The 1980s was a decade stuffed to the gunwales with iconic cars in film and television. From Magnum PI’s Ferrari 308 to Michael Knight’s talking Trans-Am, every week we thrilled to the celluloid adventures of these four wheeled wonders. But none can hold a candle to the greatest ‘80s film car of them all – the DMC DeLorean.
Immortalized in Robert Zemeckis’s classic BACK TO THE FUTURE, the DeLorean is to many, the most recognisable car ever made – a stunning silhouette in stainless steel, lovingly crafted by the grand master Giorgetto Giugiaro. Across three magical films, the car thrilled and roared across screens powered by a nuclear-fueled flux capacitor to the 1950s, the 2000s and even the Old West powered by nothing less than lightning itself.
The brainchild of GM wunderkind John Zachary DeLorean, who dreamt of creating the world’s first “ethical” sportscar, the DeLorean was built in Northern Ireland between 1981 and 1982 in a unique collaboration between DeLorean, the British government and none other than Norfolk supercar specialists Lotus, who essentially engineered the DMC-12. Initially planned to have a Wankel rotary engine and be mid-engined, DeLorean insisted on the car being able to seat his 6’4” frame and still hold a set of golf clubs behind him —so the engine moved to the back. Power came from a fuel-injected 130bhp V6 PRV engine mated to either a five-speed Renault gearbox or a less-favored three-speed auto. With only 1,233 kilos to motivate, courtesy of a lightweight fiberglass body clothed in stainless steel panels, and fully-independent suspension – the DeLorean really was an Esprit 1.5 in all but name – the lithe angular coupe sparkled on the winding road with excellent European handling and a top speed of 109mph – competitive figures for the early ‘80s, when rivals like the Corvette weighed in at more than 400kg heavier.
Sadly, the DeLorean story was cut short by the recession of 1981 which left John DeLorean with a huge stock of unsold cars. Left desperate and out of cash, DeLorean eventually found himself the subject of an FBI sting operation that put him in prison until 1984, when he was exonerated. Without him at the helm, the company went into receivership in early 1982, the remaining cars were completed and sold through 1983 – including some extremely rare “Middle East spec” models.
Without ‘Back to the Future’, it’s very possible that the DeLorean could have been forgotten entirely, another failed dream. But the film – which used seven vehicles in total, three of which survive today – inspired a cottage industry of “time machine” replicas and replacement parts which means it is quite reasonable and even economical to run a DeLorean today with virtually every part and panel easily available.
An early ’81 example, chassis #3899 was initially delivered to Martin Kelly Automobiles in Illinois. Cherished throughout its life as a low-miles collectable, the car spent time in Illinois and Ohio before spending the early part of the 2000s in California. In 2010, it travelled across the sea to the UAE, where the current owner has treated it a complete and methodical mechanical refurbishment with the aim of building the perfect daily drivable DeLorean.
As befits an early ’81 car, it has a grooved hood but no fuel filler flap and a black interior. The car bears a rare optional black stripe and an even rarer red pinstripe down the flanks – to our knowledge, no other car in the world has this combination, which may have been applied in California.
It can certainly be considered successful in that regard – 3899 went on to score two back-to-back podium finishes at the highly competitive Chopard Rally in 2017 and 2018 against a field of much more expensive European competition. It was also the star of the American Embassy’s Fourth of July celebration in 2016 – to date the only car that has actually been allowed to drive into the exclusive St Regis Hotel. And not to mention, it has spent many happy hours being photographed by fans at the Emaar Classic show at the Dubai Downtown Boulevard.
Few cars have truly lived life and been loved the way that this DeLorean has. With just 14,800 miles on the odometer, a life of stardom awaits its new owner – just as long he remembers to charge up his flux capacitor!