DeLorean DMC-12: How a Car so Bad Become so Popular

Delorean DMC12

“Wait a minute, Doc. Are you telling me you built a time machine out of a DeLorean?”

Marty’s confusion was no surprise to any car enthusiast back in the 1980’s. By any objective norms, DeLorean DMC-12 was a total failure. The car’s reliability was poor. Its performance was awful. The car’s most recognizable feature – the gull-wing doors – was a nightmare. And, the cherry on the top, the stainless steel frames added unnecessary weight.

Simply put, DeLorean DMC-12 was a terrible car. By the mid 1980’s, the production stopped, car dealerships did what they could to get them off their lots and the DMC was well on its own to disappear completely from everybody’s mind.

This is, until it was cast as the Time Machine in the 1985’s box office hit “Back to the Future”. Before you could say “warp drive”, DeLorean DMC-12 became a cult car, a model all the cool kids wanted, and a machine that sparked imagination.

How was it possible? How did a car so bad become so popular? Here’s a look at DeLorean DMC-12’s evolution from an unreliable car to a cult model.

  • The Problems

DeLorean DMC-12 was advertised as a sports car. As a result, it was expensive as hell. However, one of its best features, the engine, was one of the biggest disappointments. The V6 engine was designed by the Peugeot-Renault-Volvo joint from aluminum alloy, a mixture which affected the car’s performance.

The DMC-12 had some fascinating features like unpainted, corrosion free outer body panels and painted stainless steel Grad 304. But these body panels were soon found quite difficult and also costly to repair. Even some slightly damaged parts demanded more expenses than an ordinary car body.

The stainless steels body was not at all structural and needed lots of maintenance. Though it looked good, the unpainted metal always needed to be polished to retain that futuristic look. Not to mention that the panels were framed over fiberglass body that added some extra weight to the car, making it slow.

Another appealing feature was the counter balanced gull-wing doors. However, they were too heavy, they leaked and the windows couldn’t be wound down.

The backbone chassis was developed by Lotus, a British company renowned for designing racing cars. But, due to some last minutes change, the appearance was not up the mark. To overcome this appearance problem, many owners has to alter the setting. Another side effect of this last-minute change was a handling issue.

It was a nightmare on wheels.

  • The Controversies

DeLorean DMC-12 was the only product of the DeLorean Motor Company, owned by John DeLorean. He was an engineer and one of the youngest executives at General Motors. In 1973, he broke away from GM to start his own company. However, due to production delays, the company’s first car, the DeLorean DMC-12, did not reach the market until the 1981. After a year, the DMC-12 had failed to recover its $175 million in investment costs and the company faced acute financial straits.

On October 1982, DeLorean was charged with trafficking cocaine and ended up in jail. Its car, however, was casted in 1985 the sci-fi movie “Back to the Future”.

  • The Casting

The first and foremost reason for this awful car to become a classic was definitely its casting in the “Back to the Future” movie trilogy. Like other cars that became far more popular after appealing on screen, values are higher that you would objectively expect. For example, Aston Martin DB5 wasn’t really better than a DB4 or DB6, but it was more expensive because it was James Bond’s car of choice. In the same way, the casting of DeLorean DMC-12 in a smashing hit sci-fi movie, turn a bad car into a cult one.

But, what made the producers of “Back to the Future” cast it as the Time Machine?

Apparently, the gull-wing doors and stainless steel body would make the car look like a spacecraft to a family in the 1950’s. The futuristic look was obviously the car’s best feature. The outstanding look, which was appreciated at the time as a master-piece, was created by legendary Italian automobile designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro.

The DeLorean DMC-12 was supposed to be this gorgeous sports car. But, the poor performance compared to its stylish look made many think twice before buying it. Turned into an iconic car, DeLorean still fascinates a lot of people and many believe that purchasing a classic car is going to be a solid investment.

What do you believe? Would you buy a DeLorean?

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Marketing Manager at Dilawri's Crown Auto Group

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