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The List

 

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 shattering.

 

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 rocket ship.

 

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.




 
 

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