Gotta get back in time

Growing up, I was fascinated with cars.

But not just any cars. These had to be the most sophisticated pieces of machinery ever assembled. Like a talking car that could jump over chasms and banter with David Hasselhoff (Knight Rider). Or robots that could turn into vehicles (The Transformers). Or vehicles that could make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs (the Millennium Falcon).

So in 1985 (or maybe it was a year or two later, the memory is fluctuating), I discovered a little movie called Back to the Future. I think our family had first watched the movie when it came out on VHS. Being 9-10 years old, a lot of the plot probably flew past my head, but I was intrigued by Doctor Emmett Brown’s time machine: a DeLorean.

It had gull-wing doors! It could travel through the space-time continuum by reaching 88 mph, thus activating the flux capacitor! It got cold whenever it got back from its time trip! It sounded like Luke’s landspeeder from Star Wars! It had a clicking sound like the turn signal from my parents’ car!

Anyway, I had found my new favorite cool car.

Jump ahead in time to 2004. At my job, I spent a few years writing about classic cars and their owners. One day, when looking at a list of potential cars to write about, I spotted a familiar name. DeLorean.

Could it be?

It was!

After all these years, I finally got to be next to a real DeLorean. This was heavy.

Jump ahead once more to 2009, when lightning struck the clock tower twice. Someone else had a DeLorean! I could dust off my cheesy Back to the Future references once more.

In honor of the movie’s 30th anniversary (30 years? it is a nice round number), after the time jump (ahem), you can read those articles from the recent past. Feel free to cue up some Huey Lewis and the News or Marvin Berry.

Originally published April 2004


THE VILLAGES — In 1982, Ed Segerstrom took one look at the DeLorean sports car parked next to a Corvette at a Chevrolet dealership in Lake Bluff, Ill., and had to buy it.

delorean 1

Little did he know that later in the day, the federal government would charge the car’s creator, John Z. DeLorean, with drug trafficking.

Segerstrom felt that, in addition to DeLorean’s legal woes, the bad economy and the lack of room for families helped to spell the doom of the sports car.

Only more than 8,500 were made in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland, between 1980 and 1983.

“It was poor timing,” Segerstrom said.

Segerstrom’s 1980 DeLorean DMC-12 is the same car model that was used in the “Back to the Future” films that starred Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd.

Unfortunately, Segerstromï’s DeLorean doesnï’t have a flux capacitor installed, so it doesn’t need to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity necessary to travel through time.

Sadly, to paraphrase Marty McFly, this sucker isn’t nuclear.

“I enjoy the uniqueness of it,” Segerstrom said.

In the more than 20 years Segerstrom has owned the DeLorean, heï’s only logged 4,600 miles on the odometer. Most of that came when Segerstrom drove it from Wisconsin to Naples, Fla., in 1991. The car then sat in the garage for six years before it went back to Wisconsin on a trailer.

It’s seen more time on the road in The Villages since he moved in six months ago.

“It’s a whole lot harder to get out now then it was 20 years ago,” Segerstrom said.

He recently took the DeLorean to the Car Cruise-In where it was a hit.

“There were at least 20 people around it,” Segerstrom said.

The DeLorean features gullwing doors that open up, not from the side. The V6, 145-horsepower engine is found in the back; other features include standard transmission, no power steering nor brakes; and power windows (well, it’s only a portion of the window that goes up or down).

The body is made of glass-reinforced plastic with high-quality grade-304 brushed stainless steel skin. Because of the energy crisis during the early 1980s, the speedometer only goes up to 85 mph, but the car can reach higher speeds.

At the time, the only options available on the car were automatic transmission and maybe a car phone.

Segerstrom still has numerous magazines and cut-out newspaper articles detailing DeLorean’s trial and eventual acquittal. He also has a Car and Driver magazine article from July 1977 that talks about the DeLorean as a prototype car.

“I’ve been tempted to sell it, but now itï’s become a part of the family,” Segerstrom said.

• • •

Originally published November 2009


THE VILLAGES — No, it doesn’t have a flux capacitor.

But if Bobb Partridge wanted to build a time machine like the one in “Back to the Future,” he could do it with some style with his 1981 DeLorean DMC-12. delorean 2

But for now, the sports car with the stainless steel body is perfect for Partridge in the present.

“I intend to drive it every day,” Partridge said. “It’s a keeper. It’s totally unique. The car was way ahead of its time. It’s fun to drive.”

The DeLorean also attracts attention. When Partridge was driving down U.S. Highway 27/441, a driver in front of him was trying to take pictures of the DeLorean.

He also gets a lot of “Back to the Future” references.

“(People ask) ‘What happens when you get to 88 mph?'” Partridge said. “You get a ticket.”

The DeLorean, whch had been built in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland, has about 25,000 miles on the odometer. It’s been living in Partridge’s garage for about two months.

The car’s 2.8-liter V-6 engine can be found in the back of the car, with the trunk moved to the front.

The DMC-12 uses gullwing doors that open up, not to the sides.

Other features include a five-speed manual transmission; power brakes; no power steering; fuel injection; and a stainless steel body.

“The car will never rust out,” Partridge said.

Partridge had even bought a DeLorean Car Care Kit for the stainless steel portions.

“If it gets scratched, you take a Brillo pad,” Partridge said.

Fingerprints tend to appear on the car’s surface, but with a little spray of Windex and a towel, the fingerprints can be wiped clean.

The DeLorean has what Partridge calls “toll windows,” where a small bottom portion of the side windows rolls up or down. But when the window wasn’t working, Partridge had to open the door to use his gate key.

Partridge had added new leather bucket seats with warmers; a new AM/FM/CD/iPod stereo that also has a camera for showing what’s behind the car when backing up; and a keyless entry system.

Partridge has been rebuilding cars for as long as he’s been driving them; for his first car in high school, he bought a dilapidated 1952 Hillman Minx. Since that time, he has restored some 16 cars and two buses.

“I’ve always been mechanically inclined,” Partridge said.

Back in 1981, when the DeLorean first appeared at dealers, Partridge said he “coveted it immediately.”

“But I didn’t have the money to buy a new one,” Partridge said.

While living in Dallas during the mid-1980s, one of Partridge’s friends, Milt Englekey, had bought a DeLorean new, but the car had been gathering dust in the garage.

“It hadn’t been driven in a long time,” Partridge said.

At the time, Partridge offered to trade Englekey the DeLorean for his 1957 Ford Thunderbird, but Englekey declined.

Partrdige moved away, and a few years later, he returned to Dallas to visit friends, including Englekey.

“I asked him, ‘Do you still have that damn DeLorean?'” Partridge said. “It became a running joke.”

Englekey did, but Partridge now had a 2002 Thunderbird in mint condition.

“He said, ‘Wanna swap?'” Partridge said. “We shook hands.”

So two trailers took the DeLorean and the Thunderbird to their new respective owners.

When the DeLorean arrived, it needed to be pushed off the trailer.

“The engine wasn’t working,” Partridge said. “There was no air conditioning, the power windows didn’t work, the taillights didn’t work, the seats were ripped, the stereo didn’t work.

“I started (working on the car) one by one.”

Partridge spent the next several weeks in his garage putting the DeLorean back together.

“The worst part was (working on the) power locks and windows,” Partridge said. “If you didn’t wear gloves, you’d end up bleeding to death.”

Acquiring the parts was easy for Partridge, who found a company south of Tampa that carried them.

In order to fix the air conditioning, Partridge had to get a permit to work on older models.

“The nice thing about the DeLorean, there’s nothing that I can’t fix myself, with the possible exception of the fuel injection,” Partridge said. “It’s been a labor of love.”