Great Scott! The Delorean Story

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By Ben Selby

They say the difference between genius and insanity is measured only by success. This turn of phrase perfectly describes the late John Zachary Delorean, who as I’m sure we all know, fathered the one of most cult cars of the 20th century, that stainless steel fictional time machine, the Delorean DMC 12. Most of us know the story, but in case you don’t, curl up and lets begin.

John Z Delorean was a maverick engineer working at General Motors during the fifties and early sixties. With his Machiavelli attitude and business know how, he quickly rose from the workshop floor to the GM board room quicker than anyone expected. So rapid was his rise, he became the youngest ever head of GM’s Pontiac division at that time. He also to this day is widely credited for kicking starting the Muscle Car era, as he led the brains behind the now legendary big block Pontiac GTO.

With the financially abundant executive lifestyle, private planes never far away, and a beautiful girl always under his arm, John Delorean was on his way to becoming the big boss of General Motors, but then without warning, he announced to his colleagues, the dealers, and his family, he would be stepping down from the cushiest job in the American automotive world. The reason for his resignation was in two parts.

The first being he felt the mainstream car industry was playing a little fast and loose with the truth when it came to unveiling a new car, so from an ethical point of view, he chose not to partake in that. The second part, was to go it alone and realise a childhood dream of creating his own sports car. He wanted the initials DMC, not GMC, to be adorning a stainless-steel gullwing door sports car, and create his own sports car legacy alongside Enzo Ferrari and Ferruccio Lamborghini.

Delorean’s former GM dealers believed in his vision, and invested a huge lump sum, but there was still a way to go, he also needed a factory to build the car. Delorean approached the British Government in Northern Ireland and started his spin. The British were ecstatic, they handed him tens of millions of taxpayer’s pounds, and worn torn Belfast was chosen as the site to build Delorean’s dream car.

With dealers in place in America, financial backing from the British, and construction on the plant well underway, Delorean approached Colin Chapman at Lotus to design the car for him. Legendary Italian styling guru, Giorgetto Giugairo would also style the car now christened the DMC 12.

However, once production had started in 1980, Delorean’s idea of a safety fast stainless-steel supercar was heavily compromised.  The DMC 12 was a thing of beauty, but the car’s weight and lack of power from the Renault sourced 3.8 litre V6, meant zero to 100km/h was dealt with in 10 seconds, leagues behind the 911’s and Ferrari’s of the time.

Never the less, early sales for the car were good, however issues with build quality and reliability started to mark Delorean’s baby. Basically, the Irish workers on the production line had never built a sports car before, and were all learning their craft on the job. As time went on, Delorean and that of the DMC board were all living extravagant jet set life styles, confident their investment in this unique car would be successful, and then it happened.

In 1982, a freak winter storm blanketed the United States in snow and ice, literally freezing sales of new cars. Overnight, business profits plummeted and Delorean, whose biggest market share was the USA, started to enter serious financial difficulties. He approached the British government again and again, asking for funds, this time they did not comply. When it emerged, he couldn’t pay the Irish workers’ wages, it became clear the Delorean Motor Company was heading towards bankruptcy.

Delorean himself became desperate, and found himself in a hotel room in California which would forever tarnish his reputation and the car he created. Delorean was involved in a Cocaine Drug Deal which if successful, could give him the millions he needed to save his dream. The dealers in the hotel room were actually undercover FBI agents, and Delorean was arrested. The news went viral, but amazingly Delorean was cleared of all charges, stating categorically he was the victim of ‘entrapment’ set up by the FBI.

1985. Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future premiers in theatres around the world. Movie goers are introduced to Marty McFly, Doctor Emmett L Brown and certain Delorean complete with flux capacitor, time circuits, fusion reactor, and eventually, the ability to fly. The Back to the Future trilogy not only gave us one of the most popular and fun movie trilogies ever made, but created so many fans of the Delorean DMC 12.

Today, the cult following of the movies and the Delorean is real. You could park a DMC 12 in a line of modern supercars, and the stainless-steel gullwing door movie star, will get all the attention. One man who knows this is John Berry, a self-confessed movie buff who has owned his Delorean for a number of years now.

For John, the Delorean was always THE car. “I am huge fanboy and love the Back to the Future movies, so I have always wanted to have a Delorean in my garage. My friends were into muscle cars and they weren’t really my thing, but this definitely is,” says John. At the time, John was completely unaware Delorean’s resided in New Zealand. “I was out on a job one day and I got to see this collection of cars, one of which was a Delorean. I couldn’t believe they are actually in New Zealand and decided then, that I had to find one.”

John found his 1981 Delorean after putting the word out in the New Zealand Delorean community. “My car was sold new in California and was number 2634 off the line. The car itself is all original and I would love to keep it that way,” The number plate G8 Scot was a gift from his wife.

The Delorean has been fairly reliable in the time John has had it, however due to the car’s stainless-steel body, keeping it clean requires thinking outside the box. “Some WD 40 works wonders and if there is a build up of grime, sanding the body is an easy way around it,” John laughed.

It becomes clear when you notice John’s Back to the Future replica Hoverboard, jacket, cap and personalised number plate, that he is a huge fan of the movies. However, its his Delorean’s replica Flux Capacitor, which has the coolest story behind it.

“I was out for a drive when, while parked up, someone came up to me and asked if my car was a real Delorean? I said yes, and he was so excited to see one in person, saying I had made his weekend,” says John. “Later on. when I wanted to electrics in my Flux Capacitor to work properly, I went into an electric specialist, and who should be behind the counter? but the same guy who approached me saying that I had made his weekend by showing him the car! When I asked him what he could do for me regarding my flux capacitor, he threw all his work to one side and declared my project was all that mattered! He did a darn good job too,” says John.

For this writer, a Delorean was always on the bucket list of cars to drive. So, when John tossed me the keys and said “go for it” excitement was certainly an understatement. Sliding into the seat via those gullwing doors, the fan boy in me was doing cartwheels. The inside of John’s Delorean is all original, and it shows. Some of the dash is cracking and the seat material is starting to come undone, but who cares.

The DMC 12 is a comfortable place to be, and once you close that gullwing door down with a dignified clunk, you feel very cocooned by your surroundings. Look ahead, and you realise that while time travel was possible at speeds in excess of 88mph, the Delorean’s speedometer only went as far as 85.

Select first gear, depress clutch and you are away. The first thing I found was the ratios for the manual box were quite close together, so many times going from first to second, became first to fourth. Given the modest power of that Renault V6, blinding acceleration was not on the agenda.

Once you get going though, the Delorean responds better with firm use of the accelerator and brake. Giving it a bootful, you do make decent progress, much better than the critics of this car would have you believe, but you certainly won’t have your fillings rearranged in the process.

Due to the weight of the car, you do need to be firm on the brakes. Steering is heavy too and vision is fair out the rear. However, this is supposed to be a sports car of the early eighties, so why expect anything other than the former.

Despite being a heavy fella, the Delorean is actually a very comfortable car to be in. Those chairs have adequate lateral support, but they entice you slob out. You could quite happily travel long distances in the DMC 12, just be prepared to be the absolute centre of attention wherever you go.

When it comes to getting noticed, the DMC 12 is from another planet let alone another time. See what I did there? The amount of double taking and neck snapping reactions from passers-by was nothing short of staggering. Parking up, and you are just swamped with people. Most of them ask the same question, “Is it a real one?”

A day with this Delorean DMC 12 will go down as one of the most memorable in recent years. A testament to a controversial figure risking it all to pursue the vision of building the sports car of dreams. Sure, he bet red and it came up black, but the cult following of the car which bears John Delorean’s name will keep burning brightly for years to come.

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