Beloved film drives ’80s nostalgia
HUMBLE, Texas — In a nondescript warehouse in East Texas, mechanic and entrepreneur Stephen Wynne is bringing a rare sports car back to life. If he succeeds, he almost certainly has Michael J. Fox to thank.
A quarter century after DeLorean Motor Co. began making its glitzy, $25,000 two-seater — an operation that collapsed after two years — Mr. Wynne’s small automotive outfit plans to bring the vehicle back into limited production at a 40,000square-foot factory in this Houston suburb.
The creation of renowned automotive engineer John DeLorean, DMC eventually made fewer than 9,000 cars, distinctive for their gullwing doors, stainless-steel exterior and rear-engine design. An estimated 6,500 remain on the road.
The company folded in 1983, a year after Mr. DeLorean was busted in a drug trafficking sting and accused of conspiring to sell $24 million worth of cocaine to salvage the venture. He used an entrapment defense to win acquittal, but legal entanglements plagued him for years to come. He died in 2005 at age 80.
Despite DMC’s flop, the car has persevered, gaining notoriety largely as the time machine Mr. Fox drove in the blockbuster 1985 movie, “Back to the Future,” and its two sequels.
The trilogy’s enduring popularity on cable TV has exposed countless viewers — and potential customers — to a souped-up version of the DeLorean.
“There isn’t a day somewhere in the world that ‘Back to the Future’ isn’t playing as a rerun,” said Mr. Wynne, president of the new, privately held DeLorean Motor Co.
Mr. Wynne formed the company in 1995, when the bulk of his business was working on original DeLoreans at a Houston garage. Still, he needed a name, and because there was nothing legally preventing him from using the original, he decided to give it a shot. He even called Mr. DeLorean, who wished him luck.
A dozen years later, Mr. Wynne hopes to parlay the car’s celebrity — along with the world’s biggest stash of DeLorean parts and engines — into a niche production business that begins hand-making two DeLoreans a month sometime next year. They’ve just started taking orders.
Already, the Humble operation will take an existing DeLorean, strip it to the frame and rebuild it for a base price of $42,500. Mr. Wynne’s staff can rebuild one every couple of months.
The company also handles routine maintenance, such as oil changes and tuneups, and ships between 20 and 50 parts orders a day to mechanics and individual owners worldwide.
But because the original models are roughly 25 years old, finding suitable candidates to refurbish has become increasingly difficult.
So Mr. Wynne figured: Why not use the thousands of parts and hundreds of engines sitting in his massive warehouse and build the cars from scratch?
“Everything seems to evolve around here, and that seemed to be the next logical step,” said Mr. Wynne, a Briton who began working on DeLoreans in the 1980s in Los Angeles, becoming expert in their mechanics and equipment.
Like other DeLorean mechanics at the time, Mr. Wynne bought replacement parts from an Ohio company, Kapac Co., which had acquired the original inventory when DeLorean failed. In 1997, when Kapac wanted out of the parts business, Mr. Wynne bought the supply for himself, though he declined to say how much he paid.
A decade later, he decided to take the company to the next level: niche automaker.
The handmade cars will feature about 80 percent original parts. The other 20 percent will be new, supplier-made parts from companies such Valeo SA and the Bosch Group, said DeLorean Vice President James Espey.
The one limiting factor is the doors. The company has enough for about 500 cars. Beyond that, Mr. Espey said, the company is studying its options.
Enhancements to the new cars will include an improved stainlesssteel frame, a stronger but lighter fiberglass underbody and electronics upgraded from the disastrous systems in the early DeLoreans. A peppier engine — the original cars’ 135 horsepower was a downer for performance enthusiasts — will be available as an option.
“After working on these cars practically every day for 25 years, we’ve identified most of the issues and replaced them,” Mr. Wynne said. “If there’s a better part available, we’ll use it. If there’s a better way to install it, we’ll do it.”
The base price of a new DeLorean is expected to be $57,500 — roughly the same price a 1981 DeLorean would have cost in today’s dollars. The company will sell the cars from its shop in Humble and affiliate shops in Bonita Springs, Fla.; Crystal Lake, Ill.; Bellevue, Wash., and Orange County, Calif. DMC also has a shop in the Netherlands for European owners.
“It’s taken years to get the wheels moving, and they’re moving slowly, but we’ve got motion,” Mr. Wynne said.
Revival: Texas entrepreneur Stephen Wynne checked out the mechanic shop at the DeLorean Motor Company in Houston earlier this month. He has the world’s biggest stash of DeLorean parts and engines and is banking on the car’s celebrity to spur sales.