The DeLorean DMC-12 Almost Had a Turbocharger

Let’s make one thing clear. The DeLorean DMC-12 was only famous for its unusual styling, which earned its casting in the timeless film Back to the Future. The DMC-12 has almost no redeeming value under the hood, which is a shame because it came so close. Aside from a severe lack of power, the cars were cheaply put together and broke down. Johnny Carson had two because the first one went right back to the factory for repairs after a brief period of owning it. To his credit, John DeLorean tried to make the car faster.

How was the DMC-12 so revered?

Fans pose next to a Back to the Future DeLorean in England
Fans pose next to a Back to the Future DeLorean in England | Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

For whatever reason, the DeLorean has fostered a cult following while underperforming. It uses a 2.85-liter V6 sending 130 horsepower to the rear wheels via a 5-speed manual transmission. All of that, along with the car’s 2,700-pound curb-weight, meant it could hit 60 mph in a dismal 9.5 seconds. For its slug-like pace, the DeLorean reportedly handled well, according to owners. It feels tight in the corners, if a little high because of the front springs, but isn’t so loose the driver feels like they’re bouncing along the road. That may have been thanks to the work that Lotus did to help the chassis. 

John DeLorean tried to turn the tide for the DMC-12

John DeLorean and his wife Cristina Ferrare in a DMC-12
John DeLorean and his wife Cristina Ferrare in a DMC-12 | Photo by Tony Korody/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

DeLorean was understandably unhappy with his car’s lack of speed and turned to an outside source. He approached Legend Industries about giving the DMC-12 a little boost – literally. Unfortunately, it was too little too late. The FBI investigated DeLorean for money laundering before Legend had a chance to push out some cars. He filed for bankruptcy and shut down production.

The DMC-12 got single and twin-turbocharged engines from Legend, which cut its 60 mph sprint almost in half to 5.8 seconds. It was considered, at the time, to be the fastest production car in the world (1981), according to PJGrady. Other companies made bolt-on turbo kits that came with instructions.

It is still possible to buy a turbo DeLorean DMC-12

Stockpiled DMC-12 cars at the DeLorean motor plant in Belfast
Stockpiled DMC-12 cars at the DeLorean motor plant in Belfast | Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

Several companies make turbo kits for the DMC-12. DeLorean Industries makes multiple turbo kits, but they aren’t cheap. Twin-turbo DeLoreans abound on auction sites, some presumably making around 230 horsepower. BAE turbo kits get the engine to 195 horsepower. Thankfully before the company shut down from bankruptcy, DMC produced thousands of cars. There’s even a factory in Texas that has enough parts to build DMC-12s to order. It’s called DeLorean Motor Company. However, it’s waiting for some laws to enact.

After all this, is it ever worth buying a DMC-12?

DeLorean DMC-12s parked outside in Huntington Beach
DeLorean DMC-12s parked outside in Huntington Beach | Paul Bersebach/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

It doesn’t take years of researching the DMC-12 to realize it’s not a good car. Its biggest failure was lack of power, and thankfully turbo kits take care of that. If Legend had the time and funding, it could have been the saving grace of DeLorean. That, and a good set of lowering springs, according to some owners. Unfortunately, it remains a factory-underpowered, sloppy mess with door panels that don’t fit right.

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