Why I’m Selling My DeLorean
It’s the car that turned me into a car guy, and now it has to go.
The year was 1988. The year of Oprah, the year Mike Tyson married Robin Givens, the year this author, at six years old, terrorized the backyard of his suburban Atlanta home in his first car, a Jeep Renegade Power Wheels. Bright red, flared box fenders, ugly square headlights. It had a top speed of 2.5 mph, but it might as well have been 250, since I found a way to crash it into everything inside the house. I was banished outdoors, which was fine with me: top down, head three feet above the molded plastic body, off-roading on the lawn, yelling “Now I’m driving for real!”
Clearly, not much has changed.
My folks weren't particularly into cars, though not for lack of effort. Grandpa drove a ’57 Thunderbird and made sure everyone knew it was so powerful it could make it up the big hill on Knickerbocker Road in idle. Why anyone would want to idle up such a big hill is beyond me. Dad got a ’72 GTO in college, which, from what I heard, looked much better on the day he bought it than the day it was sold for scrap. He tried again in ’86, picking up a Jaguar XJS after getting a big promotion, but it, too, let him down, having spent most of its short time on earth in the care of a Northern New Jersey dealer's service department.
Third time may have been the charm: his 1988 Saab 900 Turbo, which would have taught me all about quirky Swedish cars and forced induction at a young age—had the old man ever bothered to learn what any of that was. All he knew was that it looked cool, with its curved windshield, and that Grandma would ride in it because it wasn't German. The transmission gave up at 20,000 miles. Finally, I suggested that Mom buy a Volvo 740 GLE, which went back 5 months later under Lemon Law. After that, Mom and Dad became residents of a two-Lexus household, thus ending their foray into the world of auto enthusiasm.
In the summer of 1988, my Dad brought home an issue of Car and Driver. This was the first of what would eventually become a fucking gigantic—and mostly worthless—collection of automotive publications. Since I didn't inherit a love of strange and unique cars from my parents, I was forced to develop it on my own, mostly through these magazines. That's part of why it's such a privilege to do what I do today. I was immediately obsessed with cars—especially driving them. As a fat kid who couldn’t run, the idea of going fast in a car was more than appealing.
The cover of my first Car and Driver featured a bizarre rendering of “The New Mid-Engined Corvette for 1990!” but what I found inside seized my imagination: a two-page spread on the DeLorean DMC-12, doors raised to the sky, body of unpainted stainless steel and—I later learned—the nearly perfect proportions of a Giorgietto Giugiaro masterpiece in automotive styling. I don’t think I even I read the article. I just stared at the pictures over and over, for hours. It was bare-metal perfection, the roof so low it seemed the driver had to lay on the floor. The DeLorean looked fast just sitting there on paper. I had the same reaction to the DeLorean that the Peabody family has in Back to the Future, when they find it cocked up on a pile of hay: “Space Ship.”
It didn’t matter that by the time I read the magazine the DeLorean Motor Company hadn’t built a car in nearly six years, the sad result of a series of bad judgment calls that would have been comical if they weren’t so damn tragic.
But six-year-old Matt didn’t know anything about bad business plans, failed government contracts, or John DeLorean’s cocaine bust. Six-year old Matt saw a car that immediately and subconsciously transmitted the certainty that cars could be special; they were more than just the thing in which Mom drove him to kindergarten.
Before I had learned about Giugiaro’s talents, I instantly recognized and lusted after his other cars on the road simply for being similar in shape and style to the DeLorean. The Isuzu Impulse, VW Scirocco, Lotus Esprit, BMW M1—they all jumped on my radar and stayed there. But it started with the DeLorean, and it ended there too.
Fast forward to December of 2011. I’m turning 30 years old. I have a reasonably successful business, a little bit of money, and the six-year-old Matt inside me is still craving a DeLorean. My entire adult life, everyone I've shared my DMC passion with has had the same reaction: “Why would you want one of those? They drive like shit.”
So I went shopping. My first stop was Humble, Texas, home of the current iteration of DeLorean Motor Company and its owner Stephen Wynne, a 50-something Irishman with a passion for the DeLorean beyond anything I’d seen. He allowed me to drive several examples, from an original, automatic transmission car (which did drive like shit) to his Electric DMC Prototype (which drove awesome, but had limited range and was a one-off), to the Stage 3, Supercharged DMC, packed with all the goodies. After years of listening to haters tell me the DMC drives awful, I learned that—in certain configurations—it's just not true.
I was the best and the worst customer imaginable. I wanted everything: a perfect original car, but with more power, functional A/C and accessories, and a great story behind it. And it took a year for Stephen and his team to find the car—Chassis #16046.
16046 was purchased new in 1984 at a Chevrolet/Delorean dealer in Long Beach, CA. Its first owner—let's call him Dave—drove the car a grand total of 2,450 miles that year, during which it went back to the dealer three times for air conditioning repairs. Frustrated, and possibly significantly upside-down on the loan after DeLorean Motor Company collapsed, Dave stashed 16046 in a storage unit in San Pedro, where it sat undisturbed for 28 years. The beautiful symmetry of Marty and Doc finding their DeLorean buried in a cave after 70 years and me finding my dream car in a storage unit in a similar state is not lost on me. The key differences: 16046 was 100 percent original, factory-perfect, and the original tires still held air.
The restoration process was long and far from painless. Months passed, during which time the crew at DMC California would send me photos and dollar figures. Eleven months after finding it, two years to the day after deciding I wanted it, and thousands of dollars later, I took 16046 home.
Life was never better.
Driving the car was, frankly, impressive. The power delivery was smooth and linear, the cammy rumble of the idling PRV V6, with its newfound bump in horsepower and soundtrack, became more reminiscent of a Ferrari Dino than a Volvo 760, and the ride quality was staggeringly good. She cruised comfortably at 85 mph on the highway, and even with Los Angeles’s relatively shitty pavement quality, 16046 displayed none of the creaks and rattles I’d felt in other DeLoreans. This was, no pun intended, a time capsule. It was like driving a brand new one home from the showroom—only this DeLorean actually worked.
The low miles cause an anxiety attack every time I drive anywhere. The mint condition makes me nervous. I’m hypersensitive to finger prints on the stainless steel doors. I see damage that isn’t there, I hear noises even though the car is totally fine.
“That thing ever get up to 88?”—Every person at every gas station ever.
I made sure to put a few hundred miles on it as quickly as I could just to iron out any possible kinks—wrinkles that emerge in any restoration. A loose wire here, an adjustment there. But the car was solid. I was impressed.
“Where’s your Flux Capacitor?”—Every person at every intersection.
That August, I drove the DeLorean to Pebble Beach for Concours weekend with my dad. Even he, non-car person that he is, appreciated the smiles, the waves, and the approving nods of passers by. The DeLorean isn’t a time machine, and the DeLorean isn’t a speed machine: The DeLorean is a smile machine. It generates smiles. I’m confident I had the only DeLorean in Monterey that weekend; a sea of Porsche 911’s surrounded my stainless fishing lure on the way to the Quail. At the auctions, mundane, low-spec 911’s bring big money. We are dumbfounded. There are dozens of them in every parking lot. But only one Delorean.
“When do I get to see some serious shit?”—Every person at Pebble Beach.
Returning home and pulling into the garage, I realized that in that one long weekend, I had put nearly 1,200 miles on the car, effectively increasing the car’s odometer reading by a whopping 50 percent.
A month after that trip, I bought an ex-CHP Ford Mustang to turn into a track car—my other childhood dream car realized. Never mind that I already had a track car—a 1998 Corvette—which had been to the track exactly one time. Three months after that, I bought a Lexus with 900,000 miles on it, with the intention of getting the car to a million miles. I thought that would be interesting, and did not consider what it would actually take to put that many miles on a car in a reasonable period of time. Then I bought a Nissan Skyline R32, the best car in every video game from 1995 to 2005, the hero car we could never have on these shores.
To paraphrase our friend Alex Roy, I now had four fourth cars.
You see, a car guy’s collection is limited by only three factors: his bank account, his practicality (or lack thereof), and the amount of room he has to house it. I was making some good money, I like cars and thought I didn’t care about practicality, and I had a wealthy and awesome friend who let me store cars in his building—for free. Free storage, my friends, is how you end up with six cars you probably can’t afford.
My Pebble Beach road trip was the most mileage I’d ever put on the DeLorean in a stint. I’d drive it here and there, putting miles on it just to keep things moving and enjoying watching valets at Beverly Hills hotspots trip over themselves to move a Ferrari 458 or Bentley GT out of the way so I could park 16046 up front. What the car lacks in racetrack chops it makes up for in curb presence; for instance, women absolutely adore it. A Delorean says to the world, I have disposable income, I have good taste in the classics, I have sentimentality, and I don’t take myself too seriously.
If ever I wanted to feel like a real celebrity, not the wannabe internet celebrity that I am, I grabbed the DeLorean keys. But the truth is, most days, I want to be invisible.
"Wanna take me back to 1955”—Every woman in front of a bar.
In 2015, I traveled 200 days of the year, driving various cars all over the world, and came home to the newest German sport sedan or American retro-future muscle car in my driveway every week. Life was good for everyone, except my poor cars, especially the DeLorean. I drove it 300 miles that year, mostly out of obligation. I loved looking at it in the warehouse parked next to my Corvette. It could not be more opposite in design. It made the Corvette look cheap and cheesy. The body has aged better than nearly anything else built in the 1980’s, and it makes me smile every time I take a gander. I’d say every time it left the garage in 2015, it was washed. Maybe a total of four times.
"Hey McFly! Got any plutonium?—Guys at every hand-wash in West LA.
The 16046 went to DMC California in January of 2016 for its annual service. All the best places work on my cars, and all of them seem to be 30 miles away from where I live. This means a half-day’s trip to pick up or drop off a car.
I always wondered how DMC managed to keep the cars in order on their lot. It’s a big place, and there are 40 identical cars parked all over the place, and it’s not like you can click the alarm to figure out which key you’ve got. All the cars are the same and all the keys are the same, and every car is down there for the same set of issues. It seems endlessly frustrating, not unlike what it must be like to go to a Delorean Owners Club meet. I’ve taken some flak from the members of the Delorean Owners Club on account of my calling them “weird,” a characterization based almost entirely on their desire to hang out with each other. Who wants to go to a car show where 40 other cars show up that are literally identical to yours? I can’t fathom what’s enjoyable about that. I like variety, obviously, which is how I ended up with all these cars I don’t have time to drive.
The service, an oil and filter change and passenger window track adjustment, came to $240. Between January and today, the Delorean has traveled less than 100 miles, and it’s 36 miles home from DMC.
“Where you’re going, you don’t need roads. But I need $20.”—Panhandler, corner of Pico and Sawtelle
It’s now June, 2016. I’m thirty-four years old. I have a career in an industry that didn’t exist a decade ago. I get to drive sports cars for a living and talk about them. With any luck, there’s a six-year-old out there who sees one of my videos and learns cars can be special, while simultaneously learning what curse words are. I get to spend work trips driving all over the world, and when I come home it's to a cavalcade of fine European sports cars delivered weekly to my driveway. Life is good.
However, four months ago, my free storage space very suddenly became nonexistent when my friend sold his building. It sent me into a panic spiral of holy shit where am I going to store six fucking fourth cars in Los Angeles?
And that’s the simple, mundane, sad reason I’m selling my dream car. I just don't have room to give it the care it needs. The low miles practically cause an anxiety attack every time I drive anywhere. The mint condition of, well, everything makes me nervous about parking it. I’m hyper sensitive to finger prints on the stainless steel doors. I see damage that isn’t there, I hear noises that assure me something is about to break and require a schlep down to Huntington Beach, even though the car is totally fine, it’s just old, and old cars make sounds that new cars don’t make.
The Petersen Automotive Museum kindly agreed to store 16046 and my Corvette in its basement vault while “I figured something out.” Four months later, I haven’t figured out shit. And since it's a 40 minute drive from my house, I can’t even visit the damn thing.
I always like to say that cars have four wheels and an engine for a reason. If you can’t drive it, buy a painting.
Which makes more sense than the other famous quote I keep hearing: “Not driving your Ferrari is like not sleeping with your girlfriend to save her for her next boyfriend.”
The first one makes sense. The second only makes sense if the procedure for breaking up with a girlfriend was to sell her on Ebay.
A funny thing about someone who gives car advice for a living is that I never listen to it. I don’t always get PPI’s. I don’t ever make the most practical choice for any given car. I don’t haggle with sellers worth a damn. I once traded a nearly-new Audi S4 straight up for a six-year old HUMMER H1. Clearly, I'm not always all that rational.
But it’s time for me to listen to my own advice, for once. In 20 years I’ll probably regret selling it, as my colleagues here at The Drive have made clear. So, as sad as it makes me to type these words, here we go:
Lovingly Restored, Yet Highly Original
Needs New Driver
MORE TO READ
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Silicon Valley tie-up is a match made in retro-electro heaven.
Putsch Racing’s DeLorean Is almost as Cool as Doc’s
C’mon, let’s see this baby do 88.