Now I know what Doc Brown felt like when he emptied his bank account to build his DeLorean. Unlike "Back to the Future," though, nothing happened when I took mine up to 88 mph — except that it ran beautifully. It took a lot of time and effort to get my cheap DeLorean back on the road, but as I add up the cost of it all for the first time, I think I actually did really well for myself.
This rare notch in the win column for me came completely by accident, as I never intended to buy a DeLorean when I came across this sad example at a dealer auction. While it was cosmetically in great shape, it appeared to have been sitting for several years, and it needed a lot of work. It managed to drive itself across the block, but it was clear something was seriously wrong with the transmission, as well as the fuel system, once I inspected it closely afterwards. Still, I can’t complain much — since for only $14,000, I bought it for way less than any other running DeLorean in the U.S. currently for sale.
A new filter and fluid in the transmission revived it enough to be somewhat driveable, but it still needed a rebuild. Additionally, the brakes barely worked, and the tires felt like they had gone square shaped from sitting for so long. The engine would also stall under any kind of load, and there were numerous fluid leaks — and the exhaust system was so rusty, it looked like it had been repurposed from the wreck of the Titanic. With missing side view mirrors on the droopy gull-wing doors, along with a falling headliner, it was clear this DeLorean was going for a George McFly style left-hook knockout punch.
To make matters worse, I couldn’t seem to find any kind of transmission rebuild kit anywhere — and new replacements were over $5,000. After some help from internet strangers, I did manage to find a kit, but not before another internet stranger offered me their good used automatic transmission for only $1,000. Even more good fortune came when my mechanic, the Car Wizard, discovered an improvised, poorly fitting fuel pump was the source of my engine stalling issues.
A complete fuel pump kit, with all new lines and fittings, set me back $530 — and the labor to install cost me another $280. After spending $700 to install the $1,000 used transmission with a new rear main seal, along with $300 for some new brake lines and fresh fluid, I had a driveable DeLorean that wasn’t a death trap. Combined with the purchase price, auction fees and transportation I had $18,310 invested into my car at this point, which was way under the money, but there was still a long way to go in repairs.
On the first real drive, it was obvious the brakes still weren’t working properly, as the ancient calipers were still sticking. There was also a mount for the steering column that had fallen apart, causing it to rattle over every bump. That wasn’t the most annoying noise, though, as the horrible, leaking exhaust was doing a pretty good impersonation of a lawnmower. With the weak door struts and sticky latches, I would occasionally get stuck inside the car, which isn’t the best feeling, since climbing out the tiny window openings isn’t possible. Even if I could manage to shrink myself down to action figure size, the window motors weren’t operating anyway. Visibility wasn’t the greatest, either, which is normal for a DeLorean — but with mine, it was made even worse by the missing side view mirror glass on both sides. With the rotten, out of round tires as a cherry on top, my DeLorean was still very miserable to drive.
This meant I had to go way, way deeper into my wallet to sort this weird machine out. With parts and labor, it took another $5,690 to get me to where I am now — bringing me to a total investment into the car of just under $24,000. Considering the cheapest one on Autotrader right now is $36,000 — and as there are some other examples of higher mileage, sorted cars like mine listed around the internet for around $30,000, I feel like I actually hit a home run for once.
I always thought it was silly movie hysteria that brought prices of these to silly levels — since, when you look at them objectively, a DeLorean doesn’t have much going for it. The engine is vastly underpowered — and even though the DeLorean is a midengined car, it doesn’t handle all that well. It’s also not a very comfortable cruiser, a trait common with many other iconic cars from the 1980s. So why all the love?
Of course, the naked metal body is rad, along with the gull-wing doors, but that shouldn’t be enough to overcome all of the negative aspects of DeLorean ownership. Like other weird DeLorean owners, though, I find myself falling in love with this thing — and I can’t explain why, because I don’t understand it myself. One thing’s for sure, though: I don’t need a time machine to tell I’m going to waste money on my DeLorean well into the future.