Stainless steel icon — DeLorean

Posted in Cars

Like most young lads, as a nine-year-old Mat Bedogni had a real passion for Ferrari, and one of those Italian supercars was always going to be on his wish list. However, a new candidate appeared when, as a teenager in the mid 1980s, Mat watched the movie Back to the Future. While a Ferrari remained his dream car, the film made a real impact on Mat, undoubtedly becoming the catalyst for an ongoing interest in all things associated with it — and that, of course, included a DeLorean DMC-12. 

When the first Back to the Future appeared, Mat — who is about the same age as Michael J Fox, the actor who portrays on-screen hero Marty McFly — was enthralled by what seemed an unbelievably futuristic storyline, in which a teenager is unintentionally sent back 30 years to the past in a time machine devised by McFly’s good friend and mad scientist, Dr Emmett Brown, the time machine having been built into a DeLorean DMC-12. Back to the Future turned both Fox and the gull-winged DeLorean into superstars, while the film itself earned almost $500M at the box office, and subsequently spawned two equally successful sequels.

Back to the ’80s

Mat even remembers to this day when one of the first DeLorean DMC-12s was brought into New Zealand during the mid ’80s. He was about 15 years old, his father took him to see the car at a Manukau car yard, and he couldn’t believe his eyes. He was also was fortunate enough to sit inside it, and the first thing he noticed was that the speedometer only went up to 85mph — 137kph. Those of you familiar with the movie will know that the time-travelling DMC-12 needed to reach a speed of exactly 88mph before it could transport the occupants back in time. 

Subsequent research by Mat revealed there were in fact two dash options available for the DeLorean DMC-12 — the other being fitted with a speedometer that went up to 95mph (153kph). 

Despite that minor blip, Mat loved everything about the DeLorean — and it soon became another addition to his wish list. 

For Mat, it was as if the rule book had been tossed away back in 1974, when John DeLorean established the DeLorean Motor Company. DeLorean’s DMC-12 did indeed push the boundaries of car production, with the development of new construction materials created by another company set up by DeLorean, the Composite Technology Corporation. The end result, a totally impractical rear-engined, two-seater sports car was so completely different to anything Mat had ever seen, and that was what attracted him to the DMC-12.

As Mat grew older, his fondness for the DeLorean never waned. He would quite often think about what it would be like to own one, and never lost sight of that dream. 

However, his first car was in stark contrast to the DeLorean — being a Suzuki SJ410. Mat certainly had plenty of fun in it, and, despite its notable lack of power and any appreciable handling ability, it was relatively safe as a first vehicle. Later, when Mat stepped up to a sportier Toyota Celica TA22, he began to tinker with his cars. It wasn’t long before he installed such items as EFI, larger wheels and an improved interior. The next phase was to install an upmarket stereo system, which became another hobby. In fact, the Celica’s final stereo system was so good that he entered into car audio competitions. He would subsequently win several trophies along the way with various different cars. During those days Mat became skilled at working on car interiors — something certainly evident in our featured DeLorean DMC-12. 

As Mat’s working career advanced so did his mode of transport, and company vehicles soon became the norm, despite the fact Mat always had a toy tucked away somewhere, usually in the shape of a suitable sports car. His toys included a Mazda MX-5 and a 1964½ Mustang convertible, which he bought a third share of, with his parents, at the age of 19. 

Mat describes the Mustang as being basically a running wreck, as discovered in West Auckland, though it’s since been fully restored. He also enjoys collecting model cars: 20 years ago he couldn’t afford a DeLorean DMC12 — or, indeed, a Ferrari — but at that time he could certainly afford to buy models and today, two decades after buying his first 1:18 model, Mat owns an impressive collection of them. 

Search for the future

Mat was in a position to start looking for a DeLorean DMC-12 in 2006; his search beginning with regular visits to many internet sites as he quickly learned what to look for in a ‘good’ DeLorean. Along the way, he learned that the first 500 DMC-12s built had an inherent design fault with their stainless-steel door skins, which meant that on occasion the gull-wing doors would jam shut. He also discovered the difficulties of trying to make contact with owners of such cars across the other side of the world who, more often than not, simply wouldn’t reply to Mat’s request for more information after discovering he was in New Zealand. In cases where he was able to make contact and start inquiring about the condition and history of the car, as well as assistance with shipping arrangements, the vehicle had usually sold before he got the answers. As such, he missed out on a few very nice cars. 

Lending urgency to his search for was Mat’s gut feeling that DeLorean DMC-12 prices were about to take off due to increasing interest in all things from the ’80s, as the kids of that era were now old enough to afford all the things they could never have when young. He knew he had to act quickly if he wanted to secure a good example at the right price. 

Stepping up his search, he looked at more cars via the internet, but with absolutely no luck at all. After six months of searching, he was becoming quite despondent, and was on the verge of giving up on owning a DeLorean. 

Then one day whilst sitting at his computer, he decided to see if there was an equivalent website to Auto Trader in the US and, to his surprise, such a site existed. Out of curiosity, he typed in DeLorean to see if any appeared — and, wouldn’t you know it, a nice-looking car located on a car dealer’s yard in North Carolina popped up. Mat wasted no time in making further enquiries, and learned that this particular DMC-12 had originally been owned by a US Airways executive, and had been part of his car collection for the past 22 years. Kept in a temperature-controlled environment, the DeLorean had only travelled 900 miles (1448km) during that time. 

Fortunately for Mat, the dealership selling the car was extremely helpful and was able to send him many photographs of it, as well as answering, via email, the many questions Mat had about its condition and the history of the car. The asking price for this particular DCM-12 was probably a little on the high side in Mat’s opinion, but he knew he was unlikely to find a better low-mileage example in a hurry, and he subsequently made the call to purchase the DeLorean. 

The next step was to pack it up in preparation for its long journey down under and, thankfully, the US dealership was able to assist. Once it was on board a ship, Mat was able to track the craft’s long journey through the Panama Canal and all the way to New Zealand via, although he says it was probably one of the longest, most nerve-wracking months of his life, checking international weather forecasts in fear that a storm might cause the ship to sink, or lead to his container falling overboard. 

Back home

Fortunately for Mat’s nerves, the DeLorean arrived on our shores in one piece during March 2007, and, in fact, the car was just as he’d imagined it to be — perfect. In addition, closer inspection revealed some rather rare items inside it such as the original owner’s manual and parts catalogue, both of which, according to Mat, are something you never see in these cars. The documentation also included original tyre receipts from the ’80s and even an airfreight receipt. Apparently the last owner had the DeLorean DMC-12 air freighted from Los Angeles to North Carolina after he’d purchased it. 

Now the car was safely in Mat’s possession he proceeded to have it checked and readied for compliance. The first items to be examined were the areas around where the doors hinge — these being prone to rust — and possible structural weaknesses. Being a gull-wing configuration, the DeLorean DMC-12 has a ‘T’ box section structure that runs through the roof, which is the only mild steel component in the car. The doors, quite literally, hinge off this structure. The rest of the car is fibreglass, with the exterior sheathed in stainless steel — the chassis being epoxy-coated steel. 

Due to the design of the door-opening structure, water can be captured without anywhere to drain, and this can sit and cause surface rust. Unfortunately Mat’s car suffered some slight rust damage in this area, so he decided to replace the entire structure in order to bring it up to perfect condition, thinking he’d easily be able to purchase the section directly from the US. It may seem incredible but, although John Z DeLorean’s original company has been defunct for many decades, a more recently established US-based DeLorean Motor Company exists.

Alas, it did not have the part Mat was looking for in stock so, after a lot of time on DMC website forums, he found a firm in Europe which made the required box section out of stainless steel. Mat purchased one of these replicated items — at great cost — and had it shipped to New Zealand. Alas, when it finally arrived he was disappointed to find the build quality was poor, the replacement box section being far from dimensionally accurate. However, as luck would have it one of Mat’s friends — an experienced stainless-steel worker — came to the rescue. The end result was an absolutely perfect job, better than a genuine factory part, and even grained to match the brushed stainless look of the car’s body-skin. 

Without the help of the DeLorean community and the new DeLorean Motor Company in Houston, Mat’s refurbishment of his car would have likely been a far more expensive job. He admits the doors are definitely very tricky to remove and install, but help was at hand from an unlikely source. 

When Mat was having a new set of tyres fitted to the car, a person visiting the tyre shop at the time introduced himself, and advised that he had experience working on DeLoreans.
The upshot was that Mat now had someone to assist him remove and install the doors without putting a torsion bar through the side of the bodywork or the house. If that last sentence doesn’t seem to make much sense, it’ll help to explain that the trickiest part of the door-removal exercise is tensioning the torsion bars that take the weight of the huge doors, allowing them to swing up without effort. The tension required is quite significant, and extra-special care and experience is required to avoid any disastrous — and expensive — consequences. 

During this time Mat also stripped the entire interior of the car to prevent any damage occurring to the mint-condition cabin, and he was amazed to find the odd nut and bolt — these having obviously been dropped into the floorpan during final assembly, due to the mad rush with which these cars were put together before carpet was laid on top. He also found some original parts tickets still intact inside one of the doors, showing how original this car really was. 

Mat has since visited the DeLorean factory in Houston which makes new DeLoreans, with about 80 per cent of original parts and the rest with new, upgraded parts. The company is about to launch a new electric-powered version. Mat also had the opportunity to view several DeLorean DMC-12s whilst in the US, and appreciates just how lucky he was to secure such a fantastic, original example.

Flux capacitor

Whilst Mat was carrying out the DMC-12’s minor restoration project, his two young sons would quite often sit inside the DeLorean and pretend to be Back to the Future time travellers. They would run around the car, change seats and ask each other what year they wanted to travel back to, as well as making all the relevant noises of the movie car. Watching the excitement of his two sons, Mat wondered if it was possible to find anything on the internet with flashing lights that might simulate the famous ‘flux capacitor’ for them to enjoy. After all, what DeLorean would be complete without one? 

Once Mat began searching, one thing lead to another, and he found far more than he was looking for on eBay — an actual ‘flux capacitor’ that Mat couldn’t resist, and subsequently purchased.
He also discovered that a NASA rocket scientist based in Florida was making these replica flux capacitors in his spare time — Mat jokes that it might actually work, since a rocket scientist made it. Apparently, this same scientist also builds prop replicas for Universal Studios, which made the movie Back to the Future. After further investigation, Mat found the same guy also made the Time Drive Circuits (the unit with the large Y-handle that turns on the flux capacitor and shows time circuiting in the movie). The icing on the cake was discovering the seller also made a special box that was loaded with speakers and a sound card to replicate the original sounds of the movie car, linked to the other two items. Mat hit the ‘buy now’ button instantly. 

This is where things can start to get out of control and, although Mat had contemplated building a complete mock-up of the original movie DeLorean-DMC12, he decided not to, as his car was so original and in such good condition that he was reluctant to modify it in any major way. Instead, he concentrated mainly on fitting just a few interior items, all of which can easily be removed if he ever wants the car to look standard. He also fitted a rather impressive stereo system, which fits in nicely with the Back to the Future theme using car audio items that have been made to look like ’80s time machine parts. He says it’s far from an exact copy of the movie car, but he and his kids just wanted to have a bit of fun with it all without getting too carried away. 

As mentioned earlier, the Back to the Future movies had a huge influence on Mat when he was a teenager and, judging by his collection of memorabilia associated with the trilogy — including two guitars as seen in the movie and eight hover-boards — it’s clear its influence is still there. In fact, Mat proposed to his wife to one of the original songs from the movie — Earth Angel — and danced to the same song at their wedding.

Mat concedes his original idea somewhat snowballed, and now half his DeLorean DMC-12 looks rather like the original Back to the Future car — although he’s certainly not complaining, nor are his two sons for that matter.