Malvern Collegiate Institute science teacher Dean Sasabuchi’s DeLorean DMC-12 won’t start because its automatic transmission can’t detect what year it is. The on-board computer chip is fried.
The irony that this is the problem with Sasabuchi’s stainless-steel sports car—most known for starring as a high-flying time machine in the classic sci-fi film trilogy Back to the Future—is not lost on him.
“Yeah, no kidding,” he said.
Roadworthy or not, Sasabuchi’s vintage ride figures into a generational trend geared, at least in part, towards childhood nostalgia, he and other DeLorean enthusiasts say.
Those old enough to have seen Back to the Future hit the silver screen have now achieved the financial security needed to afford their own DeLoreans, driving interest in the iconic-yet-ill-fated car—and pushing prices higher.
“They always wanted the car, and now they’re at the age where they’re at their maximum economic power and have decided, yeah, ‘I’m going to live my dream,’” said Michael Borthwick, 56, the membership coordinator of the Official DeLorean Owners Canada, an informal owner’s association, spinning off the auto manufacturer’s slogan: Live the Dream.
Sasabuchi, who saw Back to the Future when he was seven, is a subscriber to this theory. “People of my vintage now are scooping them up, because we were kids when the movie came out.”
“It’s part of my childhood,” he said. “I told my parents, ‘I want one of these cars,’ and they’re like, ‘Yeah right,’” he recalled. “I had it in the back of my mind the whole time.”
He described his initial disbelief that the DeLorean was an actual production automobile until he saw it grace the pages of a magazine. About 9,000 cars were made before the manufacturer went bankrupt and its founder, John Z. DeLorean, was found not-guilty of charges related to an FBI cocaine-trafficking sting.
Finally in 2008, Sasabuchi came across a listing on an Internet forum for a 1981 automatic-transmission DeLorean in Thunder Bay. He promptly had it shipped back to Toronto after taking a day trip there via Porter Airlines to check it out. He had just turned 30.
He’s found the Renault-powered coupe’s not ideal for stop-and-go city driving—a wide turning radius and lack of power steering are shortcomings. It’s also low, just inches off the ground, putting the driver right at headlight level in traffic.
“But at highway speed, if you get it up to highway speed, it’s a nice cruising car—it’s really beautiful to drive,” Sasabuchi said.
At least it was until recently. There may be no good time for a blown transmission, but Sasabuchi’s car troubles kept him from driving his DeLorean at his school’s annual October parade. “Oh my god, it’s gonna be thousands [of dollars], probably. Transmissions are not cheap,” Sasabuchi said of the needed repairs.
Fortunately, fellow DeLorean owner Desmond Vandenberg gave him a lift in his own DMC-12 on Oct. 5, and the two cruised along Gerrard Street East, the car’s dramatic gullwing doors open, beside Malvern’s marching band for Red and Black Day festivities.
Borthwick said these days, given the interest in the cars, it costs at least $40,000 for a decent DeLorean this side of the border. That wasn’t the case before 2015, the year Back to the Future protagonist Marty McFly time travels to in 1989’s Part II sequel.
“That got all the fanboys going,” said Borthwick, whose DeLorean has outperformed his RRSP.
“That’s when this market went crazy. We thought it was something called the Back to the Future Bump, and the price was going to go down,” Borthwick explained. That did not happen, he added.
Vandenberg was ahead of the curve, purchasing his DeLorean for $23,000 in 2013 from a seller in Las Vegas when the loonie was strong.
“My favourite part of ownership is when I run into people that get excited about the car,” he said. “Even though that movie (Back to the Future) is so old, a lot of people have shown it to their kids and so it’s gone into another generation.”
Over the years, the movie link has become less important for Sasabuchi. From a design perspective, he and Vandenberg appreciate the car’s gullwing doors and stainless-steel body. Sasabuchi also likes the car’s wedge shape, the work of Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro, who has worked with BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and many others.
“I’ve evolved from a total Back to the Future nut to more appreciative of the car as a car,” said Sasabuchi. “I have no intention of making a time machine.”