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The DMC DeLorean: The Car Behind The Madness

All things DMC DeLorean on Automobile.

DMC DeLorean Essential History

We're not delving into the DeLorean Motor Company's short and fantastically scandalous history—if you're hungry for that blockbuster tale, there are many, many in-depth write ups, books, shows, and movies on the subject of John Z. DeLorean's meteoric rise to the heights of the automotive industry and his subsequent crash-landing after a controversial drug trafficking sting. It's a fantastic story, but we're here to talk about the stainless steel gullwinged wedge that was at the center of all this hullabaloo.

Development for the DeLorean began in the mid-1970s, with the first prototype appearing in 1976, and the first production cars in 1980 after a raft of development issues. It really was an international effort; Italian superstar designer Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the raked body, while DMC sought engineering expertise from Lotus founder and racing legend Colin Chapman. Power came from the rear-mounted Peugeot-Renault-Volvo (PRV) V-6, making this an Italian designed, British-engineered American car built in Ireland with a Franco-Swedish heart powering the whole thing.

Immediately, the DeLorean established itself as one of the most aesthetically distinctive cars on the market. With the exception of five gold-plated examples, every DeLorean left the factory sans paint or finisher of any kind, instead wearing its raw stainless steel body panels proudly. The dull silver finish gave it a striking look, and was a defining feature—plus, small scratches could be buffed out with sandpaper. The mid-century Mercedes-Benz 300SL made gullwing doors famous, but the DeLorean and its subsequent status as a Hollywood icon cemented those upward-hinged doors as a defining DeLorean trait.

So, stylistically, the DeLorean was a tour-de-force, but mechanically, it fell as flat as its side profile. That 2.8-liter PRV V-6 pushed out a wheezy 130 horsepower and 153 lb-ft of torque, just enough to shuffle the 2,700-pound car to 60 mph in around nine seconds when fitted with the five-speed manual transmission; the deed took around 11 seconds with the three-speed automatic. DeLorean owners would have done well to leave the restaurant after all the Lamborghini Countachs had gone to avoid being caught at a light next to one. Top speed was a low-for-the-form-factor 109 mph.

In October 1982, after the DeLorean had vastly overshot its initial $12,000 price target by more than double and a string of high-profile legal issues presented setbacks, the DeLorean Motor Company went bankrupt. The DeLorean saw just two years of production, with only 9,000 cars built before the factory closed for good. It seemed the wild DeLorean was destined to be a strange and rather sad footnote in the annals of automotive history, but its starring role in the 1985 film Back to the Future immediately elevated the defunct car to iconic status, henceforth inextricably intertwined with the popular movie trilogy.

In 1995, a Texas-based company bought the rights to the name and a good portion of DMC's spares and tooling. After years as the place to have DeLoreans serviced, restored, and refurbished, the current incarnation of DMC announced plans for limited, small-batch production of all-new DeLoreans through the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act.

DMC DeLorean Highlights

Approached strictly as a car and removed from its Back to the Future cultural context, the DeLorean is, fundamentally, a rather unremarkable car with wild styling and an even wilder conception story. It's not particularly great to drive, even by standards of the time, nor is it fabulously rare. If you're one of the many enthusiasts interested in DeLorean ownership, it's very likely that it's entirely the result of nostalgia.

Whether you purchase it as a conversation piece, rolling garage sculpture, or Cars and Coffee cruiser, you likely know what you're getting into by now. Enjoy it for what it is and expect nothing more than its stunning good looks and ridiculously cool doors. However, if you aren't a purist, there is an established catalog of upgrades and engine swaps that can transform your casual cruiser into something that goes as fast as it looks.

DMC DeLorean Buying Tips

For the most part, it's not hard to find a DeLorean in good nick. A good portion of these cars are enjoyed as curios and fair-weather cruisers, many with odometers that have yet to roll past 50,000 miles. That's a shame, as despite the distinct lack of gumption, the PRV V-6 is a stout and robust engine, capable of high mileage with just regular serving. Really, most of the DeLorean's mechanical and electrical problems arise from age and lack of use, not for lack of solid engineering. Better still, the sort of body rust you'd see on a typical early '80s car is much less of a concern thanks to the stainless steel panels, though the chassis underneath is still susceptible.

If you are in the market, we suggest you look for one that has enjoyed both regular exercise and servicing; don't shy away from cars that have higher mileage, provided there's a thick sheaf of maintenance records accompanying it. If you do need service or restoration, the Texas-based DMC HQ would be more than happy to work on your car, and if you're local, give a thorough pre-purchase inspection. If you're the patient type, we'd suggest waiting to see what becomes of the all-new made-to-order DeLorean saga currently developing behind the scenes.

If you can't wait, spend some time camped out on online auction sites to snipe the cleanest example (with a manual transmission) you can find. Most DeLoreans worth your time will run between $35,000 and $45,000, so it's still well within the grasp of enthusiasts on a moderate budget.

DMC DeLorean Recent Auctions

DeLoreans are relatively numerous, despite their short production run, and aren't very high-dollar, so they have yet to appear on any major auction house's docket with any sort of regularity. Thankfully, Bring a Trailer has more than enough examples to get a good idea of what the market is like.

DMC DeLorean Quick Facts

  • First model year of production: 1981
  • Last model year of production: 1983
  • Total production: ~9,000
  • Original price: $25,000 (1981)
  • One of the most instantly recognizable cars, ever
  • Not that great to drive, but fantastic to look at
  • Indulge yourself in rich nostalgia

 DMC DeLorean FAQ

You have questions about the DMC DeLorean. Automobile has answers. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked DMC DeLorean queries:

How much does a DeLorean cost?

If you buy a DeLorean in clean condition, expect to pay between $35,000 and $45,000 for the privilege.

How many DeLoreans are left?

We can't say for sure, but we'd reckon more than a few of the original 9,000 units have been lost to crashes, floods, and neglect, among other causes.

Can you still buy a DeLorean?

Not yet, but give it time. The Texas-based DMC company that took over the rights to the name and car is working hard at getting set-up for small-scale production.

How much is a new DeLorean?

Since the car doesn't exist just yet, we can't say for sure. However, don't expect it to come cheap.