Some will know it as the flying time machine from Back to the Future. But the story behind this car is even more fantastic. Crash and Burn, in the current Smith Journal, recalls the madcap tale of a famed Californian industrialist who started up the DeLorean factory in Northern Ireland, staffed by an almost entirely inexperienced local workforce. Inspired by this story, we went hunting for a DeLorean owner in Australia... and found Josh Vander Veen of Bayswater, Victoria, who bought his from an American uncle who'd hit tough times. He talks with Smith Journal about the blessing and the curse of owning a car with wings.
Talk us through some of the quirks of this machine…
There’s a leather strap to shut the gull wing doors. Also – it’s very awkward to get in and out of. There were rumours a while back about making another Back to the Future, and when Michael J. Fox was asked if he’d be involved in it again, he said – only if it didn’t have that stupid flaming car in it! Because he had to jump into it quickly and smoothly and you can’t do that in this car. He kept bumping his head.
It was a vehicle that was manufactured in Ireland by a team of people who had no background in manufacturing, so you’re bound to find a bunch of flaws and idiosyncrasies in each one. Some were built better than others. It’s a fibreglass frame with stainless steel panels glued to it, so it’s difficult to make all that line up well. But at the same time, it reminds you that each one of them was hand-built.
You must get a few stares when people see you putting your shopping bags in the bonnet…
Yes, the engine’s in the back so all the luggage goes in the front. You see people in the shopping car park and they think they’re approaching the engine and then they take a bit of a step back when they see all your personal possessions in there.
What are the best and worst things about owning such a recognisable motor?
One of the great things about owning it has been just making people happy. I have a staff member who takes it out for unwell kids or for his basketball team or families who are struggling. He’s got a heart of gold, so if he knows someone who’s having a hard time, he’ll take it out whenever he can to brighten up their day. Even the younger generations – two weeks ago I took a 15-year-old to his high school formal and when we turned up, all the kids jumped at it and wanted photos with it, so it hasn’t really skipped a generation.
On the flipside of that though, one of the most difficult aspects for me is the amount of attention it gets. You’ll go to a parking lot and instantly people start talking to you about it and they want to take photos with it. But at the same time, you feel a responsibility that the car has that kind of effect on people, like you should be making the most of it as much as you can.
Has it ever done anything unpredictable?
No, it doesn’t have a great deal of horsepower. You have to worry more about the people taking photos of you on their mobile phones while they’re driving – that’s the most dangerous thing about this car!
Why has this particular car so completely captured people’s imagination, do you think?
Everyone sees it on the road, and they relate to it because of Back To The Future. We grew up with that, the '80s was the golden era of Hollywood. The movie is so relevant, even now. At one point or other in their lives, most people have probably thought – what would I do if I had a time machine? And I think that’s probably why people relate to the vehicle so well. I don’t think there’s a more photographed vehicle in the world than the DeLorean.
More recently, I think people have learned more about John DeLorean and it’s such an amazing story. So there’s been more interest generated from knowing that history. There’s no other car that I can think of – K.I.T.T from Knight Rider, even Eleanor from Gone in 60 Seconds… a lot of people like those cars, but they don’t seem to relate to them the way they do with the DeLorean.
Smith Journal Volume 24 features the story of the most fantastic and terrible sports car in history, and the man who made it happen: John Zachary DeLorean. Buy a copy online or find your nearest stockist here.