DeLorean DMC-12 Buying Guide

It’s one of the most famous cars ever created, and now very collectible – but is the DeLorean worthy of your attention?

DeLorean DMC-12 Buying Guide

Prices
• Project £7000-9000 • Good £15,000-25,000 • Concours £26,000-33,000 •

Practicality ★★
Running costs ★★★
Spares ★★★
DIY Friendly ★★★
Investment ★★★★
Desirability ★★★

One day the DeLorean story will be made into a film. It’s got everything: drugs, corruption, double-dealing, starring film role (in Back to the Future, as if you didn't know) and a healthy dose of the feel-good factor – until it all comes crashing down. The DeLorean DMC-12 promised much and when things went wrong the car became a synonym for failure, which isn’t entirely deserved.

Conceived and created in an era when a bit shoddy was about as good things got, the DMC-12 isn’t the best driver’s car ever, but it looks great, holds an incredible back story and also has the most incredibly enthusiastic following imaginable, which ensures a decent parts supply and plenty of expertise to keep the cars running.

The DeLorean was built from the start of 1981 until the end of 1982 and in that time around 9000 examples were built. It’s reckoned that around 6500 of these have survived, most in the US. Prices have climbed steadily in recent years and with demand constantly exceeding supply, they’re unlikely to fall back down again.

Your AutoClassics DeLorean DMC-12 inspection checklist

Engine

All DeLoreans were fitted with a normally aspirated 2.8-litre PRV V6 (jointly developed by Peugeot, Renault and Volvo). While the PRV engine can be turbocharged, the version in the DeLorean can not; a Renault GTA or Venturi Atlantique unit must be transplanted wholesale. Any engine that’s properly maintained will dismiss 300,000 miles with ease, although many of these engines are now suffering from perished seals.

Cars used sparingly will probably run poorly because of sediment clogging up the Bosch fuel injection system’s metering unit or injectors. It doesn’t help that the rubber boot that locates the fuel pump disintegrates, contaminating the petrol. Many cars are recommissioned by hooking up a battery, drawing stale fuel through complete with debris, when trying to start the engine. The petrol tank should be drained and the fuel lines blown through, but this rarely happens.

The most common problem, and the one most likely to kill an engine, is overheating, often because the cooling fans have failed to cut in; the wiring can be unreliable. Exhaust manifold gaskets fail so listen for blowing. The exhaust itself should be fine as it’s made of stainless steel, but fitting a more free-flowing set of pipes is worthwhile.

Gearbox

A handful of DMC-12s were supplied with a three-speed automatic transmission, but most came with a five-speed manual. The same gearbox is used in the Lotus Esprit, Renault GTA and Venturi, and the parts are available for a rebuild but it’s unlikely that one will be needed, as these transmissions are so strong.

The problem you’re most likely to face is baulking as you try to engage second gear, because the roll pin in the gear selector fork has worn. While the part itself costs pennies, fitting it means removing the gearbox and partially dismantling it.

Suspension and brakes

The factory-fit suspension is too soft and everything will be sagging by now anyway. Stiffening things up at replacement time is popular and worthwhile; lowering the car will also improve the looks and dynamics.

Finned alloy wheels were fitted to all cars; if they’re tatty, any wheel refurbishment specialist will be able to get them as good as new. Grey wheels were fitted up to 1984; this then switched to silver.

The brakes are conventional and reliable, although cars left standing idle for ages will probably be suffering from seized calipers, which may lead to pulling to one side when braking. If the brakes seem rubbish generally, a new master cylinder is probably needed. The brake fluid absorbs water, which then corrodes the steel cylinder bore.

Bodywork

All DeLoreans left the factory with a brushed stainless steel finish, but some have been painted, some through preference, some to hide problems. This can cause all sorts of problems in itself as painting stainless steel is a specialist job, but whatever the reasoning behind the paint job, you should pay significantly less for a painted car.

The stainless steel bodywork doesn’t normally corrode too badly, but accident repairs are a nightmare. However, because the unfinished panels can’t be filled, what you see is what you get. Replacement panels are generally available, but most of them are very expensive.

Start by checking the condition of the bonnet. Three different types were fitted and they’re all scarce. The earliest has swage lines and a fuel filler flap, the second has swage lines and no filler flap while the third was flat with an emblem. They’re interchangeable, but a 1981 car with a flat bonnet has probably been crashed.

Many DeLoreans suffer from tarnished panelwork. It’s possible to sand everything down but it’s a job for experts, as the sanding marks must be kept consistent. It’s not a quick process but it’s still cheaper than respraying a conventional finish.

The bonnet has a glassfibre backing pad that’s supported by an X-shaped steel frame. The frame can become visible through the bonnet and the only fix is a new bonnet. Any of the stainless steel panels can corrode if exposed to the elements for long periods of time. It will be even worse if the car has been stored under an asbestos roof as the panelling will be pitted all over. It’s all fixable though, if you get the right people involved.

The welded box-section and plate steel chassis was made by GKN. It was dipped into an epoxy resin bath and left to set, but as the resin tends to crack rather than flex, corrosion can set in. The frame ahead of the front wheels is where the metal is at its thinnest. Even if you can put a screwdriver through this (highly unlikely), the thicker metal further back should be fine.

The chassis tends to be damaged by grounding if the car has been lowered, so look for signs of this. Also inspect below the brake servo, as leaking brake fluid will strip the chassis epoxy.

Interior

Many DeLoreans have lived their lives in US states with hot climates, which results in split dashboards and seats. It can all be revived, but factor that into your negotiations.

The DeLorean is well equipped, with air-con, electric windows and a decent stereo, all of which is reliable, but check that it all works and look for evidence of the wiring loom having been spliced into. The central locking can play up, but this isn’t expensive to fix.

Surprisingly, much of the switchgear and instrumentation is unique to the DMC-12, so check that it all works. Most parts are still available on a new or used basis.

History

  • 1981: The first DMC-12s are made then a few months later exports to the US begin. Later on, the black interior is switched to grey.
  • 1982: DeLorean goes into receivership and the final cars are made.

AutoClassics says…

Any DeLorean can be fixed and as values have climbed, cars that were fit for scrap a few years ago can be economically revived. With excellent parts supply and relatively simple mechanics the DeLorean is an easy car to own and a guaranteed investment if you buy well.

If you’re buying a car that’s already in the UK it will probably be known to the club, which should be able to assist with pre-purchase advice. Ensure all import taxes have been paid if it’s been brought in from the US; most of the cars here were originally exported to America.

A handful of cars were made with right-hand drive and a few DeLoreans were converted once they’d left the factory. None of them was built to a very high standard but the factory cars are sought after.

The vast majority of surviving DMC-12s are in the US and importing to the UK is more costly than it used to be, so don’t get carried away buying a car only to find that you can’t afford to bring it home.

Specifications

DMC-12 (UK spec)
  Power 155bhp
  Top speed 109mph
  0-60mph 9.5sec
  Economy 26mpg

DMC-12 (US spec)
  Power 130bhp
  Top speed Unknown
  0-60mph Unknown
  Economy Unknown