DeLorean DMC-12Enlarge Photo
Johnny Carson. Margaret Thatcher. Colin Chapman: all famous 1980s figures, and all connected to the DeLorean Sports Car -- and that was just at the launch of the infamous automobile in the spring of 1981. Late-night TV star Carson famously invested in it, British Prime Minister Thatcher provided millions of taxpayer pounds to have it built in Northern Ireland, and racing legend Chapman designed its suspension.
The car's legend would only grow even after DeLorean Motor Company's 1982 bankruptcy, but the DeLorean -- codenamed the DMC-12 -- was anything but an average two-seater from the get-go. Sporting an ageless stainless-steel body and elegantly rising gull-wing doors, GTO creator John DeLorean's namesake challenged drivers to "live the dream" for a suggested price of $25,000.
Fast-forward nearly 30 years, and living the DeLorean dream today proves every bit the sensation it ever was. Thanks to its turn as the stainless-steel co-star of the timeless 1980s "Back to the Future" film trilogy, onlookers both young and old instantly recognize the car at every gas station or shopping center. Meanwhile, no one in the automotive industry has dared repeat the expense or churn-challenging longevity of the ageless stainless steel body, and no production car has hit showrooms girded with gull-wings since the last new DMC-12 was sold. (Perhaps fittingly, Mercedes-Benz will roll out the $200,000 SLS AMG next year, a 21st-century supercar redux of the 1950s 300SL that inspired John DeLorean to go gull-wing in the first place.)
DeLorean DMC-12Enlarge Photo
With a wedge-style body crafted by renowned ItalDesign founder Giorgetto Giugiaro, the DeLorean's clean lines belie its age. Quite simply, while it certainly contains its share of 1980s design cues (hello, 14-inch front and 15-inch rear wheels!), nothing about the car screams "1981!" inside or out. Its rustproof shell no doubt heavily aids this, as the finish remains as bright and clean today as the day it came off of the assembly line. (Its 304-grade stainless steel panels are quite thin and mounted to a fiberglass underbody in order to minimize the car's weight, which checks in at a moderate 2800 pounds.)
Under the hood -- er, sunshade, as the DeLorean's aluminum-block V6 nests in the rear -- is the Peugeot-sourced 2.85-liter fuel-injected engine. Underpowered in its day and downright anemic by modern standards, the tradeoff in these times of turbulent gas prices is the DMC-12's relatively impressive fuel economy: when well-tuned, the car averages a respectable 21 mpg in combined city-freeway driving, with extended road trips pushing that number near 30 mpg. Its 153 lb-ft of torque help the car get off the line quicker than you might expect a 130-horsepower motor to, though it doesn't change the fact that you'll have to wait for traffic to allow you to merge onto the freeway. In fact, the least embarrassing answer its owners have come up with to the question of "How fast is that thing?" is simply, "Not as fast as it looks."
On the go, the Lotus-designed wishbone suspension helps the DeLorean handle nimbly at speed, pointing and darting wherever you want it to go thanks to the car's low, wide stance on top of its vanilla P195/60 front and wider P225/60 rear tires. It's a bit of a bear in parking lots, not so much due to its lack of power steering, but instead because of the car's horrible turning radius. You'll need to do a very careful mental measurement before flipping any U-turn.