A View from David Zax
The DeLorean Goes Electric
The “Back to the Future” car embraces the future. Got $100,000 to burn?
“Gas? Where we’re going we don’t need gas!”
These are the words with which the DeLorean Motor Company pitches its forthcoming electric car, the DMCev. The gas-fueled version of the gull-winged vehicle, you may recall, played the starring role of a time machine in a popular series of films, endearing itself to millions. And now it’s going to be electric–and yours, if you can pony up the estimated $90,000-$100,000 it will cost when the custom-made cars hit roads in 2013.
The DeLorean’s rocky history is thoroughly chronicled on its Wikipedia page. The futuristic car, the mid-70s brain child of John DeLorean, was hardly popular in the years when it was actually first manufactured (the company went bankrupt in ‘82). Its iconic status from the Back to the Future series, which kicked off in 1985, came too late to save the company, barring actual time travel. But the car became a favorite of collectors and hobbyists–some 6,500 of the original cars are said to survive–and in the ’90s, the company was resurrected under different management. In the last five years, the DeLorean has gone back into limited production, and has expanded branding in various ways (with a co-branded Nike shoe, for instance).
The new DeLorean Motor Company has been savvy; it knows that it’s as much a punchline as a vehicle, and its branding takes that into account. Its official site contains winking, cheeky language like the following: “For several years, DeLorean Motor Company of Texas has been reconstituting the fruit of John Z. Deloreans’s troubled loins (phrasing!).” And in building an EV (in collaboration, actually, with electric-car startup Epic EV), it’s also capitalizing on a popular notion–begun with old “Doc” Brown himself, no doubt–that the DeLorean is inherently suited to modification and DIY-tinkering. In recent years, modified electric DeLoreans began cropping up, the creations of various enthusiasts. It was only a matter of time, perhaps, before the reconstituted DMC followed suit.
The unveiling of the DMCev occurred at company headquarters in Humble, Texas. “We’ve been talking about it for some time but we have stopped giving people completion dates because things weren’t going to plan,” DMC’s owner, Stephen Wynne, told reporter Stefanie Thomas. “So we quieted down on what we’re doing.” But now, the company felt ready to make promises. On top of its being electric, the new DeLorean could attain top speeds of 125 mph and reportedly boasts a 260 hp engine.
There is a sense in which the DeLorean is the anti-technological technology, some bizarre amalgamation of futurism and Luddism (suiting, for a car that famously went back and forth in time). “I think a lot of people like DeLoreans because it takes them back to a simpler time when we weren’t connected to a smart phone on our hip and had stuff thrown at us 24/7,” Toby Peterson, who sells DeLoreans out of Seattle, also told Thomas. “My DeLorean brings a lot of enjoyment not only to me, but also to other people. It puts smiles on people’s faces anytime they see it because it reminds them of simpler times.”
To settle the question of the DeLorean’s funny relationship to time, I wrote James Espey of DMC with a single question: “Is the DeLorean so futuristic it’s retro, or so retro it’s futuristic?”
He responded: “The latter, I think. People’s familiarity with the car will always tie it to the 80s, and the fact that there were never any ‘follow on’ models of different shapes/styles has made it a car that is essentially frozen in time (no pun intended). In contrast to other production cars of that period the DeLorean was certainly the most futuristic looking with its stainless steel body and gullwing doors - so now the car has become ‘retro-futuristic.’”
The DeLorean Motor Company did not announce an intention to make its electric car capable of flight. But we shouldn’t dismiss “Doc” Brown’s flying car concept as vaporware. According to the predictions made in Back to the Future: II, we can’t expect such technology to become widespread until October 21st, 2015.