There’s no let up in interest for this iconic 1980s film star - the DeLorean DMC12 - which celebrates its 40th birthday in 2021.
Controversy, bizarre construction methods and a sponge for tax payers’ money. The Hollywood notoriety in Back to the Future just added to the life of the DMC12, eclipsing the astonishing looks. Launched in 1981 and built in Northern Ireland, the car was John DeLorean’s dream. It could have been brilliant, but cashflow was poor, sales disappointing and DeLorean himself was brought to his knees in an alleged drug bust. By ’83 it was all over. The cult swiftly developed, and now the DMC12 has one of the youngest age ownerships of any classic.
DeLorean DMC-12 US-tune
Power (bhp@rpm) 130bhp@5500rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 162lb ft@2750rpm
Top speed 110mph
Gearbox 5-spd man/3-spd auto
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Stainless steel panels attach to a glassfibre underbody. Sounds idyllic, but this all sits above a steel chassis, the epoxy coating of which flakes away with age, allowing rampant corrosion, especially around the suspension mounts and near the hydraulic brake and clutch reservoirs. Budget on £8000-9000 if you pay a specialist to make the rot go away, though removing the body isn’t beyond the scope of a competent DIY mechanic. Those stainless steel panels can be very costly to restore too – condition is all-important.
Doors fail to lift for two reasons. One is that the torsion bar that starts the lift process has failed, the second is that the gas struts need replacing – which can cause the first problem. Struts are around £50
Aluminium cooling pipes run front-to-back, and can degrade with time. Ask if they have been replaced as failure will quickly cook the engine. Note that US-tune is a paltry 130bhp, though this can be improved no end by fitting a stainless steel exhaust for around £1000 that does away with the catalytic converters. European tune was closer to 160bhp, though upgrades are possible. After all, this Douvrain engine was shared with the Alpine A610, Peugeot 504 coupe and Volvo 262C, among others. Make sure the cooling fans kick in as required, and watch for signs of creamy deposits in the oil. It might be from lack of use, or it could be head gasket trouble, so be on your guard. The five-speed gearbox and three-speed automatic transmission tend to be reliable, so just ensure that all gears work as they should and that there is not any excessive noise.
The benefit of the Lotus Esprit-derived chassis is that very few parts are unique to the car, so there is no problem seeking basic running gear parts such as shock absorbers, balljoints and brake parts. Check that the car doesn’t pull to one side when braking, which may indicate a sticking brake caliper. Check the tyres for unusual wear and age. The rear tyres are vast, which helps tame the back end.
Make sure the heating and, where fitted, air conditioning work. Ventilation is not a strong point with those tiny side windows. Make sure the trim is sound too, though the limited choice of grey or black mean a re-trim needn’t be too expensive. Water ingress is another potential issue, though most DeLoreans live sheltered lives. Door seals can leak, but the bonding for the windscreen can fail with age too. Check the carpets and if the vendor is happy, carry out a test with a watering can or hose. Check that the electric windows function correctly. See whether right-hand drive headlamps have been fitted on UK left hookers.
This is a car that people buy for the looks, though that does a disservice to what is a pleasant car to drive. Lotus worked its magic with an unpromising mixture of weight and unusual engine placement, so the car still handles well, even if performance could never be described as astonishing. This is a car you buy to create a scene, so be prepared for endless queries every time you park up. You’ll either enjoy that or you won’t, but excellent club and parts support makes ownership easier, and they’re surprisingly easy to work on.