Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Future is Back!

Robert sees a DeLorean for the first time in Odessa.


From the Pakistan Daily Mail, which all Kermit residents read
by Andrew Thompson

Twenty-six-year-old Cameron Wynne is a champion wakeboarder and fan of the electro-funk band Chromeo. His long hair, tanned skin and girlfriend-who-works-in-fashion go a long way toward completing his cool-kid persona. But his beyond-exotic ride provides the finishing touch. “When I was at the Roosevelt in L.A., they moved a Lamborghini Murcielago so they could park it in front of everything—a Murcielago!” Wynne says. “And they didn’t charge me anything. All week.” “It” is Wynne’s 1981 DeLorean DMC-12. Yes, that gull-wing stunner best known as the time machine in the 1985 Robert Zemeckis film, Back to the Future. (Wynne’s edition is wrapped in black, with matte shard effects that were a 2009 limited-edition design for The Hundreds clothing line.)

Against all expectations—and possibly common sense—the DeLorean is back in limited production, and with it has come a boomlet in DeLoreaniana. Last November Nike’s 6.0 Dunk SE DeLorean sneakers sold out online in minutes. A DMC-12 holds a prime spot in Xbox’s bestselling Gran Turismo videogame. Next month Mattel’s Hot Wheels DeLorean edition will begin its fifth product run in the past year. Not to mention the car’s popularity in the music and film communities. Pop singer Ke$ha drove one to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards; will.i.am owns one; Kanye West and Die Antwoord are vocal fans. The British band Neon Neon devoted its entire 2008 album, Stainless Style, to DeLorean. At least four movie projects—some backed by DeLorean’s children—are making the rounds in Hollywood.

The DeLorean DMC-12 features gullwing doors, unpainted stainless steel body panels, and a rear engine.When John DeLorean launched the original as a challenge to the Corvette in 1981, its 130hp, 2.8-liter V6 went from 0mph to 60mph in 10.5 seconds. It cost $25,000. Since then the car has garnered both favor and contempt. It became notorious in 1982 when DeLorean, desperate to generate cash (a $27 million stock issue had fallen through), became the target of an FBI investigation into drug trafficking. When the Feds caught him on camera in a Los Angeles Sheraton transferring a suitcase filled with 220 pounds of cocaine and famously saying, “It’s as good as gold and just in the nick of time,” their case seemed made.

Now, 30 years later, the brand is making a comeback based on its own merits. “People like the car for the car,” emphasizes Stephen Wynne, the 54-year-old CEO of DeLorean Motor Co. Along with son Cameron and 16 employees, Wynne is building and restoring DeLoreans at a 40,000-square-foot facility in Humble, Tex., 30 miles north of Houston. A former mechanic with long caramel bangs, a Carolina Herrera shirt and Prada loafers, Wynne grew up in Liverpool obsessed with cars—his parents’ trick to calm him as a toddler was to put him behind the wheel of the family sedan. Wynne moved to California in 1980 and developed an expertise in repairing DeLoreans, since the intricacies of their French-made Peugeot-Renault-Volvo (PRV) engine and Lotus-designed chassis were second nature for someone used to European vehicles. It didn’t hurt that he could “talk the same language” when tracking car parts across Europe—back in the day DeLorean cars were assembled in Northern Ireland, thanks to millions of dollars in development incentives from the British government.

While in California Wynne heard that a company called Kapac had DeLorean engineering data and thousands of spare parts lying fallow. In 1997 he bought out Kapac’s stocks for under a million dollars and by 1999 was the proud owner of all DeLorean branding rights and subsidiaries. Today’s DeLorean Motor Co. makes about six “new” cars a year—they have stainless-steel reproduction chassis and a combination of new-old stock (NOS), original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and reproduction parts. DMC also sells about 60 certified used DeLoreans annually. (The bulk of the business comes from service, repairs and restoration—and, increasingly, from licensing agreements.) The $57,500 new builds have a few modern options—like a CD player, GPS and iPod/Bluetooth—but their look is identical to those built in the 1980s.

They’re fun to drive, too. A DMC-12 is not going to win many drag races (though it will be challenged to them often), but it is nimble enough and feels smooth cruising at 70mph down the interstate. Speed aside, the steering is slightly stiff (power steering is not available); the clutch, brake and accelerator pedals are narrow and sit closely to one another, which requires some adjustment. Stateside quality control and retooling on the doors worked out the kinks in subsequent generations, and the new DeLoreans are built on a lighter chassis and can be wrapped in any color or pattern to protect the steel panels.

Wynne says he has enough original parts to build 500 more new-old cars, including a limited-edition Final Run of 50 to commence production this June. So far, so good: Wynne demurs when asked about profit totals but says DMC revenue has grown to six times the totals of the early 1990s, and last year had an 8% increase in net profits over 2009.


Gazelle said...

Our eldest son's dream car is a DeLorean! I used to see one regularly in the 80's when I commuted to work, it had a personalized plate that said IFLY.

David Kirk said...

Gazelle: Robert loves DeLoreans. We have only seen one in real life.

Gazelle said...

Just one? Guess they were a lot more popular out here.

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