Today is October 21, 2015, a day fans of the 1980s Back To the Future movie franchise have been waiting for all year: the day Marty McFly stumbles upon his older self, and discovers hoverboards, after traveling 30 years in the future in a flux capacitor-enabled DMC-12.
As it turns out, the company behind that time-traveling car has roots right here in Texas, thanks to a recent legal settlement.
Of course, you'll remember McFly travels to 2015 in a souped-up DeLorean...
The DeLorean DMC-12 is the only car ever manufactured by the DeLorean Motor Company, a company whose creative and intellectual remnants now legally reside near Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston (well, technically Humble).
So how did the rights to one of the most iconic sports car/time machines in film history end up just down Highway 290? In order to answer that we have to go, well, back in time.
John DeLorean was a highly successful designer at General Motors. Among his triumphs were the Pontiac GTO muscle car and the Firebird. Forty-two years ago, he broke with GM to start his own company, the DeLorean Motor Company.
Due to manufacturing hiccups and other delays, its first car didn’t hit the market until eight years later.
The DMC-12 hit showrooms in the midst of a sluggish economy and with mixed performance reviews. Desperate for money to save the company, DeLorean was busted attempting to traffic cocaine. By the end of 1982, the company was being liquidated.
“The company didn’t have enough capital and just kind of collapsed. So you have these incredible looking cars that didn’t really work that well. But they look great and now you have some collectors who obviously love them,” says Joe White, a transportation editor for Reuters, and a longtime observer of the auto industry in Detroit.
Years after the last DeLorean rolled off the assembly line, it rolled into cinematic history. Back to the Future and its two sequels created something John DeLorean had difficulty doing – they created interest in the DMC-12.
“He got into trouble with the law, he got out of trouble with the law, but he was not able to build a sustainable company,” White says. “Obviously, the Back to the Future franchise has done more with the DeLorean than DeLorean itself ever did.”
Enter Stephen Wynne. He took a shine to the stainless steel cars when he began working on them in the early ‘80s. At the time he owned a small mechanic shop in Los Angeles specializing in English and French cars, as well as DeLoreans. With no more dealers to service the cars, Wynne got bigger ideas.
“I purchased all of their remaining inventory that they had left, which was in 1997. With that inventory came the right to reproduce, the right to distribute, all the technical specifications, technical drawings,” he says. “At that point in time, we were about halfway there.”
By the late 1990s, Wynne had moved his company – the new DeLorean Motor Company – into a larger facility in Houston. Shortly thereafter, Wynne says he applied to gain the rest of DeLorean’s intellectual property, which he says was legally abandoned. Wynne thought his new venture was complete.
But then, we fast forward – or at least the recent past. In February of 2014, the estate of John DeLorean and his widow Sally sued the DeLorean Motor Company alleging trademark infringement, among other civil charges.
“We produced documentation of our purchase rights, our numerous trademarks, even evidence of John G. DeLorean’s acknowledgement of our existence and what we were doing. As a result of that, our insurance company reached a settlement with the estate. Unfortunately, it’s a confidential, but a confidential de minimus payment to the estate. Now it’s all settled and behind us, so we can move forward,” Wynne says.
That settlement just happened Monday — 42 years after the original DeLorean was founded, 33 years after the last car was built, and two days before Marty McFly found himself in Hill Valley.
Wynne says he had an idea it would be great when he first saw the car, but he never expected this.
“I knew it was going to be a special car, but obviously I didn’t predict the Back to the Future movies coming out, of course, and that exposure. And now, as the brand has matured very nicely, the interest and exposure that we’re getting right now is just tremendous,” he says.
So as one man’s dream has become another’s, Wynne sees the investment paying off. And, he’ll make some money even if he doesn’t sell another full-sized model: In addition to his shop and parts dealership, he also licenses DeLorean rights.
“You know, from Hot Wheels cars, to luggage, to other branded goods — video games — we’ve been fortunate to do that also.”
For which Wynne has to thank the DeLorean’s big role on the big screen.
Below: That time KUT's Mike Lee took a ride around town with author Ernie Cline in his DeLorean.