Time Machine Tragedy: 1981 DeLorean DMC-12

There are some project cars that seem like they go from one bad owner to the next. What I mean is that you start to see them on a sort of downward trajectory, perhaps getting modified here and there before they just descend into pure neglect. This burned-out 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 here on eBay was likely a decent car at one time, but now it’s sporting a yellow paint job and aftermarket rims that look particularly sad with the crispy roof section. 

I am one who believes the DeLorean should remain a silver bullet of stainless steel body panels. While I know some of the factory cars were painted by request, those are the sole examples that are made more valuable as a result of sporting an actual paint job. Cars like this one are just silly impostors, thanks to a previous owner who didn’t appreciate the vehicle’s rarity. Amazingly, the interior looks better than expected for a vehicle that appears to have had flames shooting right through the cabin at one point.

This battered DeLorean does run, but not correctly. The engine will only fire up if fuel is poured directly into the carburetor, and the seller speculates a bad fuel line or a shut-off switch is to blame. I’m assuming this means the DMC-12 was previously converted to a carb setup. Aside from a lone reference to a “garage fire,” we don’t know if a mechanical fault was the culprit or if the fire started elsewhere in the building.The engine bay doesn’t look completely torched but I’m a bit thrown off by the engine cover, as that’s not the familiar “DMC”-labeled assembly.

The fire followed a curious path, damaging the roof and tail section but seemingly sparing the interior and engine compartment. That seems more like a car damaged in a building fire rather than an electrical issue caused by the vehicle. Since this example was clearly modified, it’s anyone’s guess as to what caused the blaze to begin, but the bigger question is what happens next. The DeLorean is fitted with a desirable manual transmission, but is the seller’s asking price of $11,800 fair when considering the damage and likely costs to restore?

Fast Finds


  1. Jeff V

    I interviewed with the local dealer who got the Delorean franchise in the early 80’s here (Madison, WI) to sell ’em. Didn’t like the Volvo power, it was unbalanced imo. Great looks, gullwing doors, stainless etc. Moved to S. Florida to sell tires to sports car clubs! lol

    Like 1
    • Scot Douglas

      Volvo? I thought it was a Renault?

      • Dan

        It’s a PRV, ie, Peugeot/Renault/Volvo co-development project. That V6 has seen service in a couple dozen cars from six or seven makes.

      • Tim Rusling

        We had the 3 liter version of the PRV engine in our two Eagle Premiers. The power was OK and never had a reliability issue – just couldn’t hotrod them easily. Not that you’d want to.

  2. Dan

    Besides the fire the other issue is the paint job, more than likely the car was in an accident and the paint is to cover up body filler.

  3. HeadMaster1

    I actually got a bit excited when I saw the pic, thinking I just might pick up a DMC project on the cheap…say under $2k…..This owner obviously was cooking meth or smoking crack in the garage and that is the cause of the fire…This thing is trashed, and then it was set on fire……Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have it, do a Porsche Trans and LSX transplant and really have a DMC that goes as fast s they look….But at nearly $12k, they added one to many zeros…………..

    Like 2
  4. Jeffro

    Looks like it received more than the required 1.21 gigawatts! Or the Flux Capacitor blew a fuse.

    Like 1
    • Rich

      Jeffro, you stole my comment dangit!

  5. ShaunD

    Whilst I’m not particularly keen on the aftermarket wheels, I do quite like the yellow paintwork. Naturally that raises suspicions over the condition of the bodywork underneath, but it’s pleasantly different to the usual Delorean.

  6. OA5599

    Too many half-baked modifications.

    Not a fan of the Yellow Cab color

    A stainless DeLorean is the only way to go.

    You can buy better than this.

    • Tim Rusling

      I adore Deloreans and completely agree.

  7. Jimbot

    This really is a tragedy in a lot of ways.. the asking price is way off, this is a $5000 car at best. You can buy a running, driving, all stainless un-dented delorean for $12K that might need some mechanical / interior work, but this is REALLY bad damage. Good luck to the seller but I would wait a year and then show up with 5 large in cash.. and agree with others on the engine swap, it’s a perfect candidate.


    Me likey the yellow paint and camaro wheels. I had to look twice to see if it was a delorean or some exotici’ve never seen before. If an LS swap was ever needed this ones the candidate.

    • 86 Vette Convertible

      Actually have seen pictures on a red painted one returned to original SS finish.
      Also seen pictures of one with a LS engine stuffed in back. Had turbos
      on it from what I remember.
      Both I think would be an improvement on this one.

  9. Marc D

    Jeff, to answer your question about the engine cover, this motor was from a Eagle Premier, that car has a 3.0 liter PVR v6, I believe it was the last update from the old 2.8 that was used in the Volvo and Delorean, the Premier came from Renault and was re-badged as AMC’s Eagle Premier and the Dodge Monaco.
    I read or was told that the 3.0 PVR was sought after as a easy upgrade from the 2.8, it gave a little more power and it used EFI instead of CIS for fuel injection, I see in the picture it has a coil pack mounted behind the engine to the left of the intake manifold and under the black cover is the two fuel rails for EFI, thanks for the write up, I have never seen the 3.0 conversion before.

    • mars2878

      It’s not an AMC Eagle Premier per say. Yes, it was co-designed by AMC & Renault, but AMC never released it. Chrysler bought AMC in 1987 to get Jeep & promptly closed AMC’s doors in 1988. Mother Mopar released Eagle Premier & Dodge Monaco in 1988. They didn’t sell well & were replaced the LH chassis line of cars (Eagle Vision, Dodge Intrepid & Chrysler Concorde)

      • Tim Rusling

        AMC never released the Premier? Before our family’s two Premiers, my boss had a black high-series Premier most definitely noted as an AMC build. . right to the AMC door sill plates. My AMC Premier promo sheets do mention a model that was proposed, but not built, which had the four cylinder. I like my cars a lot – good, sure handling, very nice gas mileage, liked the Jensen stereo – even the very different turn signal operation grew on me.

      • mars2878

        I took this straight from wiki:
        “The Eagle Premier is a full-size luxury car that was developed by American Motors Corporation (AMC) during the 1980s through its partnership with Renault. Chrysler Corporation bought the rights to the Premier when it acquired Renault’s outstanding shares in AMC in 1987, and began selling the car under the new Eagle marque.

        The four-door sedan was manufactured from September 1987 (for the 1988 model year) until December 1991 (for the 1992 model year). A rebadged variant was also marketed as the Dodge Monaco from 1990 to 1992.”

        I had to double check when you said Dodge Monaco. My mind was on the Medallion model. I didn’t recall a Monaco after the rwd version. In the same article, it mentioned that a lot of parts were stamped w/ the AMC logo due to fact that they were made before the buyout. It also mentioned that one of the only parts that might Renault on it is the radio.

        This is what wiki had to say about the Medallion:
        The Medallion was developed by Renault and became a captive import for its corporate partner, American Motors (AMC), at the beginning of the 1987 model year. The Medallion replaced the slow-selling Renault 18i/Sportwagon and the venerable AMC Concord that was canceled after the 1983 model year.

        The Medallion was an Americanized version of the Renault 21, “a highly successful car in the European market.”[3] The Medallion was the second of a three-passenger car line marketing effort to help AMC/Jeep/Renault dealers expand the product mix beyond the four-wheel-drive Jeep utility vehicles and the its established subcompact Renault Alliance. The Medallion sedans and station wagons introduced in late-1986 were followed by the mid-1987 unveiling of the all-new full-sized Premier sedan.

        Badged as the Renault Medallion at its launch in the fall of 1986, it remained that way until Chrysler acquired American Motors in August 1987. It then became a captive import for Chrysler. It was part of “Eagle”, Chrysler’s first new brand created since 1929.[4] The cars were marketed as the “Eagle Medallion” through the newly formed Jeep-Eagle division.[5] As a distinct Chrysler subsidiary, the nearly 1,200 AMC-Jeep-Renault dealer organization would initially remain independent.[6] As part of the buyout, Chrysler would continue AMC’s program for U.S. distribution of the new Renault Medallion for five years, but not to sell a specific number of the French imports.[7]”

        As this was a transition period, I’m sure that there might’ve been some irregularities.

  10. Josh Staff

    I’ve found a bunch of photos of this car before it was on fire. I hate to say it, but it actually didn’t look to bad in yellow. They even built a matching trailer to pull behind it. That being said, I don’t see it fetching anywhere near their asking. It doesn’t look like the fire started in the car, so that’s a plus, but you’re still going to have to replace a lot of parts.

  11. nessy

    Here is a photo of mine. Looks great but always has problems. I paid 6k for mine about 10 years ago which was a great deal. I know the cars have gone up in value but who is going to pay 12k for this yellow mess? A few years ago during the summer, the air quit while I was coming home from a show plus those tiny windows would not go down, they broke a few months before. I had to drive home with the stupid doors open. I like looking at it, I do not like driving it. It rides like a big old truck. Handles like one too.

    • Dave Wright

      What I remember about driving them is the terrible ventilation. Just an awful design and the poor engines clinch the deal……..best put on a shelf to look at.

    • Dolphin Member

      Well Nessy, ask the man who owns one and you get the truth.

      These poor DeLoreans get a lot of flack for that unreliable engine sitting way back at the rear of the car. And it’s water cooled besides, so the car’s balance is biased toward the rear. Sounds like some other things are unreliable, too.

      I think the one that’s featured here looked pretty good in yellow before the fire, but unfortunately that wouldn’t make up for the problems that a buyer would have with the car now. And $12K? I don’t think so.

  12. JP

    Seeing how it’s made of stainless and is already burned out it would make a nice propane grill!

    Like 1
    • Jeffro

      Best comment of the day! Your prize: a yellow bar-b-que grill

  13. Randy

    Nice to look at, and that is all. These are “Fly-paper” cars. As soon as you fix something, something else breaks. Lousy engine, poor reliablity, miserable ventilation, and poor handling.

    I think the seller must have torched his garage cooking meth to be asking this kind of money. $25K will buy the best one in the world.

    • Keith

      Randy you’ve just described every car I’ve ever worked on! hahaha Good comment.

    • HollywoodF1

      You’re pretty far off on your assessment– definitley not an owner. It’s a 35-year old car so you need to replace the rubber bits and some pumps and relays and so on. The a/c works great with typical maintenance and will blow strong under 30°F. The engines are very reliable. There are two cars near me that have over 500,000 miles on them. The handling was a regulations issue that required the bumpers to be raised at the last minute, and is easily corrected with an aftermarket package designed specifically for the Lotus suspension setup. And a perfect car in 2018 is going to run you $65,000. A daily driver will be $35-$50,000. If you pay less than that, as with any classic car, you’ll be investing in it to keep it young.

  14. Mark

    Brushed stainless = mucho $$$$$ to fix any dents correctly. Much cheaper to bondo and paint, hopefully done properly.

  15. Clay Byant

    Some of the later ones were factory colors. Some people didn’t like the fact that if someone touched a stainless one and left body oil off their skin, one nice whiff of dust left you with fingerprints all over the car. There’s not a part on that car you can’t buy new and a group has bought the rights to it and are going to start to manufacture them again. (the new and improved version lol)

  16. AutoArcheologist AutoArcheologist Member

    I have to add to those who like the yellow.. it does sort of give it an exotic look. However, as mentioned above, $25K can buy a near perfect one all day long. There is a place that sells nearly every part needed, including body panels, roof sections, etc. so, one could bring this back to former glory. for about twice its value… add the $12K buy in price and you’re so underwater you need to decompress when you come back up. The old Archeologist in me says save her… my wallet sure wouldn’t agree.

  17. SubGothius

    Sometimes these got painted if they got a fiberglass body panel to replace one damaged in a fender-bender, if that route was easier/cheaper than sourcing a stainless replacement panel.

    As for engine replacement/upgrades, seems like dropping a Caddy Northstar V8 FWD powertrain, trans and all, into the back here would be a relatively easy and effective way to go.

  18. RJ

    Add me to those who like this in yellow. Price is way out there. Probably salvage title also?

  19. Detlef

    Probably at best to use it as a promtional eye piece like on the roof of a Cafè or diner. Give it a sand blast if panels are unmolested and you could have Back to the Future Cafe, Delorean Diner or Doc’s Cafe etc.

    • Tim Rusling

      “McFly In My Soup”

  20. mark

    Even has a trailer hitch!!!

  21. Abarthbill

    True Story;
    Very good friend of mine was an MD, Chief of Staff of a large hospital in Wisconsin. He bought a DeLorean and actually liked it! In for repair so often that he bought another as a spare!

  22. Rolf Poncho 455

    Great looking car before the fire I think it was a head turner the yellow
    complements the car sad to see it like this.

    (I like yellow)

  23. Bob Hess

    Like the yellow… one of my race cars is the same shade and it draws a lot of attention. Not sure about the wheel choice but have spent enough time around these cars to really dislike the factory wheel choice. Too much finesse and not enough honky. Not sure I’d give 12K for it before the fire….

  24. Alex

    After reading the article, I’m still confused about the mentioned “tragedy”….were you writing about the fire or the yellow?

  25. Dan

    Go to O’Reilly’s website and search for part 121G


    • Tim Rusling

      That’s fantastic – made my day!

  26. Keith

    This looks like it was in a building that caught fire and had the roof fall onto the Delorean.
    I actually like how it looked pre-fire.
    I’ve often wondered if they were to produce this car now, powered by [insert your favorite modern engine of choice here] along with working A/C, how well they would sell.

  27. Red'sResto

    This is exactly what I would expect a car to look like after defying the laws of physics by traveling through time. Remember the flames and bright flash in Back to the Future?

  28. cudaman

    I had an ’81 with 7k miles. Could never get it running. Always had a fuel problem but looked mint from the factory. Took 11k for it about 12 years ago.

  29. Roger

    That was an engine fire,had one myself. Engine fire, not Delorean. Not even close to worth that much.

  30. Alleycat11766

    haha…looks like any New York TAXI in that color….only difference is there’s no illegal behind the wheel !

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