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Potential Daily Driver: 1981 DeLorean DMC-12

Imagine for one moment that you are a Hollywood Screenwriter. You devise a script about a fictitious car company that is mired in uncertainty, confusion, bad planning, poor product development, major quality control issues, allegations of corruption, bankruptcy, and finally, alleged drug trafficking. If you took such a script to any Hollywood studio, you would be laughed off the lot. However, this is not a work of fiction, but the true story of the DeLorean Motor Company. The fact is that the company’s sole product, colloquially known as the DMC-12, could quite easily have slipped into relative obscurity but for its starring role in a certain Hollywood movie trilogy. Today, the DeLorean has developed its own cult following, and good examples can achieve some fairly impressive prices in the market. So, if you feel like unleashing your inner Doc Brown, you will find this 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 located in Fall River, Massachusetts, and listed for sale here on Craigslist. This is a classic that could easily be yours for $19,500. I do have to say thank you to Barn Finder Pat L for spotting this great vehicle for us.

This photo provides us with a clear look at the DeLorean’s two most distinctive features, the brushed stainless steel body panels, and the gullwing doors. Before we delve more deeply into this car, it also allows me to indulge in a small piece of Hollywood brain-teasing. For those of you who have seen the “Back To The Future” movies (which will probably be a fair percentage of you), you might remember that the first time that we see Doc Brown’s DeLorean is when the tailgate opens on an enclosed car transporter, and the good Doc reverses the car out of the trailer into the parking lot of the Twin Pines Mall. While the gullwing doors on the vehicle are distinctive, thanks to a clever hinge design, they don’t open any wider than a standard door of any car of equivalent size. However, when you watch the movie and see the amount of clearance between the sides of the DeLorean and the inside of the trailer, it is impossible for Doc Brown to have opened the doors of the DeLorean to climb inside. Through the side window? No, because the opening sections of a DeLorean’s side windows are minuscule. So, how did Doc Brown climb into the car? There’s one for you to puzzle over and debate. Now, back to our feature car. Differentiating one production DeLorean from another can be quite difficult because apart from a very limited number of exceptions, all cars featured brushed stainless steel panels, along with identical cast-aluminum wheels. The distinctive panel finish also caused its share of problems. Apart from being susceptible to things like fingerprints, dings and dents were pretty hard to address. However, the panels on this car look to be nice and straight. The body rests on an epoxy-coated steel frame and provided the epoxy has remained intact, then the car should potentially be structurally sound. It does exhibit one common DeLorean flaw. That is the fact that the grey urethane front and rear bumpers have discolored a bit over the years. The reality was that these didn’t match the brushed body panels when the car was new, so it shouldn’t be an issue now. The other issue that could afflict the DeLorean was doors that refused to stay in the upright position. However, these ones are hanging in there, which is a good sign of a car that has been cared for. With the trim and glass all looking very good, I really can’t find much to be critical of with the car’s exterior condition.

Had John DeLorean been able to build his car to its original mechanical specifications, then there was a real chance that it would have been a world-beater. The vehicle was originally conceived to be a mid-engined sports car, featuring a Wankel rotary motor. For various complex reasons, this never came to fruition. Instead, the DeLorean featured a 2,849cc PRV (Peugeot-Renault-Volvo) V6 engine, producing 130hp. Buyers had a choice between a 5-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic transmission. The original plan called for the DeLorean to be a high-performance sports car, but with a 0-60 time of 9.6 seconds for the 5-speed version, the reality was something altogether different. This car doesn’t feature the 5-speed manual, but the slightly rarer automatic. The owner purchased the vehicle a number of years ago, and as it had been parked for quite some period of time, he spent a substantial sum of money returning it to a fit and healthy mechanical state. He was then using the car as a daily driver, but the transmission started slipping badly last year. The car has been used very little since then, and it isn’t clear what the issue is with the transmission. It could potentially be something as simple as a blocked filter or a jammed solenoid. However, it could also be something major that might entail a full rebuild. With that in mind, the owner has managed to secure a secondhand transmission that is known to be in good condition, and that is to be included in the sale. Beyond that single issue, the DeLorean is said to be in good mechanical condition.

Early examples of the DeLorean featured interiors trimmed in black, but by late 1981, grey leather was added to the list. This vehicle features the grey trim, and while the driver’s seat is showing some stretching, it all generally looks quite good. There is a cover over the dash, and it isn’t clear whether that is there to protect it from UV damage, or whether it is disguising damage that might have already occurred. The rest of the trim and the carpet looks really good, and in a 1981 context, the DeLorean did come quite nicely equipped. Amongst the standard features were air conditioning, power windows, power exterior mirrors, a rear defogger, a tilt and reach wheel, and an AM/FM radio/cassette player.

There is no doubt that the “Back To The Future” movie franchise prevented the DeLorean from disappearing into obscurity, and has allowed it to develop a cult following. While some of the company’s records are a bit vague or have disappeared entirely, it is believed that there were eventually 9,000 examples built and that around 6,000 survive to this day. More than a few have been transformed into Doc Brown tribute cars, but there are still plenty of nice examples roaming the roads. Today, reasonable examples will start in the market for $30,000, but the vast majority tend to sell for more than $45,000. One of the really surprising aspects of their values is that in spite of the automatic versions offering reduced levels of performance, their relative rarity tends to see them command slightly higher sale prices. Given its overall condition, if it was not afflicted with transmission woes, I would have expected this one to be offered for a price of around the $45,000 mark, or possibly slightly more. The condition of the existing transmission is a huge unknown, but if the replacement is in good condition, then fitting it could solve the problem for a reasonably affordable figure. That could make this a classic that is worth serious consideration. By the way, I’ve managed to get through this entire story without once mentioning the Flux Capacitor!

Comments

  1. Howard A Member

    Another one of those cars, like the exploding Pinto, the unsafe Corvair, and leather trimmed Cordobas, the Delorean is instantly known for the movie, but not to me. I never saw the movies, and disguised what a neat car the Delorean really is. Just think, for the same price, you can have a Crofton Bug instead,,Coo-coo,,,,see how silly this all is? Delorean one of the coolest cars ever, the Crofton Bug, not so much.
    Once, many years ago,( mid 80’s) I hauled a load of steel to a supplier near Cleveland. While being unloaded I noticed a car under a cover on some pallet racking. I asked the guy, “what is that up there”? The guy said, “ever hear of a DeLorean”? “Sure”, I said. He said, the boss bought 2, drove one, and stored the other. It had 7 miles on it.

    Like 7
    • Gaspumpchas

      C’mon Howard, do see Back to the future. Its a fantasy but its done so well. You will have to see it a few times to pick out all the details and entandres Genius. Everyone knew someone who was a nutty professor, and everyone know marty, and the Bully, Biff. I wont tell you anymore. Like Grafitti, everyone can see themselves in this Flick. Enjoy and stay safe.
      Cheers
      GPC

      Like 9
  2. Dickie F.

    As rare to hear that Howard has never seen the movies, after all these years, I never realized these were rear engined.
    That finally explains why the Flux Capacitor was positioned so high.

    Like 4
  3. Retired Stig

    John DeLorean is frequently referred to as a near genius in the automotive world, usually based around his work at Pontiac, with the creation of the GTO as his major claim to fame. Extremely impressive stuff, no doubt.
    Setting that aside, I have always wondered: Build a slow, strangely styled car with a difficult to maintain body in a country wracked by terrorism, and finance it with a drug deal. so what could possibly go wrong?
    And please, no “the FBI set him up”. No honest businessman would have ever have been involved in such a thing at any level.

    Like 3
    • Stan Marks

      To be clear, John D. was heavy into drugs, as a user & distributor.
      His DeLorean was drowning him in debt. Hence, the easy way out, of his financial burden. Getting caught was no fun, either.
      He should have been satisfied, with his design of the most successful mascle car of the 60’s.
      BTW…. I purchased a Montero red ’65, in Sept.’64, with the 4 sp.Hurst shifter tri-power. I sold it in ’69. I’m still kicking myself.
      :^(

      • Stan Marks

        I meant MUSCLE car.

    • Tesla209

      Retired Stig, John Zachary DeLorean is legendary. The creator of arguably the 1st factory muscle car, the GTO. Invented the plastic bumper! Was street drag racing on weekends, the dude was bad ass. I was heading to work for him right out of school. But the company closed before I left. The car produced was a Lotus design, J.Z.L. was a Vacuum Resin Injected Foam, sandwiched between two composite body’s. This car is a steal. $40k in 24 months.

      Like 1
    • Tesla209

      Retired Stig, John Zachary DeLorean is legendary. The creator of arguably the 1st factory muscle car, the GTO. Invented the plastic bumper! Was street drag racing on weekends, the dude was bad @$$. I was heading to work for him right out of school. But the company closed before I left. The car produced was a Lotus design, J.Z.L. was a Vacuum Resin Injected Foam, sandwiched between two composite body’s. This car for sale here is a steal. It will go for $40k in 24 months I would bet!

  4. On and On On and On Member

    If you get a chance try to see the 2019 movie with Alec Baldwin as DeLorean. It’s called ‘Framing John DeLorean’. It’s semi-documentary style shows a lot of fact and detail. It lets you see what a real creepo he really was. A liar, cheat and theif. Especially interesting are his real life children talking about him. He died broke and alone. Lots of car stuff to keep any Barn Finder happy.

    Like 4
    • Jack M.

      Thanks for the tip, I never heard of this movie. I will be pouring a whiskey 🥃 or two and watching it tonight.
      https://youtu.be/FhyaYaK9lC4

      Like 4
  5. BR

    The author alludes to the fact that there were examples built from other than stainless steel panels. This is a first for me. Were they fiberglass, steel, or carbon fiber?

    Like 2
    • Dave

      You have to have a Faraday cage for a time machine, as Doc was about to explain before the car with the dog materialized.
      The “science” is based upon the Philadelphia Experiment and the legend of the USS Eldridge. The ship had generators but since there’s no room in a car the Flux Capacitor stores the 1200 megawatts necessary to create a magnetic field capable of rending the time-space continuum.

      Like 2
      • misterlou Member

        …and down the rabbit hole I go! ;)

    • SubGothius

      I think he was referring to the bare, brushed stainless finish. All DeLoreans had stainless body panels, but a rare few were painted or even gold-plated. Aftermarket fiberglass panels were also available as cheap replacements for collision damage, which necessitated painting the entire car to hide the mismatched panels.

  6. Bob Mck Member

    I almost bought a new one, but I was not offered enough for my trade in.

    • theGasHole

      What were you trading in??

      • Bob Mck Member

        A 1980 Seville.

        Like 1
  7. Kenn

    If one rolls upside down, like in a ditch, the doors don’t – can’t – open and you hope there is no fire or deep water.

  8. JohnU

    Just had mine out for a Covid19 isolation cruise around town with my daughter. She is about the age now that I was when my car rolled off the line in Ireland.
    What a great drive it was :)

    Like 2

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