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What’s the Most Famous Car Ever Made in Ireland?

Let me give you a hint: It was the coolest stainless-steel time-traveling machine from the '80s.

By Chuck Tannert Mar 17, 2011 9:37AM

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all you car buffs out there. Named after the most recognized patron saint of Ireland, Lá Fhéile Pádraig was originally celebrated as a religious holiday, a day when good Catholics could put their Lenten fasts on hold to dance and feast till they could eat and drink no more. Not much has changed in that regard, except that the celebration has become less religious and more of an appreciation for Irish culture in general. It’s a day when people wear green, sing boisterous drinking tunes, dance the jig and consume way too much beer and whiskey.

 

To join in the festivities, we decided to look back into the archives to find the most famous car to come out of Ireland. And what we found was a now-iconic sports car that never really had a chance: the DeLorean DMC-12.

 

Production of the DMC-12, which was made famous as a slick-looking time-traveling machine in the 1981 blockbuster "Back to the Future," began in 1981 at the DeLorean Motor Co. factory in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland, a suburb of Belfast. Even before assembly began, this machine seemed cursed, having to be completely re-engineered between prototype and production phases of the project.

 

In 1976, the first prototype DeLorean DMC-12 was completed by William T. Collins, chief engineer and designer for DeLorean and former chief engineer at Pontiac. Originally, the car's rear-mounted powerplant was to be a Citroen Wankel rotary engine; due to its fuel inefficiency, though, that engine had to be replaced by a French-designed-and-produced Peugeot fuel-injected V6.

 

In addition, Collins and company founder John DeLorean envisioned a chassis based on a new, and untested, manufacturing technology known as Elastic Reservoir Moulding that would make the vehicle lightweight -- and cheaper to make. That, too, was a pipe dream, as the process was discovered to be unsuitable for mass production.

 

These and other changes to the original concept led to considerable pressures on both the finances and the production schedule. The entire car was deemed to require close to a full re-engineering -- a task turned over to engineer Colin Chapman, founder and owner of Lotus. Chapman replaced most of the dubious material and manufacturing techniques with those being employed by Lotus at the time. Specifically, the existing suspension and chassis from the Lotus Esprit -- designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, who also designed the DeLorean's sheet metal -- were used in the DMC-12. The original Giugiaro body design was left mostly intact, as were the distinctive stainless-steel outer skin and gull-wing doors.

 

Despite being produced in Northern Ireland, DMC-12s were primarily intended for the American market. Unfortunately, the American market, mired in a recession, wasn’t that interested -- especially since, at $26,000, the DMC-12 cost eight grand more than the Chevrolet Corvette. DeLorean expected to sell 12,000 cars a year; in the first six months, only 3,000 DMC-12s were purchased.

 

By February 1982, the DMC factory was in receivership, and in October of that year the British government ordered it shut down. The rest is sordid history: Needing $17 million, and quick, to save his business, a desperate DeLorean entered into a drug-smuggling scheme -- and walked right into an FBI sting operation.

 

In 1986, the DMC plant was closed. It reopened in 1995 under new ownership, but was never the same. It is believed that 8,563 original DMC-12s were built; of those, approximately 6,000 of them still exist today.

 

Still, the DeLorean DMC-12 has outlived many more successful vehicles in the public imagination, as well as having a place in the uncrowded field of Irish automotive history. Happy St. Paddy's Day!

 

 

 

7Comments
Mar 18, 2011 10:16AM
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I remember seeing a youtube video awhile back where someone replaced the PRV V6 with a Mazda 20B-REW 3-rotor twin turbo Wankel sourced from a Japanese market Mazda Cosmo.  That thing sounded vicious.  The twin turbo rotaries are shockingly heavy though, including the 2-rotor twin turbo we got in the American market 3rd generation RX-7 .  The engine is relatively light, but the twin turbo sequential system is pretty porky.

I would love to own a DeLorean, but I don't think that I have the guts to maintain one.

Mar 21, 2011 4:10AM
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 I don't think that I have the guts to maintain one.
I would agree - I have a feeling that there would be more maintenance issues than some old Land Rover product.  It for sure would not be something that you could (or would want to) drive every day.
Mar 18, 2011 9:45AM
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But when the consider the upgrades that Doc made to the car, it isn't impossible to assume that he upgraded the engine to some small block V8 that would ensure that the cars gets up to 88 mph a little quicker.

Mar 18, 2011 9:32AM
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whenever they rev up the engine, it clearly sounds like a V8? 
Yes, movie magic. Movies are a Love/Hate relationship with gearheads. They do much to keep cars cool and desirable, yet so very little about movie cars is "real" or "correct" and many falsehoods are perpetuated.  
Mar 18, 2011 7:36AM
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I agree.  Very cool car. 

 

just don't expect it to impress anyone at a stoplight

You may be correct, but back in the '80s, that car was technically considered fast. 

 

Has anyone ever noticed that in the Back to the Future movies, whenever they rev up the engine, it clearly sounds like a V8?  I am sure it was just sound effects, but that would be a pretty cool mod for this car. 

Mar 18, 2011 7:30AM
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I remember sitting in a brand new one these at a Pontiac dealership way back in the eighties, as a young lad I was forever imprinted. Very cool car. just don't expect it to impress anyone at a stoplight. A person in my neighborhood has one and it is a frequent summer sight driving around on the local streets.
Mar 18, 2011 4:07AM
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Actually saw a DeLorean driving on the highway last Friday. First time I had ever seen one, and I thought it was good that someone was driving it in rush hour traffic. It made my day a little less mundane.  It was coming in the opposite direction on the highway, and I noticed a weird front shape on a car, and had a look over thinking "what the hell is that?"

 

Ha.

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