Published in Book Reviews, Book Reviews, Issue 3 (May/June 2021), Volume 29

Insight Editions
ISBN 9781683836216

Reviewed by James Bartlett

James Bartlett is a writer and journalist.

Forty years ago the first DeLorean DMC-12 rolled off the production line at the factory in Dunmurry, a suburb of Belfast. Decades later, former employees still talk fondly of those chaotic but exciting days. At the time the city was struggling through one of the darkest periods of the Troubles, and the jobs and security that the plant brought were, for a time at least, a near-miracle. But despite a glittering launch and acres of positive media coverage, initial demand for the DeLorean was underwhelming. A poor exchange rate and an oil crisis added to financial and production problems. The factory closed less than two years later in a swirl of scandal over British government funding and mastermind John Z. DeLorean’s alleged foray into drug-smuggling to save the company. The charges against him were dismissed, however, and, Lazarus-like, the iconic car seems to have been with us ever since, most famously as the legendary time machine in the 1985 film Back to the future (BTTF). News reports often feature the latest zany way the car has been ‘pimped out’—as a boat, a golf cart, a hovercraft, a monster truck, a limo, a taxicab, an off-road vehicle and, of course, BTTF replicas—and it has been the subject of art exhibitions and pop songs.

Around 9,000 were made, of which c. 6,000 are still on the road, largely because when the factory closed its doors there was still a wealth of spare parts in storage. In the mid-1990s Liverpudlian Stephen Wynne bought the rights to everything DeLorean (the blueprints, doors, seats, headlights—all but John DeLorean’s image), and set about servicing a vibrant US-based DeLorean repair and restoration market. He set up licensed garages in the US, and they’ve been busy since day one (though apparently the DeLorean’s left gull wing is the hardest part to obtain). Owner/driver clubs around the world kept the DeLorean ‘dream’ alive—including, of course, in Ireland—and the DeLorean Eurofest is held in Belfast every two years. Fans and drivers from around the world assemble to talk to former engineers and workers, attend events, kick the tyres, drive around the city and take a few circuits of the old test track (which still stands).

Recently a new book has been published about the DeLorean, but this one is rather different. We’ve all made the ill-advised decision to buy a used car or motorbike from a friend of a friend or a sketchy garage, and then found out (always too late) that we had bought a real clunker. More often than not I was elbow-deep under the bonnet of my first car—so often, in fact, that my 21st birthday cake was topped with an edible model of the car’s hood, complete with ‘my’ legs stretched out from underneath and tools strewn all around me. If this rings a bell with you, then you’ll know the name Haynes, a British-based firm who have produced hundreds of manuals for vehicles of all kinds since 1965. Instantly filthy with grease, their pages were well thumbed and stained with tea, coffee, beer and maybe even some blood, sweat and tears.

Now you can banish those memories by buying fun, spoof manuals for vehicles that only exist on the silver screen (Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.), and the latest is for the DeLorean. It covers the DMC-12s from the three movies (plus hoverboards and the time train), but is disappointingly rather light on the historical elements, which are only covered briefly. Written by BTTF screenwriter Bob Gale and collector/restorer Joe Walser with a sense of reverence, fun and even some rather complicated science and philosophical concepts about time and space, it takes the form of the journal and notes of ‘Doc Brown’, played by wild-haired actor Christopher Lloyd in the films. The manual relates how ‘Doc’ invents his time machine, meets Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), travels through time, and then has to go back with Marty to undo the effects of these adventures.

Crisply and lavishly illustrated, also by Walser, you often forget that so much of this is fictional, as there are dizzying technical terms alongside concept art, sketches, designs, blueprints and engineering photos. There are also movie stills, on-set Polaroids of the car designs, and some behind-the-scenes stories and trivia. Believe it or not, 2021 may also see the first new DeLoreans on the roads. No, really. Recent regulation changes in the US mean that it can be seen as a classic car and so able to go back into limited production of a few hundred a year. They’ll be with ‘all mod cons’ for the 21st century though, and possibly an electric vehicle. Alas, the information about the nuclear-powered flux capacitor, which gives the DeLorean the ability to travel through time, is blacked out as top secret. After all, if we could all read that, then someone could build their own time machine, go back in history and invent it before Doc Brown did—and what would happen then?

A must for fans of the movies—and for those who love the hidden nuts and bolts of perhaps the most famous car in the world (or certainly in the movies)—this book is ideal, even if it will never end up kicking around a garage floor.


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