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DeLorean DMC-12

Published: 27th Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

GT rather than sports. Stainless skin has its drawbacks but can be resprayed GT rather than sports. Stainless skin has its drawbacks but can be resprayed
Car immortalised in Back to The Future flick and a high number still survive Car immortalised in Back to The Future flick and a high number still survive
Engine is rugged - US cars just 130bhp Engine is rugged - US cars just 130bhp
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What is a DeLorean?

It’s perhaps the most controversial sports car ever made - and certainly the most contentious vehicle ever to have come out of Ireland. With its stainless steel bodywork, gullwing doors and lead role in the Back to the Future trilogy, the DeLorean is also one of the most recognisable of all classics – despite the fact that fewer than 9000 of them were built. Today they make viable individual classics - all for the price of a concours MGBGT.

History

The DeLorean project got underway as early as January 1974, after the late John DeLorean had left General Motors as vice president a year earlier to set up his own car company. He saw an opportunity for a very safe sports car (which he labelled “ethical”) that looked dramatic but offered good fuel economy as well as decent performance at an affordable price.All he needed was the funding to do it.

Basis of the car was a 1970 design concept on the iconic Porsche 911 and throughout the latter half of the 1970s, various prototypes were constructed that put the focus on economy and safety, along with quality. Stainless steel skin panels had already been settled upon for durability, while the gullwing doors were also decided upon for accessibility reasons as well as being something different to woo buyers. Giorgetto Giugiaro came up with the overall design, based upon a conventional (Lotus-like) backbone chassis and ex-GM engineer Bill Collins worked out the mechanicals.

The initial plan of using a Wankel engine was soon dropped, as were subsequent plans to use Ford Cologne V6 and then Citroen CX 2.0-litre power. Then things started to go quickly, horribly wrong. The funding began to dry up, there was no factory in which to build the cars and Citroen lost interest in supplying engines once it learned that the four-cylinder unit was to be turbocharged. It was at this point that the British government stepped in, offering a massive £85m to develop a production plant in the Belfast suburbs, easing the high unemployment there as well as helping the social crisis in the province.

Meanwhile, a deal was done to use the capable Douvrin V6 that was the result of a partnership between Peugeot, Volvo and Renault. To speed up the car’s development, Lotus was called in and the car was comprehensively reengineered to make it acceptable. After huge amounts of effort (and money), the first cars were built in 1981; initial sales were quite strong, but things soon slowed to a trickle as major reliability issues arose (only two development hacks were used, barely racking up 50,000 miles and only in European climates it is claimed).

The car was badged DMC-12, the number relating to the fact that the sportster would only cost a princely $12,000. Alas the figure more than doubled by the time the car was in production and at $25,500, a Corvette could be bought for less, and so the stockpiles just swelled. Production was cut back as early as 1982, then the press got wind of DeLorean’s extravagant lifestyle and confidence in the project entirely evaporated; the last car was built on Christmas Eve 1982 – by which time the British Government was hot on the trail of where all those millions actually went… Fewer than 50 of the DeLoreans built were officially sold in the UK, although there are now over 200 of them here. The survival rate is also very high; around 6500 still exist around the world. When you consider that fewer than 8600 were built, that’s a pretty astonishing figure.

Driving

Think European than American here, with tautish handling and communicative steering - all thanks to Lotus’ development, which made a good car out of a pretty poor idea. However, with just 156bhp for European cars - and an even worse 130bhp for US ones - this is no slingshot. While 0-60mph was supposed to be possible in just 7.8 seconds, the reality is something much closer to the 10-second mark. The claimed top speed was equally optimistic; the 135mph supposedly attainable was much more like a mere 120mph in reality. A twin turbo was rumoured to be under development at the time the company closed.It’s difficult to compare a DeLorean with a rival but a good comparison would be to liken one to a Lotus Esprit, but roomier and softer - and slower.

Prices

A decent car costs at least £14,000; there’s no such thing as a bargain DeLorean as owners know exactly what they’ve got. If you pay less than this, put aside a fair wedge of money for getting the car up to scratch; a £10,000 car will typically need £4000- worth of work to make it usable and cosmetically okay. The few restoration projects about usually cost £6000-£9000 while the best cars can be worth up to £20,000. If you get the chance to buy one of the few official righthand drive cars, expect to pay at least £25,000 if it’s a good one. Cars with automatic gearboxes fetch a small premium, but it’s only in the order of a few hundred pounds.

What To Look For

  • Corrosion isn’t a problem, but repairs to damaged panels are, as no ordinary bodyshop will consider taking on the job. Not unless they’re happy to take you for a ride, anyway - so check the car out thoroughly.
  • It’s a myth that the car featured a stainless steel body. Actually the shell was made of a plastic composite with a stainless veneer on top. Because the DeLorean’s panels are unpainted, repairs can’t be covered up. Therefore any dents or scratches have to be fixed invisibly using more traditional methods - or wholesale replacement of panels. Pretty much everything is available, but costs quickly add up if there’s a lot of work needed. While some of the cheaper panels (such as the roof, rear quarter panels and offside front wing) are around £300 each, some panels such as the nearside front wing are a heart-stopping £1300 apiece.
  • There were three types of bonnet fitted and the earliest two are now hard to find. The earliest type has swage lines and a fuel filler flap incorporated which makes refuelling much easier. The next design carried swage lines and no filler flap while the final type was a flat bonnet with an emblem. If you need to buy one of the earliest types, you’ll have to part with at least £1000, although all are interchangeable. If you’re looking at a 1981 car and it has a (later) flat bonnet, it’s likely there’s been a frontal impact at some point, as bonnets are rarely replaced for any other reason…
  • The condition of the stainless steel skin is a factor in any DeLorean’s value, although if it’s tarnished it’s possible to put things right for around £500, assuming there’s no damage. A lot of DeLoreans being resurrected don’t have major damage to their panelwork, but after standing for years it takes a lot of elbow grease to get them looking right. Re-brushing is the solution, which amounts to sanding the car down. It’s not a straightforward process, as all the sanding marks must be kept in a perfectly straight line or the finish looks patchy. The process takes several hours but costs a fraction of what you’d pay for a normal respray.
  • The stainless steel finish has other benefits too, when it comes to keeping it clean. You can use just about anything, from acetone to thinners or white spirit - and you can remove scratches with nothing more than a scouring pad!
  • One thing that can’t be fixed is an X-mark on the bonnet. This panel is made of stainless steel with a glassfibre backing, all of which is supported on a steel X-frame. On some cars this frame has become visible through the top of the bonnet due to enthusiastic polishing, reducing its value.
  • Stainless steel can corrode if exposed to the elements for lengthy periods. Cars that have been garaged aren’t likely to have any nasties lurking, unless it’s been stored under an asbestos roof, which can cause pitting in the panelling.
  • Although all DeLoreans featured a brushed stainless steel finish when they left the factory, some owners have painted them instead. While some have been painted purely through preference, some have had the work done to hide various imperfections. As a result, it’s important that you ask for a photographic record of any work that’s been done, including evidence that the steel was in good condition before the lick of paint was applied.
  • You also need to make sure that whoever painted the car knew what they were doing; there aren’t many companies with experience of painting stainless steel. Either way, painted cars are typically worth around 30 per cent less than one still in the raw.
  • It’s rare for a DeLorean to suffer from a rusty chassis. Made by GKN no less, the frame is made of welded box-section and plate steel, which was then dipped into a bath of epoxy resin and left to set. This resulted in a very thick layer of epoxy at the bottom that’s prone to cracking rather than flexing. Consequently, you need to ensure that the metal hasn’t corroded beneath the coating; your best approach is to see if you can put a screwdriver through the frame ahead of the front wheels - it’s very unlikely that you’ll manage it.
  • This is where the metal is at its thinnest, and if it’s okay here, the thicker metal further back should be fine. Similarly, if you can put a screwdriver through the metal, there’s probably serious corrosion elsewhere.
  • Generally, damage to the frame occurs through the car having been grounded, thanks to the ride height having been reduced - a common modification. When this occurs, it scrapes the epoxy coating off the frame, leaving it exposed to the elements. Even cars sitting in a garage will suffer condensation moisture, which will eat into the exposed steel
  • .
  • When assessing the condition of the chassis, look for signs of repair or fresh paint. This is often a sign that rust has been patched up; if this is the case, ask when the repair was carried out and by whom.
  • One important area to check is below the brake servo, as brake fluid can strip the chassis epoxy. If either of the master cylinders has ever leaked, the fluid would have dripped onto the chassis in the left front wheel well and crept under the fuel tank. The epoxy coating generally stands up well (except to brake fluid) and DeLorean’s original 25-year rust-free design spec seems to have been realistic.
  • The most common problem with DeLoreans, if they haven’t been run for a while, is crud build up in the Bosch fuel injection system. The result is a car that won’t run properly, because of nasties in the injectors or the metering unit. The problem occurs because so many of the cars are used so infrequently, leading to stale petrol sitting in the tank for perhaps years.
  • Another problem is that the fuel pump has a rubber boot that locates it; this disintegrates and contaminates the fuel. New ones are £40 each and replacement is simple. It is accessed by removing the spare wheel.
  • When the car is recommissioned, the first thing that gets done is the battery being connected and the engine is turned over, drawing through stagnant fuel and debris, which blocks up the various components. Ideally the fuel tank should be drained and the fuel lines blown through, with fresh fuel then put in - but this rarely happens. As a result, the fuel lines and probably the pump will need to be replaced, while the inside of the fuel tank will also need to be cleaned. New tanks are available at £50 each from the club, but steam cleaning, or wiping with acetone is usually all that’s required. Replacing everything will typically cost £500; get a specialist to do it all and the bill usually doubles.
  • Make sure the cooling fans work, as the wiring can be unreliable. As long as the cooling system is healthy and the car properly serviced, the engine should last for 300,000 miles or more, without even having to replace the timing chains. However, with the newest cars nearly 25 years old, some of the seals have seen better days. The front and rear main seals can weep oil while the water pump can start leaking; a new one is £105. The oil pressure switch also tends to leak with age, but new ones cost £6 apiece and take just two minutes to swap.
  • If there’s still a catalytic converter fitted, it’s worth removing it to liberate a few more horses and also allow the engine to run at a lower operating temperature.
  • Listen for blowing from the exhaust manifold, as its gaskets are prone to failure – but the exhaust itself will never fall apart as it’s all stainless. The original system is restrictive though, so it’s worth fitting a freeflow type instead, at a cost of £800.
  • DeLorean buyers had a choice of fivespeed manual or three-speed automatic gearboxes, the former unit being essentially the same as the one fitted to the Renault GTA, Venturi and later Lotus Esprits. Most cars have a manual gearbox, with the unit being notoriously strong; rebuilds so far are rare because of this durability.
  • Make sure you can get second gear cleanly; if there’s any baulking it’s because the gear selector fork roll-pin has worn. The part itself is just 12p, but the gearbox has to be removed and partially dismantled to get to it.
  • One of the reasons for the lack of horror stories is that there are very few highmileage DeLoreans out there; few examples have covered anything like 100,000 miles. Most common are low-mileage cars that need recommissioning, and because the cars aren’t racking up the miles, their major mechanical components have so far proved very tough
  • .
  • Only around 20 official right-hand drive cars were made, all but three by a company called Wooler Hodec. These were conversions sanctioned by the factory as part of the car’s development, and although the alterations were often performed on fairly ropey development mules, any survivors are highly prized.
  • Some post-factory right-hand drive conversions also exist, but their quality is variable and they don’t carry the same premium that a genuine car does. There are only three aftermarket conversions in the UK, (although there are more projects currently underway) with the rest being in Australia and Hong-Kong.
  • The suspension, which has a lot in common with the Esprit, suffers from oversoft springs that are even softer after 24 years. Not only this, but the DMC-12 sat rather high on its original suspension because of US regulations. As a result it’s best to fit shorter, stiffer springs at around £75 per pair which reduce the ride height as well as improving the looks and handling.
  • Cars before VIN 1884 were fitted with grey wheels, rather than the silver which later cars had; aside from the colour there were no other changes. These earlier wheels are rare, which makes them desirable. hey’re still available at about £150 each.
  • The DeLorean’s brake system is simple and reliable, although cars that have been laid up for years may be suffering from various seizures. The master cylinder bore ruts over time as the brake fluid absorbs water. Replacements costs around £75.
  • Many of the DeLoreans available have been imported from the US, often from states with very hot climates. The result of this is a sun-baked interior that has seen better days. Dashboards are especially prone to splitting. Reproduction dash surrounds are available from the US, but not as good as the original item. A higher quality dash will be available imminently by the way.
  • There’s a lot of standard equipment in a DeLorean, so it’s essential that you make sure it’s all working properly. Alongside air conditioning there were electric windows and a high-end stereo. None of these features are inherently unreliable. What is notoriously temperamental is the central locking system, which fails all too readily. Thankfully it can be revived for only a few pounds, as long as the door solenoids have not been burnt out because of the failure

Verdict

It doesn’t matter how ropey any DeLorean is, it can be fixed. The problem is the cost of putting things right, which is why you must know what you’re buying before committing yourself. Most cars are known to the owners’ club, which offers plenty of help via its members who are often happy to assess cars. PJ Grady (see specialists) also offers a free pre-purchase assessment before you buy, so there’s no excuse for getting caught out. You must also make sure that the car is UK-registered and that all taxes have been paid. You could be liable to pay a hefty amount to sort this out if these things haven’t been done and various small modifications are also needed to make the car road legal in the UK. These include the addition of a rear fog light. Assuming a survival rate of 6500 cars, over 90 per cent of remaining DMC- 12s are in the US, with just three per cent in the UK. Whereas it used to be worth personally importing a DeLorean from the US, it’s less clear-cut now. Customs & Excise used to charge five per cent VAT on such imports, but that has now jumped to the full duty and vat, making such a move potentially very expensive. By the time this has been added to shipping costs, it makes it ever harder to justify sourcing from America - especially as values over there are much the same as over here. However, DeLorean Motor Cars (see Specialists) can import a car at the lower rate, as the company has devised a way through the red tape.



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