's Great British Cars – Delorean DMC12

Fri 14th Dec 2018

Great Britain, great cars. The UK motor industry is respected the world over, and though many of the vehicles are actually owned by foreign manufacturers, there can be no doubting of the fantastic heritage of the British motor.

To celebrate Britain’s famous history is launching a series looking back on some of the most famous vehicles the UK has ever seen.

Delorean DMC12
The tale of the DeLorean has a backstory which is worthy of its own movie, however, it’s likely that this Irish legend will be best be remembered for starring in somebody else’s movie.

The first prototype for the DeLorean appeared in 1976, the brainchild of a former General Motors head, John DeLorean. Born in Detroit, DeLorean certainly came with good pedigree and had developed a number of iconic models, including the Pontiac Firebird and the Chevrolet Cosworth before breaking free to go it alone in 1973.

The DMC12 prototype encountered problems early on, initially the engine was supposed to be a mid-engine design, using the Wankel rotary system, but that switched to a traditional rear-engine on production. The chassis was also planned to be made from an untested elastic reservoir moulding, for which DeLorean had bought the patent rights, but that system was found to be unsuitable.

In fact, with the car battling to meet schedule, the entire engine design was handed over to Colin Chapman and his team at Lotus Cars, who added plenty of stability to the project and threw out many of the wacky ideas.

DeLorean needed $175m US dollars to put the DMC into production and with investment from Hollywood celebrities such as Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis, Jr, the car was ready to begin production in a factory in Puerto Rico, but that factory soon ended up in Belfast after the British Government, via the Northern Ireland Development Agency, promised £100m of investment.

Scheduled for launch in 1979, it didn’t hit the market until 1981 and it became clear that the inexperienced but expensive workforce in Belfast had some serious quality control issues.

Almost 10,000 DMC12s were produced in its first two years from January 1981 and December 1982, but the car was expensive and slow and the motor market depressed and not in the mood for an untested supercar. DeLorean went bankrupt in late 1982, following John DeLorean’s arrest for smuggling cocaine.

Though some DMC12s were sold through 1983, the brand was doomed and it wouldn’t be until Dr. Emmett Brown turned one into a time travelling machine for ‘Back To The Future’ franchise that the silver gull-winged car would enter the folklore of modern motoring.

Years of manufacture: 1981-1983 
Price when new: £16,660
Price now: £20,000-£40,000
Engine: 2,849cc 6cyl petrol, 130bhp
Top speed: 130mph