Delorean DMC 12
It is hard to think of a car as doomed from its very
beginning as the DMC-12. Taking away even founder, John
Delorean’s arrest for alleged drug offences shortly before
the company’s bankruptcy, or the stories of ill-fitting
gullwing doors trapping occupants in the cockpit, the
DMC-12, built in, of all places, Northern Ireland, always
seemed to be destined for a short and inglorious life.
The original plan to equip the car with a
revolutionary lightweight chassis and rotary engine was
ditched shortly after it was realised that neither of these
technologies was viable. Instead, with the help of Colin
Chapman, what was produced was basically a Lotus Esprit with
stainless steel panels and a mid-mounted Renault V6. Not
unpromising, but hardly revolutionary either.
The main problem, though, was the car’s power to weight
ratio. The V6, which was strangled by US emissions
regulations, only developed 130BHP, which together with the
relatively high kerb weight of over 1200KGs meant that teh car's straight line performance was less than earth
At this point you may be wondering why on earth we have
included the Delorean on The List. After all, it was an
unmitigated disaster wasn’t it? To some extent there is some
justification to this point, but the DM-12 is so much more
than the folly of a misguided, smooth talking American; it
is a pure vision of how the future direction of automotive
aesthetics was conceived in the 1980s, yet it would not look
out of place as a concept at an international car show
today. It is for these reasons that the DMC-12 has a
rightful place on The List.
In the flesh, it is wider and lower than it appears in
pictures, and its Esprit origins are more obviously
apparent. The stainless steel panels must be a nightmare to
keep clean, especially with the propensity of children of
all ages to pore all over it, but they serve a practical
purpose (rust resistance) and, perhaps more importantly,
they look cooler than it is right for bare metal to do so.
Swing the surprisingly light gullwing doors back and you
are greeted with a rather grey cabin that is slightly
disappointing compared to the drama of the exterior. There
is, though, sufficient room for all but the lankiest of
drivers, and the main controls all fall relatively
comfortably to hand (and foot), unlike some of the
Delorean’s Italian competitors from the era.
Once moving, the feel of the DMC-12 is not unlike that of
an early Esprit, albeit one that has developed a certain
amount of middle aged spread. Acceleration is muted not only
by the weight, but also, on US-spec cars, by the strangling
effect of the catalytic converter. A European car is better
in this respect, but even with the full 170BHP it is no
With its rear biased weight distribution, the Delorean
displays the typical mid-engined car’s trait of requiring
some bullying to make the front-end bite and turn in at
speed. It helps to trail brake into corners, as this aids
forward weight distribution, helping to push the front
wheels into the tarmac and reduce initial understeer.
Steering is well weighted when up to speed, and reasonably
quick, although it is not quite Elan-like in its
communication with the driver.
Edge towards the limits of the car and there is a
tendency to snap from understeer to roll induced oversteer.
This is actually a fairly gentle transition, compared to
some mid-engined cars, so to say it snaps is, perhaps, an
exaggeration, but it is a trait that needs to be learned.
In truth, though, this is not the sort of car to throw
around a track, an airfield, or even a public road. Conversely, though, it is
also not a car in which to make discrete progress at
speed; its starring role in Back to the Future, and
consequent embedment in popular culture negates that
possibility. And, ultimately, it would not even matter if it
handled like a wheelbarrow and was made from recycled milk
bottle tops (which it doesn’t and it isn’t incidentally),
because the raison d’etre of the Delorean is to make its
driver appear to be piloting something from another planet.
And this it does with a singular aplomb.
Had John Delorean’s plans truly come to fruition, the
DMC-12 may have been as ubiquitous as a Porsche Boxster, and
the wonderful feeling of seeing a real one in the flesh
would have been eternally diminished by familiarity. Be grateful, then, for its lack of sales success.