So here it is - this is my 16 year old self with my dog and my very first car - a 1983 DeLorean DMC-12. This is actually me taking a picture of me when I went back to 2001. (From now on I'll cease to make BTTF jokes).

I bought the car in late 1999 after agreeing with my dad that my first car should be something that I not only learn to drive, but learn to restore. After ambitiously searching for early Exotica close to $5,000 (not surprisingly there were no Ferraris or Loti - plural of lotus - available) I eventually stumbled upon a 79k mile 1983 DeLorean for sale not far from our house.

This was a rare 1983 Model meaning - meaning most of the early 'DeLorean' bugs were fixed. It was so late in production - it had a mismatched interior where dark carpeting also went with dark interior. And also critically, a 5spd car, so I could learn to drive manual as well.

The car was owned by a DeLorean collector, and after some brief negotiation we towed home the 1983 Model not really knowing everything wrong with the vehicle - but knowing that the car at least had compression in all 6 cylinders.

So what's it like restoring a DeLorean?

When you're 15, its F*ing awesome. I had tinkered with project cars before, but never really in the way we were working on the DeLorean. Of course, being an Irish car assembled by a Cocaine addicted megalomaniac, the car needed some work.

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  • The Bosche K-Jetronic fuel system was so gunked up it took about 1000 psi of pressure to free one of the moving piston parts in the fuel distributor.
  • The door struts and tension tubes needed work to hold the doors up again (and they are HEAVY)
  • The bumpers had warped and given the car "eyelashes" under the headlights (so we had to reinsert metal guide rails to strengthen weak plastic).
  • The brake calipers needed rebuilding, the clutch cylinder both failed
  • The entire radiator exploded

But overall... its actually not that bad. Once the car was fixed and back up and running, it was actually... reliable! I went everywhere in the car from 16-17, and save for a few last-minute trips home for minor things, it never left me stranded. Its been better than the two-late model BMW's I've owned (which have both left me stranded despite being newer and lower mileage).

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So what's it like Driving a DeLorean as your only car?

It's also F*ing awesome! While my friends cruised around in pass-me-down Toyota Camry's, I had the coolest car I could imagine as a first time driver. Of course there were some downsides -

(1) Everyone thought I was prick because it looked showy and expensive (which I was, but you don't want people to know!!!)

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(2) Everyone wants to race you for some strange reason. The DeLorean is catastrophically slow, its like driving an iceberg, but every V8 Camaro or Mustang seizes the opportunity to race.

(3) While your friends are out taking their Camrys and Accords to complete normal activities - you're left adapting. As an example - my dog had to ride in the rear parcel shelf, but it was too short for him to stand so he was perennially miserable and stuck right behind my head barking into my ear. My hockey equipment wouldn't fit under the trunk (front) so I had to scatter pieces in lots of random locations and then recollect them when I went to hockey practice. And the windows were too small to do anything with, so you had to open doors to pay tolls, get mail, etc.

Why not DeLorean again?

Really I think its because the entire experience is jaded. Not just because I was 16, but also because it was some of the best time I ever spent with my dad. While I would have gotten around just fine in a Camry, or even a working DeLorean - my memories are mostly filled with spending time with him in the garage.

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A lot of the knowledge I gained was about restoring cars, but thats not the important stuff. Its more of what Randy Pausch called "head-fake" learning - where learning to trace down a recurring bug in the brake-system isn't about brakes at all - but all about learning perseverance, problem solving, and how to ask for favors.

So if I got another one - it just wouldn't be the same again - some elements of a car are just more human.

P.S. We sold the DeLorean when I was 17 to a car collector in Maryland where he drove the vehicle daily until over 260,000 miles. He totalled the car - then called our home phone almost 10 years later to tell us how much he loved the car, and how it saved his life!