The DeLorean 30 Years Later: Beyond Back to the Future


You know what happened to Back to the Future's biggest stars, but have you ever pondered the fate of the DeLorean?

delorean car doors open

The DeLorean can still make us time travel: if not via the Flux Capacitor, then because the name itself will forever transport us to the 1980s and the Back to the Future trilogy. But even die-hard fans and car buffs alike may not know that though Doc used his family’s fortune turning the DeLorean into a time traveling wonder-machine, the car itself actually existed off the silver screen. In fact, in the late 1970s, the DeLorean was set to be the next It Car—harbinger of the future, before Doc, McFly, and the gang even existed.

A Little DeLorean History:

In 1975 John Z. DeLorean took his decades of experience working for General Motors and founded the DeLorean Motor Company. He then set out to build his dream car. John Z. recruited top talent from Ital Design and Lotus to make what was to be the first (but ended up being the only) model of the DeLorean—the DMC-12. The company set up manufacturing operations in Northern Ireland in 1978, but violent protests during a time of great national unrest (often referred to as the Troubles), an unfavorable pound-dollar exchange rate, manufacturing missteps, and desperate financial attempts to keep the company above water (ending in a DEA bust for John Z., for which he was later found not guilty) all doomed the company before it even really got off the ground.

By 1982, the DeLorean Motor Company was bankrupt and had only ever manufactured about 9,200 cars. Though three model years were produced (1981-1983), most were made in 1981 and nothing much changed year to year. When the company went belly-up, thousands of orders were still on the books, and interest in the car remained high enough that a new Texas-based DeLorean Motor Company was established. They bought the large quantity of remaining brand-new parts, which they continue to use to restore and service the approximately 6,500 DeLoreans that are still on the road.

The DeLorean’s doors only require 11 inches of clearance to open

What made the DeLorean special?

It seems that from the beginning, John DeLorean envisioned his namesake car as a futuristic-looking, high performing, game-changing machine. He wanted the car to be 200 horsepower—far above the capabilities of the DeLorean’s contemporaries (and considered quite decent even today). However, as the entire DeLorean story seems to go, mechanical and governmental obstacles got in the way, and the car ended up with only 130 horsepower, and a 0-60 time of 8.8 seconds—certainly respectable for the early 80s, but definitely nothing special.

Perhaps the most recognizable aspect of the DeLorean is the famous gullwing doors. Though a number of high-end sports cars have them today, they are still by no means standard. The main appeal of the gullwing style is that it requires less clearance than traditional side-hinged doors—making parking in tight spots much more manageable. In fact, the DeLorean’s doors only require 11 inches of clearance to open. Plus, they are certainly attention-grabbers—you wouldn’t be surprised to see a fancy businessman, or even a decked-out-in-gold-and-Jimmy-Buffet-stylin’ mad-scientist, step out from beneath the doors.

The stainless-steel body was also unique to the DeLorean and though it looks rad, it makes restoration particularly tricky. Instead of filling in dents and dings and painting over the repairs, DeLorean bodywork experts must fix any imperfection (each DeLorean facility has one on staff), or the piece must be replaced completely.

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Building the Hype:

The first DeLorean didn’t roll off the factory line until January 1981, but the company’s confidence was so high, they partnered with American Express for Christmas, 1980. The two companies planned to sell one hundred cars with 24-carat gold plating. The cars were meant for American Express gold card members and were priced at $85,000 each—in 2015 dollars that would be over $200,000.

In news that will surprise almost no one, the DeLorean Motor Company did not end up selling one hundred gold-plated cars. In fact, though four exist today, only two were ever sold. The first car was sold to a bank president in Texas. He displayed the car in the bank’s lobby for over 20 years and then he loaned it to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The car has never even been started, and has a mere nine miles on the odometer. The second car is on display in Reno, Nevada, at the William F. Harrah Foundation/National Automobile Museum and still only has 1,442 miles on it. A third gold-plated car was put together in Ohio after the Northern Ireland plant closed down and has fewer than one thousand miles. According to the DeLorean Museum (located in Humble, Texas), this third DeLorean is currently listed for $250,000 by a private owner in Maryland. And, perhaps most mysteriously, a fourth gold-plated DeLorean is said to exist somewhere in Canada—its owner plated it privately in 1981, and its whereabouts are unknown. We’re guessing its under a cover in a garage, but if you’ve ever seen a flashy car that looks like the past’s idea of the future tooling around up north, we’d love to hear about it.

It seems none of the gold-plated cars were driven much, which is not surprising. Can you imagine driving to the grocery store encased in solid gold? Where would a person park such a car? And can you even imagine what the insurance would be like?

You can buy a 24 carat gold-plated DeLorean for $250,000.

Why the DeLorean was picked for Back to the Future:

Consensus around the web (from Back to the Future super fans,) seems to be that the DeLorean was chosen because of its eccentric, futuristic, uncommon design—in particular, the iconic gullwing doors. Moviemakers thought the car would resemble a spaceship and add to Doc’s already accentuated eccentricities. And, in our opinion, it sort of does look like a spaceship—or, at least our idea of what a spaceship from the 1980s would look like. But really, can you imagine Doc and McFly revving a Yugo 45 up to 88 MPH and bursting through time? We can’t.

Buying a DeLorean today:

Though no new DeLoreans have been produced since the early 80s, the sheer amount of spare parts (from the sudden factory closing) has kept refurbishers in business for the past thirty years. In fact, DeLorean service facilities still exist across the United States and Europe. If you’re looking to intimidate the Biffs in your life—or you just really love those gullwing doors and the silverware-like exterior—you can purchase a refurbished DeLorean directly from the DeLorean Motor Company in Texas. In the early 1980’s the DeLorean sold for $25,000—that would be about $68,000 today. Today, they tend to sell for between $30,000 and $55,000. Remember though, if you are lucky enough to realize a 30-year-old dream and you do snag one, you’ll still need roads, wherever you’re going.

Quoted wants to know: have you ever seen a DeLorean driving around? Do you know any DeLorean owners? And if you happened to pass one of them on the road, would you think you’d actually traveled Back … to the past?

  • Dan Harris

    I have one for sale right now, a great condition, reliable, daily driven car, that I purchased from DeLorean Motor Company’s Florida office almost 5 years ago. It’s one of their fully restored 1981 originals, and received a full frame-off restoration for the previous owner, as well as additional upgrades since I’ve owned it. The car is located in South Florida, and anyone interested in seriously checking it out (or possibly even arranging for a test drive) can find out a bit more about the car (which has also appeared in a number of viral internet videos and celeb photo shoots) at this web site: http://www.potshopcar.com and can contact me directly by email at floridadelorean@aol.com Normally I’d never part with this sweet car, but we need a bigger place to live, and family comes first, so as soon as the car is sold, my wife can start house shopping – please help her get started soon by giving our car a great new home ;-)