Collectible Classic: 1981-1983 De Lorean

Eric McCandless

Meanwhile, and in record time, De Lorean built an ultramodern factory in the unlikeliest of places -- Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the midst of civil unrest. The first De Lorean finally rolled off the assembly line in early 1981, but it would be six more months before a batch was actually ready to be air-freighted to the United States, where the cars sold for well above their $25,000 sticker price. (By then, the DMC-12 name had died along with the $12,000 price tag.) Comedian Johnny Carson, an early investor in the company, was one of the first customers to drive his De Lorean home. Or at least try to -- his alternator failed on the way.

The company itself proved no more reliable. Rumors of impending financial implosion decimated demand overnight. Rather than slow production, John De Lorean inexplicably doubled the factory's output. Unsold inventory accumulated, tying up the company's limited working capital and causing production to grind to a halt. In its final fight to survive, the De Lorean Motor Company was optimized to achieve profitability selling 4000 cars per year -- well below the initial 10,000-unit break-even plan and a fraction of its founder's absurd 30,000 per annum goal.

Thirty years later, you can't drive a De Lorean without a camera-wielding pedestrian calling out, "Back to the Future!"

It makes you wonder: if the movie had come out earlier, might De Lorean have survived? With that kind of fame, surely 4000 cars could have been sold per year. Was it, irony of all ironies, bad timing that killed the car that everyone knows as the time machine?

One thing's for sure: its looks were not to blame. Giugiaro's hard-edged wedge, drawn in 1975, still looks futuristic today -- even before the twin 90-pound doors are hoisted open. If there's any criticism, it's that the car's incredibly low and wide proportions promise more performance than the French powerplant could deliver. Reaching 60 mph takes ten long seconds -- it might have looked like a spaceship, but this was an executive express, not a supercar.

The car is of great design. Given more money to make it right as well as reduce weight, then put in a more potent engine, similar to a Ferrari 308 and this could have been an amazing car. The authors got it right, though: the car was a huge hit in the movie and had the company lasted, that could have been the sales boom to get it going. More models would have been needed to keep it viable, however. One thing we've learned in the years since is that no car company can be a one-trick pony. Even Mini has several models and they aren't truly independent.
I often wonder what would result from marrying the DMC-12 to the Ford V8 powered Bricklin? I would think it not too hard to install a V-8 and six-spd auto in the DMC.
I wouldn't say that the pronunciation of "giga" (as used in "Back to the Future") is incorrect.Apparantly, even though the hard-G pronunciation may be ubiquitous these days (e.g. gigabytes, gigahertz) that is a relatively recent pronunciation trend. The historically favored pronunciation is with the "soft" g (i.e. "jiggawatts") rather than the "hard" G. In fact, any old-timer engineer (pre-1980s) is much more likely to use the soft-G pronunciation than the hard-G. Also (according to Wikipedia) the National Institutes of Standards and Technologies (NIST) pronunciation guide still lists the soft-G as the correct pronunciation.
I had the first DeLorean in Denver. Cost me a $5,000 premium. I dropped the transmission the first month, but really had no further problems in the three years I drove it as a daily driver, though it did not like hot weather. I loved the car, except for the low power -- it was woefully slow for such a hot design. I sold it after 3 years for half what I paid for it, but it was a fun ride for me.

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