A Rare 1981 “DMC-12” DeLorean

What was billed as the DeLorean sports car is rare only in as much as only about 8,500 units were built. Like the Tucker car, the DeLorean came and went in a flash, although many more DeLorean DMC-12’s were produced than the fifty odd Tuckers. Some might say that the DeLorean was the world’s most notorious car since the Tucker.

delorean dmc 12
DeLorean DMC 12

To be sure, the DeLorean was an eye catcher in 1981 although it’s trademark gullwing doors were first introduced by Mercedes. The Delorean’s engine was rear mounted and the inner body was fiberglass constructed while the outer panels were made of stainless steel.

John Z. DeLorean

In all probability, the DeLorean DMC-12 sports car has collector appeal that’s a bit different than the ordinary. When you talk about the DeLorean automobile you’re talking about it’s founder, John Z. DeLorean, a one time “golden boy” of General Motors.

DeLorean was the executive at GM behind the Pontiac GTO of the 1960’s. Some of his other attributes included but not limited to creating the overhead-cam engine, concealed windshield wipers, the lane-change turn signal, vertically stacked headlights, racing stripes and an emphasis on cockpitlike driver consoles. DeLorean claimed to have over 200 patents.

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Stainless steel outer body of the DeLorean DMC-12

DeLorean’s automotive career was both brilliant and troubled. At one time many actually thought that John Z. DeLorean would take over the helm at General Motors. For a variety of reasons, mainly political, he didn’t. Instead, DeLorean left GM and formed his own automobile company.

While this was a surprise to some, others knew of the politics of the time at GM and were not surprised to see the golden boy who went against the GM grain depart. Possibly DeLoreans well known flamboyance created more than a few foes at GM.

The DeLorean DMC-12

The DeLorean Motor Company was formed in 1975 with the help of funds from the British government. The plan was to build cars in Northern Ireland near Belfast with a six building manufacturing plant while creating some 2,000 jobs.

The design of the DeLorean DMC-12 took about seven years to complete and was mostly designed by Bill Collins, another former engineer from GM. The idea was to have a relatively economical sports car with a lot of innovation. Eventually the design was reworked by Lotus of England. The DeLorean DMC-12 was the company’s first and only model.

delorean dmc 12 interior photo
Interior of the 1981 DeLorean DMC-12

Trouble Came Quickly

Production of the DMC-12 was originally planned to begin in 1979 but because of engineering delays and cost overruns the production was delayed until 1981. Cost overruns would hammer the new automaker during it’s entire short life. The cost overruns meant that the DeLorean had a price tag of $25,000. A very high price tag in 1981 for a relatively low powered sports car. The DMC-12 was rated at Zero to 60 at about 10 seconds. Not exactly a 1981 muscle car.

The price was thousands more than what was in the business plan and the initial reception by the media and the public was mixed, most likely because of the price tag versus performance.

Even though the DeLorean DMC-12 was promoted very heavily, sales never met expectations. In addition there were many fixes required because of assembly problems.

Cash was getting tight and the British government was putting pressure on DeLorean to raise more financing. Everything really came to a head when John Z. DeLorean was indicted on drug charges after a federal drug sting which was videotaped. DeLorean was cleared of those charges but there were also accusations that DeLorean bilked some investors. As a result of all this the DeLorean Motor Company went bankrupt in 1982.

1981 delorean
1981 DeLorean

It was said that when the company went bankrupt there were about 1,200 vehicles in production that ended up being sold for about $6,000 under the sticker price.

1981 DeLorean DMC-12 Specifications

The DMC-12 was built with a light alloy V-6 engine.

The transmission was a choice of a five speed fully synchronized manual or a three speed automatic.

Brakes were power assisted discs on all four wheels.

Suspension in the front consisted of unequal length wishbones and coil boxed spring, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar. Rear suspension were diagonal trailing radius arms with upper and lower links, coil spring with telescopic shock absorbers.

The DeLorean DMC-12’s overall length was 168.0 inches. The wheelbase was 94.8 inches, the width 78.3 inches and the height 44.88 inches. Ground clearance in the front was 5.6 inches and 6.10 inches in the rear.

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A good book regarding John Z. DeLorean, his career and the DeLorean DMC-12 is Dream Maker: The Rise and Fall of John Z. DeLorean by authors Ivan Fallon and James Srodes.

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Rear view of the DeLorean DMC-12

The DeLorean DMC-12 Collector Car

There are only two model years for the DeLorean DMC-12, 1981 and 1982. As mentioned above total production over the two years was about 8,500 units.

Today’s asking prices for existing DMC-12’s usually range from about $20,000 to $39,000. A lot will depend on miles and overall condition. We have also a museum quality model with very low mileage being priced in the $60,000 range.

Prices for the DeLorean will also vary widely on how much a collector wants the vehicle. There’s obviously a lot of history connected to the car and the man and company it was named for. John Z. DeLorean made a name for himself and had numerous achievements while at General Motors but he is thought of more today due to his connection with the ill-fated DeLorean Motor Company.

The DeLorean DMC-12 is certainly not as rare or expensive as a Tucker car but it does represent a chapter in the history of the automobile industry.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Auto Museum Online)