FEATURES: From the August, 2011 issue of Automobile MagazinePhotography by Eric McCandlessIf you know the De Lorean only as the time-traveling car featured in the 1985 film Back to the Future, you don’t know the half of it. The product of one determined man’s quest to create the first commercially viable startup American car company since the 1920s, the silver two-seater is far more significant than, say, a common James Bond Aston Martin.
John Z. De Lorean’s dream, however, became a vivid nightmare for many, including the investors, the management team, the dealers, and, of course, De Lorean himself, who was arrested with 100 kilos of cocaine in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to raise cash to save his bankrupt company.
Mr. De Lorean was dreaming big in 1977 when his DMC-12 (“DMC” for De Lorean Motor Company and “12” for the car’s $12,000 planned price) was first shown to the public. The Giugiaro-penned bombshell would be powered by a mid-mounted engine, its doors would open vertically, and, to help it stand the test of time, De Lorean envisioned a chassis made of a corrosion-proof urethane plastic resin wrapped in brushed stainless-steel body panels.
The DMC-12’s engine was initially going to be a rotary, but the Wankel proved elusive. De Lorean then considered General Motors‘ Iron Duke four-banger and Ford’s Cologne V-6 (mounted transversely out back), but he finally chose — and engineered the car around — a transverse, mid-mounted Citroen four-cylinder. When Citroen executives learned of De Lorean’s plans to turbocharge the engine, however, they told the American startup to, um, take its damn hands off. Plan B was a Peugeot/Renault/Volvo V-6 that required a switch to a longitudinal rear-engine layout and a ground-up chassis redesign.
When the clock struck 1979, the car that had been promised to be in showrooms wasn’t even engineered. Time was of the essence, and De Lorean turned to Lotus for help. Colin Chapman and his team set about the monumental task of engineering a car from the outside in, modifying the Lotus Esprit‘s double-Y-shaped backbone and suspension design for rear-engine use. That the De Lorean’s frame looks like an elongated flux capacitor is poetry not lost on us.