DeLorean is back from the past
The 30th anniversary of the classic time-traveling movie “Back to the Future” isn't until 2015, but DeLorean Motor Co. is already seeing a steady uptick in business for restorations of the stainless steel cars, complete with flux capacitors, plutonium gauges and the Mr. Fusion nuclear reactor that enabled the iconic coupe to travel to 1955 — at least on film.
Recently relocated to Huntington Beach, Calif., DeLorean had been making a business out of simply restoring the beloved, if short-lived, DMC-12 sports car. But increasingly, it's fielding requests to transform them into time-traveling replicas for a whole host of events, including corporate appearances, movie cameos and, next month, the “just married” version that will transport a newlywed couple after their nuptials.
On a recent weekend, DeLorean mechanic Danny Botkin drove his personal “Back to the Future” car to San Francisco for an Uber promo, offering free rides through the popular socially networked ride-sharing service.
“ ‘Back to the Future' is getting bigger and bigger, especially among kids who watched the movie in 1985 and now have enough money to own a piece of it,” said Botkin, who has built six of the movie replica cars so far.
Pull open the gullwing doors, and the center console is outfitted with a stack of “time circuits” that allow passengers to punch in a “destination time” that can transport them decades into the past or future — at least in the drivers' own minds. Pull a lever, and the “flux capacitor” that “makes time travel possible” using 1.21 gigawatts of electricity, according to the film's Doc Brown character, pulses with lights that flash from a box between the head rests.
Botkin, who began work as a DeLorean mechanic 13 years ago at the now-defunct DeLorean franchise in Garden Grove, Calif., had purchased a decrepit DMC-12 for $3,000 to restore for personal use when he was approached by a rep for Universal Studios, asking if he could restore the original “Back to the Future” car for a possible fourth installment of the film.
“After working on that and getting their car running, it gave me the bug to do mine,” said Botkin, who took “tons of pictures.”
Those photos have become a handy guideline for the replicas, which cost about $45,000 and source parts from military surplus, including a jet engine oil cooler and oil separator. The “nuclear reactor” is a Krups coffee grinder. Its base is the housing for a computer hard drive.
“We've never advertised that we build these,” Botkin said. “It's just been a side thing we do. If people ask us to do it, we'll do it.”
DeLorean has nothing to do with the originalcompany. Founded by General Motors executive John DeLorean in 1975, the original went bankrupt in 1982 when it ran into cash-flow problems after building about 9,000 cars. Its modern incarnation was established by British auto mechanic Stephen Wynne, who serviced DeLoreans from his San Fernando Valley, Calif., garage when the original company was building cars. In 1995, he started a different DeLorean Motor Co. after buying the original company's remaining parts.
According to Wynne's son, DeLorean general manager Cameron Wynne, there are still enough original DeLorean parts to fill 40,000 square feet of warehouse space in Houston. Original gull-wing doors alone number 1,000 in inventory, he said.
The Wynnes' DeLorean began re-manufacturing the DMC-12 seven years ago using donor cars that are stripped to their underbodies and upfit with a mix of remanufactured and new, old-stock parts. Wynne won't say how much the donor cars cost, but he says they are readily available and oftentimes have just a few thousand miles on the odometer.
In 1981, a new DMC-12 cost $25,000. Today, that same car in good condition is worth about the same amount. Of the 9,000 DMC-12s that were built, 6,500 are estimated to still exist.
Soon, DeLorean will begin producing a different sort of “Back to the Future” car — an all-electric DMC-12 that can travel 100 miles per charge and accelerates from 0 to 60 in 4.4 seconds. In 2011, the company built its first DMC EV. It is currently “revamping the battery system,” Wynne said. “Once battery technology jumps up, we can introduce the next EV.”