actually, that's still true.

  6. The thing that sticks out most in my mind about actually being IN one of these cars is the headliner design. The legroom and headroom are actually pretty good for a semi-exotic sports car, presumably because John Z himself was quite tall and wanted to be able to fit in his own car. However, a lot of that headroom is achieved by carving a big bread-loaf-shaped depression in the headliner above each seat. The center and sides of the headliner are several inches lower than that, so they sort of surround the top of your head, separated by a gap of a few inches on each side. That is singularly disconcerting if you're not used to it — it's like wearing the car's roof like a giant hat. If you were claustrophobic, it might give you some bad moments, although it's ultimately not that bad.

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