Beloved film drives ’80s nos­tal­gia

The Washington Times Weekly - - Page Two - By John Porretto

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.

As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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