Unearthed: 1981 DeLorean DMC-12

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Created by a man who defied conventions, the DeLorean DMC-12 was literally doomed from the start.

Ah yes, the one and only DeLorean DMC-12. Over the years, it's become known as perhaps the ultimate geek car due to its conversion into a time machine in the "Back to the Future" trilogy. But before its trek into the sci-fi Hollywood universe, the DMC-12 was the vision of perhaps one of the greatest auto execs in the history of America, John Z. DeLorean. For those who don't know the man's story, here's a brief rundown. DeLorean, born in 1925 in Detroit, Michigan, studied engineering and was recruited to GM after working at both Packard and Chrysler.

Not long after arriving, his engineering talents were noticed by the likes of Bunkie Knudsen who at the time was running Pontiac. He put DeLorean to work on various projects and his natural gifts for well-engineered and powerful cars soon produced the Pontiac GTO, which was muscled up Tempest. By the time he was 40, DeLorean was not just an engineer but also an executive who was also brought us the Firebird. But unlike typical GM suits, DeLorean was a true rebel who favored more fashionable clothes and long hair. Despite this, he became head of Chevrolet in 1969 where he was responsible for the Vega, amongst many others.

In 1973, however, the rebel exec quit GM not long after he was promoted again, this time to vice president. He wanted to start his own car company and do things his way without any of that corporate culture he never liked. By 1976, the first DeLorean prototype was finished and a mid-mounted Citroen Wankel rotary engine was planned. This was later switched to a Ford "Cologne V6" but they eventually settled on a Peugeot-Renault-Volvo V6 with 150hp. Due to engineering issues, the engine was later relocated to the rear. Lotus founder Colin Chapman was brought into to tune the car and exterior styling was done by Giorgetto Giugiaro.

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In fact, the DMC-12's underbody and suspension were based mainly on the Lotus Esprit and featured a four-wheel independent suspension and coil springs. But what truly made the car so distinctive were its stainless steel body panels and gullwing doors. Yes, it was never much of a performance car, going from 0 to 60 mph in a sad 10.5 seconds, but it certainly turned heads (still does) wherever it went. The production version was launched in 1981 and ultimately ended in 1983. Despite its short life, the DMC-12 had a few styling changes such as the eventual removal of the gas flap on the hood along with the side grooves in favor of a flat hood.

Because of DeLorean's rebellious streak, he was a nonbeliever in model years, claiming they were simply a gimmick from mainstream automakers just to sell more cars. Produced in a brand new factory in Dublin, Ireland, his cars were shipped stateside and even a few right-hand drive units were built. However, financial problems soon arose and DeLorean resorted to desperate measures to find funding to keep his company alive. Long story short, DeLorean was arrested by the FBI and charged with trafficking cocaine. He was later found not guilty but it was too late to save his company. In total, 9,000 DMC-12s were built and around 6,500 remain on the road today.

One of those is featured here. This is an early 1981 DMC-12 that's been extremely well cared for over the years. With the exception of the radio, everything on it has remained stock. It's actually a rare model because of the gas flap on the hood. Early models also had pull straps that were attached to the door handles, while models from late 1981, 82, and 83 featured integrated straps. All told, this DMC-12 looks great and even though it's more than 30 years old, the styling still looks quite modern, perhaps even timeless. Photos courtesy of DMC-12.

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