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I Bought the Cheapest DeLorean in the US by Mistake

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author photo by Tyler Hoover December 2018

It's probably not a good idea to allow me into collector car auctions, but I went to one with mostly good intentions. My goal was to sell the remainder of the cars purchased for my reality show series (air date still unknown) that I was not keeping for myself. While I managed to accomplish that, I also completely failed to have any self-control -- and I bought two cars while I was there. Obviously, there's no way I could refuse to bring home the cheapest DeLorean in the U.S., even if it was a total mess.

At first, I had totally dismissed the car from any consideration after seeing it had an automatic transmission. Over the past year or so, I had agonized about buying a DeLorean, but the high prices always kept me away. While I enjoyed the "Back to the Future" movies, I couldn't geek out enough to justify spending over $30,000 for a severely underpowered sports car filled with many engineering compromises. Given the aforementioned slushbox, and that it was being pulled by a golf cart up to the auction block, rather than driving under its own power, my interest was even lower.

Still, there were two things the car really had going for it -- and the first was the story. Apparently, this car had the same owner for over 20 years, who had a pair of them, and used this DeLorean as his driver. When his license was taken away from him at 88 years old, both cars sat in storage until they were eventually sold to a dealer. The very nice condition of the stainless steel body was another plus with this example, as damage to the naked metal isn't something that can be easily repaired. When the car started up and drove itself to the auction block, I was pretty surprised, since I thought it was a non-runner. I was even more surprised when the bidding began to stall around $11,000.

I happened to still be on the block when the DeLorean was selling, licking my wounds from failing to secure a 1976 Cadillac Eldorado convertible. My other mission that weekend was to bring home a land yacht, but bidding only $12,000 for a DeLorean seemed like a no-brainer. With a quick counter-bid motioned by the auctioneer across the room, I defiantly bid again to $14,000, which amazingly hit the reserve, and the auctioneer quickly sold me car. Totally impulsively, I had just bought the cheapest DeLorean in the U.S.

I was in total shock over the purchase, as it was all over so quickly. I suspect I was shilled into the second bid, since it's pretty common at these sales for an auctioneer to feign a rival buyer across the room to encourage a lone bidder to meet the reserve. Still, how could I complain about getting a running and driving DeLorean for half price? Surely something was seriously wrong with the car, and since I didn't inspect the car for more than a few moments, I really had no idea.

Thankfully, my second look was a lot more positive -- and other than a musty smell from long-term storage, the interior seemed just as promising. Besides a few minor annoyances, like a sagging drivers headliner and weak door struts, there wasn't anything massively expensive to worry about. The engine seemed well-kept, too, and the only fluid leak I noticed was some coolant from around the expansion tank. I was so excited at this point that I couldn't wait to pay for the car and take it out on the streets of Kansas City that evening. This turned out this was pretty wishful thinking.

While I was taking care of the paperwork, my friend Bob went back to the DeLorean and attempted to move it outside. I was getting agitated when I heard him repeatedly revving the engine violently, but it turned out there was a reason for this. With the fluids warmed up, the transmission was slipping badly, and the car was barely moving under its own power. This was probably why the car was towed by the golf cart beforehand, as the seller knew it would only make a good of show driving across the auction block dead cold. Still, given the extremely low price, I didn't feel like I had been duped too badly.

Since driving it was out of the question, I had the car shipped back home after the sale -- and directly to a good transmission shop. It only took replacing the clogged filter and fresh fluid to get the transmission functional again, but the shop's owner thought it would still need a full rebuild soon. The joy of the car being driveable was sadly short lived, as fixing the transmission allowed the next major issue to present itself. Under any kind of major load, the engine stalls, almost like someone is turning off the key, which points towards some kind of strange electrical issue. If you're light on the throttle, or have the car up on the lift, the DeLorean appears to have no problem getting up to 88 miles per hour -- or beyond. Unfortunately, the speedometer doesn't work either, so I can't confirm the speed.

The transmission shop told me they can't fix the car until the stalling issue is taken care of first, and they are also worried about finding parts to rebuild the transmission. If I'm able to find a complete rebuild kit, which includes the clutches and wear related parts, he expects the rebuild to cost only $1,000. If this kit can't be found, I'll be forced to find a used transmission, or new-old-stock, which ranges from $3,000 to $5,000.

That would be a tough financial hit to take just because of parts availability, and there's still the electrical issue to sort out -- along with who knows what else. I had the car towed up to my mechanic, the Car Wizard, to solve its immediate problems, and to figure out everything else that's broken. I might be feeling a little duped at this point, but, fingers crossed, it's not a total disaster. For those wondering, the LS-swap option isn't on the table … yet.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
I Bought the Cheapest DeLorean in the US by Mistake - Autotrader