I’ve bought plenty of terrible disasters on wheels in the past, but as far as mechanical restorations go, none have matched the final repair bill on my 1982 DeLorean DMC-12. The total cost easily beat my non-running Ferrari F355, a horrible 2007 BMW M5 with a dead SMG transmission, and even my old Mercedes S600 that I purchased in 1000 pieces with a blown engine. At least now, nine months after purchasing, my DMC-12 is finally sorted — but was the staggering cost worth it?
When I bought the cheapest DeLorean in the USA back in December, it was completely by accident. I was attending a local collector car auction with my eye on a few land yachts, but instead, I came home with a $14,000 DeLorean. I don’t usually buy from collector car auctions, as you can’t test drive the cars beforehand, and the fees are ridiculous — and this DeLorean is a perfect example of how bad things can get. Even though it was able to run and drive across the block, beneath the flawless stainless steel body was a seemingly infinite amount of issues — including a dying automatic transmission. Combined with auction fees and transportation, my total investment into this very broken DeLorean increased to nearly $16,000.
Still, that wasn’t a bad price for a DeLorean project — and after making the transmission somewhat functional with fresh fluid and filter, I probably could have flipped it for a decent profit. Unfortunately, I have the business sense of Mike Tyson, but instead of buying pet tigers and golden bathtubs, I have a tendency to spend way too much money on cars that most would dismiss as lost causes. In recent memory, it certainly wasn’t the best idea to spend nearly $5,000 sorting an old Mercedes station wagon with 200,000 miles, but that was topped by 2007 BMW M5 — which is considered by many to be the most unreliable BMW ever made. I spent over $6,000 to sort that nightmare — but even that project was dwarfed by my Mercedes S600, which cost $10,000 to put back on the road again. Since my DeLorean repair costs didn’t accrue all at once, I had no idea that it had beaten all of my other projects until now.
I don’t count the Porsche 911 that I spent $17,000 swapping in an LS-V8 from a Chevrolet Corvette, since that was more of a transformation than a restoration. Same goes for my Acura NSX, as my misguided "Pimp My Ride" attempt at customization, combined with all the repairs, cost well over $10,000 as well. Then there are the staggering losses I’ve taken on projects I chose not to finish, like my Bentley Continental GT, which I sold for $15,000 less than what I paid for it. As fun as this trip down failure lane has been, though, let’s get to the DeLorean, where I managed to spend almost $13,000 just to make it functional again.
I had my mechanic, the Car Wizard, start with the obvious needs — which included replacing the dying transmission, rebuilding the dying brakes, and reviving the dying fuel system. There were also many other problems, like the famous gull-wing doors couldn’t hold themselves up — and the lock mechanism that would occasionally jam them shut. The speedometer cable had been ripped out of the axle, and there were numerous leaks after sitting for years. With a fresh set of tires to replace the ancient flat-spotted rubber, I quickly spent $3,000 — and the DeLorean was still an undrivable mess.
The engine still wasn’t running right, as it required lots of effort to start up cold — and it sputtered under load. It sounded awful, as well, thanks to a rusty aftermarket exhaust — and the brakes, while functional, pulled the DeLorean hard to the right. The steering also had an alarming clunk, so I spent another $5500 trying to sort my DeLorean. It was still a mess — but a drivable one — so I brought it home and made a video saying it was "fixed".
While the car did drive under its own power, it still didn’t want to start cold, and it would sputter until the engine had warmed up. Additionally, warmer weather and zero airflow through the tiny side windows made working AC a must. A new oil leak popped up, and the battery died. This resulted in the lightest bill to the mechanic, at only $1,400 — but the car was STILL a mess. The newly repaired AC failed catastrophically, filling my garage with toxic gas that had me coughing harder than a vaping addict. Additionally, the engine still refused to cold start smoothly.
I was so disgusted with the DeLorean by this point that I let it sit for 5 months, as I had spent nearly $10,000, and I still had a car that was still miserable to drive. Once enough time had passed for me to get over my frustration, I finally decided to give my DeLorean one more chance at redemption. $2500 later for some more fuel system parts, an AC line, shocks and some tuning, I finally have a sorted DeLorean.
This means I’m almost $29,000 into my DeLorean now, which is probably more than it’s currently worth — and way more than it was selling for new in 1982. I’m almost $30,000 into a "sports car" with heavy stainless steel panels mounted to a floppy fiberglass body, that’s powered by a 130 horsepower Peugeot engine. Inside, I’m treated to a plastic-infested interior that’s held together with plywood, and I have enough time to recite the alphabet as my DeLorean sputters to 60 mph in about 10 seconds. So even now that it’s actually fixed, this car is still a mess.
It would be easy for me to dismiss my DeLorean as another addition to my long list of failures. Branding this car as a hunk of junk is easy, given its obvious flaws, and the fact that it was assembled poorly in war-torn Northern Ireland for the tax breaks — and that it was created by a narcissist who reportedly cut corners in the engineering department to enrich himself. Several have argued that without the "Back to the Future" movies, the DeLorean would have never been held in such high regard. A week ago, when my DeLorean was still broken, I might have agreed — but now I’m not sure.
Of all the cars in my garage, I spend the most time looking at the Delorean. It’s not just the naked stainless steel that catches the eye, but also the flawless design, which mostly remained true to the original concept created by the famed Italian designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro. While it’s not fast by any means, it is fun to drive because it’s so weird. The DeLorean was advertised, and presents itself as a sports car — but it drives more like a combination between a land yacht and a vintage European grand tourer. So it makes the statement of something that’s very exotic — but unlike nearly all exotics of the era, the cabin is more spacious, the trunk size is actually decent, and it’s a very comfortable highway cruiser.
I really didn’t expect to enjoy driving this car nearly as much as I do looking at it — so maybe this long, expensive journey wasn’t a total failure. Unlike my previous projects in recent memory, where I couldn’t wait to sell them the moment they were finished, I find myself really attached to my DeLorean. Hopefully, though, dealing with the mechanical headaches won’t have me following John DeLorean into bankruptcy. Find a DeLorean DMC-12 for sale