DeLorean, the Eternal Design

DeLorean is a name synonymous in the annals of time, whether you’re a petrol head or not the car is iconic, even though it’s not been in production for 35 years. In many ways, it was a car ahead of its time, and that probably became its downfall, but even now the survivors from the 9,080 produced are highly sought after around the globe. The DeLorean name is here to stay.

That legendary status was born out of incredible design. But before we delve into that, we need to go back to the very start.

The DeLorean Motor Company was created in 1974 by John Z DeLorean and an ex General Motors VP, William Collins. John had a vision of a sleek sports car with two seats clad in stainless steel, to make this dream come to life he hired the services of Giorgetto Giugiaro from the world famous Italdesign studios, a man who has gone on to claim the Car Designer of the Century award. John had taken inspiration from the Maserati Medici I and Hyundai Pony at the Turin Motor Show in ’74, both cars were super angular and designed by Giugiaro.

Wedge shapes were still all the rage back then; angles were sleek and modern. The majority of wedge cars remained as still-born concepts, machines like the Maserati Boomerang and Lancia Stratos Zero, they were pretty things but would always remain motor show ornaments. Giugiaro had the chance to make one of these futuristic vehicles for real this time. Sadly, it took another six years to source an engine, attain finance and start to build the thing, by that time wedge shape designs were in their twilight.

From the start the DeLorean stood out, its gullwing doors had only ever been seen on the iconic Mercedes 300SL before and the ill-fated Bricklin, and no production car had ever been finished in raw stainless steel. The name ‘DMC-12’ came from the price point DeLorean were aiming at, $12,000, though it was intended as just a code name, the when the car was introduced it was simply known as the “DeLorean”.

That design came at a cost though; originally the chassis was going to be made from elastic reservoir moulding, Royal Dutch Shell pioneered this process and purchased by DeLorean, who in turn set up a new company called Composite Technology Corporation. The method used two layers of foam and compresses them with a layer of resin between them; the foam would then be squashed to just 4mm in thickness, making it incredibly durable, stiff and lightweight. It was easier to produce than glass fibre and weighed less, sadly the dies used to make the ERM mould would have been just as expensive as a steel one. The whole process was deemed impractical for complete car builds.

Instead, Colin Chapman of Lotus fame became involved, the company re-engineered the car from the ground up using a traditional steel chassis. This added more weight but was far more practical and easy to build.

Another super high-tech element for the time were the torsion bars that were cryogenically pre-set to take the weight of the gullwing doors. These bars were developed by Grumman Aerospace, the same people that built the Apollo Lunar Module.

Initially the design had fixed rear buttresses instead of windows, but Collins took a look and said that visibility would be a massive issue, so the flying buttresses were removed in favour of fixed glass. Another change was static headlights instead of the fashionable pop up style. Giugiaro bowed to both requests and amended the design to fit…along with the updated 1975 U.S safety stipulations regarding 10 MPH bumpers and interior knee restraints.

One of the most significant changes throughout the DeLorean production run was the hood or bonnet. The original design had grooves running down each side and the first 2700 or so cars included a gas flap just below the windscreen that enabled you to fill the car up without opening the front trunk , but to create these the stainless steel was stressed and often cracked. This was removed for the remainder of the 1981 production, but oddly enough DeLorean still had locking gas caps, so around 500 DeLoreans had locking gas caps underneath the already locked front trunk. Starting in 1982, a fully flat hood was chosen, which featured a prominent ‘DeLorean’ logo on the bottom right edge.

However, why, 35 years on is the DeLorean still an icon?

The DeLorean story was full of twists and turns, from the massive investment provided by the UK Government to set up the Northern Ireland factory, to the unfortunate demise of John DeLorean’s credibility as he tried everything to keep the company funded.

For that reason, it sticks in people’s hearts. It was a car developed from one man’s dream, created from nothing but hard work and perseverance.

Naturally, a particular film franchise had a hand in making it the pop-culture icon it is today, but that fame ultimately came too late to inject DeLorean with the recognition it so dearly needed. The DeLorean still crops up regularly, from art installations that investigate the decaying remains of our society, to the latest blockbuster films such as ‘Ready Player One’.

Today the DMC brand is going from strength to strength; a Liverpool born businessman Stephen Wynne acquired the rights to use the DeLorean Motor Company name in the 1990s. Eventually, he also acquired the DMC and DeLorean logo rights, purchased the remaining stock along with the intellectual property, bit by bit he became the owner of the whole lot.

Wynne’s dream has always been to rebuild the DeLorean as either a limited run or from the ground up. They have enough parts to make around 500 brand new DeLoreans, but one thing has always stood in the way. Regulation.

For nigh on 50 years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hadn’t differentiated between the likes of Ford, GM, Chevrolet and small, independent car makers. The same stringent regulations and paperwork had to be filled out and submitted by both large automakers and niche builders.

This all changed in 2015 when the “Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act” was added to the federal highway bill. This means small companies are allowed to build limited numbers of replicas of vehicles that were produced over 25 years ago.

These cars must, however, meet the current Clean Air Act standards, to do this, powertrains and emission regulation equipment from other automakers have to be sourced. This can be from a similar EPA rated vehicle or a crate engine that has a California Air Resources Board Executive Order.

Changes in the law have effectively given Wynne the green light to make his dream come true, putting brand new DeLorean’s on the road in the 21st century.

Production is still ramping up; but regulatory delays have impacted the planned low-volume production. Prices for these DeLorean’s will begin around the $100,000 / £70,000 mark, many of the cars original bugbears will also be remedied including new engines with a lot more power, suspension tweaks, a modern stereo, new electrics throughout, bigger wheels and brakes.

Wynne aims to build a handful of cars a year to start with, eventually ramping up to 100, production will be limited to 325 per annum due to the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act.

All those improvements should make the DeLorean the car John DeLorean wanted it to be.

So there we have it, a failed car brand has finally become the success story it should have always been. The iconic DMC logo lives on, whether it’s through branding and merchandising film appearances or seeing a box fresh DeLorean roll down our streets once more.

It’s just a shame John Z DeLorean isn’t here to see it.

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