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Buying a DeLorean car

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Like DeLorean cars? Think you might want to own one? This guide is a brief overview about the DeLorean car.

The earliest DeLorean cars are now 30 years old, and they remain well known primarily because of the "Back to the Future" connection. However, many people don't know that there were more than 9,000 manufactured from 1981-1983 just outside Belfast, Northern Ireland.

How to Tell One from Another?
The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is a good number to know when comparing cars. The last eight digits of the VIN are the car's "serial" number. The higher the number, the later in production the car was built. There were 6700 cars built in 1981 (last five of VIN BD000500-BD007199), and the 82 models started with VIN CD010000. 1983 models began with DD015000, DD016000, DD017000 and DD020000. Actual production numbers for 1982 and 1983 models are unclear, but appear to be approximately evenly split between the two years.

Minor styling differences include hood style, exhaust and antenna location, but the only way to accurately ascertain the model year is to know the VIN.

The cars only had two factory optional choices - interior color and transmission type. Grey or black interiors and either a 3-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission were the only factory options available. There were several dealer options available including two different side stripes, a luggage rack, ski rack adapter, fitted sheepskin seat covers, and a fitted car cover.

Where to get Parts and Service or more information?
In spite of being out of production since 1983, parts are readily available and relatively inexpensive when compared to comparable cars of its era. When the factory closed, all the remaining parts were shipped to the United States along with some tooling and a full set of engineering drawings. Though it has no connection to the original DMC, the DeLorean Motor Company (Texas) located in the Houston, Texas suburb of Humble now holds the rights to the name and logo and all these remaining parts, tooling and drawings. In addition to selling parts to owners and service centers worldwide, this company also does service, restoration, the sale of cars and develops new and reproduction parts.

Additional dedicated DeLorean-specific service centers are located in South Florida, the Chicago area, Southern California, Seattle and New York. International locations include The Netherlands, Japan, Germany and England. More DeLorean service centers are expected to open in the coming years.

Beware of internet-only parts sellers who claim to sell "DeLorean parts". In many cases these are sometimes less than correct "cross references" which may or may not be suitable for use in a DeLorean.

Typing "delorean" at you favorite search engine is a good place to start when looking for parts, service and more DeLorean information.

A new book,  The Illustrated DeLorean Buyer's Guide , is a good reference to learn more about the car and the various things that one should look for when considering a DeLorean to buy. 120+ pages and more than 200 color photos, it's an excellent resource for those who want a quick education into the DeLorean hobby.

How much should a DeLorean cost?
Remember that in 1981, the DeLorean sold for $25,000 or more. It was compared against cars like the Porsche 911, 928, Ferrari 308, Maserati Merak, and Corvette. The car was expensive for the day, and a good quality DeLorean, with a good service history, holds the same or greater value today. Interestingly, the same CANNOT be said for the other cars, all of which have just a fraction of their original selling price today.

The "rule of thumb" in the DeLorean community today is that it takes about $25,000 to have a good running, reliable, nice looking "daily driver" (or weekend pleasure vehicle). A DeLorean from one of the franchised DeLorean Motor Company locations will undoubtedly cost more, but will also come with a limited warranty, and have a great deal more pre-sale service and parts installed to make it a much better car than you will typically find available from a private party or non-DMC dealer.

Many DeLoreans on Ebay either sell for less than that, or in many cases when the selling price is higher, are cars that are over-priced. Either way that means you, as the buyer, will have to make up for the deferred maintenance the previous owner(s) failed to complete. As the saying goes, plane tickets are cheap, good cars are expensive. A personal inspection is always a good idea when buying any car and knowing what to look for once you get there is equally important - the Buyer's Guide mentioned above is an excellent place to start.

Especially in regards to the DeLorean car, the "quality and quantity" of the recent service history is most important, and that means that correct parts were used and installed by someone who knows what they are doing. If documentation doesn't exist, assume it didn't happen and you will end up doing it.

What does that mean, exactly? Let's work backwards to answer that:

RECENT service history means verifiable records of service within the last 12-24 months, depending on what has been done. As a rule, if there are no records to indicate what has been done, it's the same as if it hasn't been done.

QUANTITY means what has been done to the car - a "tune-up" is more than just plugs and wires, and a fuel tank service is more than a fuel pump and filter. Cooling system updates means more than a couple of hoses and clamps. This, again, is where documentation is of paramount importance.  If you can't verify what has been done, assume that it hasn't.

QUALITY means that what has been done has been done by (a) someone who knows what they are doing (usually a reputable service facility with significant DeLorean experience) and (b) using the correct parts and not necessarily aftermarket or cross-reference "make-do" parts. This is verified by the documentation that should, at a minimum, be available for inspection prior to purchase and preferably come with the car.

What kind of engine is it?
All DeLorean's came from the factory with a 2.8 liter, all-aluminum V-6 engine putting out 130hp, manufactured jointly by Peugeot, Renault and Volvo – hence the PRV designation. Generally a very reliable engine, it is not unusual to see well-maintained DeLoreans that have 100,000 or more miles. The key to long life of the PRV engine is a well-maintained cooling system and regular oil changes.

Though the original DMC was developing both a single and twin turbo option for the DeLorean, neither reached production, and only a handful of prototypes were built and these are well-documented and known. There were a handful of aftermarket turbo options, both single and twin, but unless engine internals are also improved, they are usually limited to 5-7 pounds of boost.

The DeLorean Motor Company (Texas) has created an improved performance version of the stock engine, creating 197hp, by replacing the camshafts, heads, exhaust system and upgraded ignition components. Additionally, a supercharger package has also been introduced, with significantly greater horsepower and torque. DeLorean owners can send their car to one of the DMC locations for either option to be installed on their existing, good condition engine.

What can I expect to have to do to a DeLorean?
It's not unusual to find very low mileage DeLoreans, and while in some cases this merits a premium price, that should only be the case if extensive service has been completed, and is documented as discussed above. Paying a premium for low mileage cars ONLY make sense if this service has been performed AND if you are prepared to have that "low mileage price premium" evaporate as you start to add miles to the car.

Though many areas of the car may need attention, the most common with low mileage DeLoreans that have been stored for years throughout their past is fuel tank contamination. Old fuel destroys rubber components in the fuel tank and if improperly treated can wreak havoc with the entire fuel injection system. If you're buying a car that has been stored for more than a year, check out and clean the tank and the rest of the fuel system BEFORE attempting to start the car - your bank account will thank you!

Low mileage cars are often still running on the original tires, belts, hoses, radiators - sometimes even the original 30 year old coolant, hydraulic fluid (in the brake system, and clutch system on manual transmission cars) which means that to have a good running, reliable car all this will need attention – plus the cosmetics that might need attention, as well. A good rule of thumb is that for every year the car has been sitting with no maintenance, plan on spending about $1500-2000 to bring it back to life, mechanically and cosmetically.

What parts are used on the car and why?
John DeLorean's idea was that anything you can see, touch or feel on the car should be unique to the car. Coming on the heels of the failed Bricklin, which was maligned for its kit car feel, DMC had many of these visible items created especially for them. Conversely, DMC used many "off the shelf" components from other makes and models of car for things like engine and transmission, parts of the heating and air conditioning system, and brakes, which means that current owners can still get original specification parts that are newly manufactured from DeLorean service centers around the world.

The parts of the car that are "unique" include things like seats, headliners, dashboard, instrument clusters, switches, stainless panels and other interior and exterior trim. However, nearly all of these items are still available, reasonably priced, as either NOS (new old stock, original 30 year old parts from the factory/suppliers) or reproduction parts created (or improved upon) from the original factory design/drawings.

Again, parts are readily available, along with all the factory service publications (no Haynes or Chilton's for this low-volume car) so the mechanically inclined should be able to fix the cars properly. If you don't have the skill set to do the work, refer to the mentions above of the DeLorean-specific service centers in the US and abroad.

What about painted DeLoreans?
All DeLoreans left the factory in bare stainless steel - there were no factory painted cars - and while records exist that seem to indicate as many as three cars were painted by DMC here in the states, these cars are well-documented. Beware of anyone stating that his or her car was painted at the factory or at the direction of John DeLorean - ask for documentation. Many cars were painted at the dealers prior to sale, but this is not the same as a factory painted or factory authorized painted car.

In some cases, DeLoreans were painted as it was cheaper to paint than replace or properly repair the stainless panels after an accident. If considering a painted car, it's best to have the car examined by someone experienced with paint and bodywork to look for evidence of repair.

Keep in mind that, on average, a painted DeLorean is worth up to 40-50% LESS than an unpainted, stainless DeLorean. It can, though, cost several thousand dollars to return the brushed stainless finish to a painted DeLorean – if you want a stainless finish, you're usually better off ahead to buy a unpainted DeLorean than attempt to strip and re-grain the panels on a painted one.
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