WOODINVILLE — Toby Peterson can’t send you back to the future, but he can make your 37-year-old DeLorean as shiny as a new kitchen sink and put the oomph back into the old six-cylinders.
Peterson, owner of DeLorean Service Northwest, repairs Porsches, Lamborghinis and Ferraris but DeLoreans are his bliss. In January he relocated his 11-year-old auto repair business near Woodinville from Bellevue after his former landlord proposed a 60 percent rent hike.
“We’re still moving in,” Peterson said of the 4,100 square-foot two-story shop. A grassy hill serves as backdrop for the shimmering DeLoreans parked outside.
The stainless steel star of the “Back to the Future” movie trilogy is a real sports car — not just a prop — that first rolled off an assembly line near Belfast, Ireland, in the early 1980s.
How to describe the distinctive two-seater: A sports car that’s everything and the kitchen sink?
Or its colorful “Lite-Brite —making things with Lite-Brite” tail lights?
Peterson’s love affair with DeLoreans began long before he took a wrench to them.
“In 1988, my wife and I were looking for a unique sports car,” he said. That’s when a flier in a supermarket advertising a DeLorean caught his eye. He saw past layers of mud and mildew — the result of the car being stored in a damp barn — and grabbed his checkbook. For $12,000 he bought what would become a “lengthy rescue mission.”
Only one model, the DMC-12, top speed 130 mph, was manufactured from 1981 and 1983 before the DeLorean Motor Company filed for bankruptcy. Roughly 9,300 DeLoreans — available as a three-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission — were produced; an estimated 7,500 survive, including about 600 in Washington state, Peterson said.
The DMC-12 got its name from its proposed price tag, Martin Sanchez, senior valuations analyst at Kelley Blue Book wrote in an email to The Daily Herald.
“Its original cost was $12,000, but by the time it went on sale the retail price jumped to $25,000 (about $65,000 in today’s dollars),” Sanchez said. By comparison, a fully loaded Corvette at the time sold for about $18,000.
By 1983, the DeLorean factory had closed. Its founder John Z. DeLorean, a former General Motors executive, who had dreamt up the sports car, was indicted on federal drug charges in 1982. Although acquitted in 1984, he still faced legal and financial battles related to the company’s bankruptcy.
Resurrecting the moldy DeLorean was an obstacle course, Peterson said. Pre-internet, replacement parts were a challenge to locate.
“Some parts I had to make with my own hands,” said Peterson, who was an aerospace engineer at the time.
Eventually Peterson joined the Pacific Northwest DeLorean Club, where he earned the Mr. Fix-it title. The club — one of the nation’s oldest — holds social events and matches buyers and sellers.
In 2007, Peterson purchased an auto repair business and launched his second career. These days, he not only restores DeLoreans but brings them into the future.
Want to swap out the car’s cassette deck for something newer? No problem. Install a wireless system that opens the car’s signature gull wing doors remotely? Done.
He can even point you to a Florida company that sells a replica of a flux capacitor, the time machine that shuttled characters Doc Brown and Marty McFly through the space time continuum in the “Back to the Future” trilogy. (Expect to pay about $600.)
Brian Moody, executive editor of Autotrader, likes to say that if it weren’t for the flicks, “everyone would have likely forgotten about the DeLorean by now.”
In fact, the 130 horsepower, rear-engine sports car was a last-minute addition to the cast, Kelley Blue Book’s Sanchez wrote.
“The original time vessel for the movie was to be a refrigerator (the director axed that idea because they didn’t want children climbing into them to pretend time travel),” Sanchez said. Second choice, a Mercedes Gullwing, was too expensive. Third on the list, a Ford Mustang, wasn’t a character fit for Doc Brown.
Peterson usually has a couple of DeLoreans at his shop that are for sale on consignment from their owners. Prices start at about $40,000. Autotrader.com currently has four available, ranging from about $38,000 to $45,000.
If you can’t afford one, you can opt for a ride. Samantha Hamm, 53, one of Peterson’s customers, operates a Granite Falls-based chauffeur business, DeLorean for Hire.
“I’m an expensive Uber,” said Hamm, whose passengers have included brides, burial urns and birds. “I once picked up a cockatiel.”
Rule No. 1 for driving a DeLorean is all eyes on the road, she said. “You have to be careful when you’re driving. Pedestrians will step off the sidewalk to get a better look at the car.”
The “Back to the Future” movies introduced a new generation of gawkers and enthusiasts to the sports car.
“They’re like aging divas with a star-studded past,” Hamm said.
In 2015, demand accelerated, Sanchez said. Prices jumped.
“This is a red letter date in the trilogy when Marty McFly traveled from 1985 to the future, October 21, 2015,” Sanchez explained.
Shawn Knight, 35, is among those who were introduced to DeLoreans long after the production line closed.
“I just took a liking to the car after seeing the movie,” he said. During the week, he drives a Ford F-150, but on weekends he’s sitting low, as in limbo low, in a 1981 DeLorean.
“I was just a guy who wandered in to his shop. Toby (Peterson) talked to me for two hours. I ended up putting an offer in on one of the cars. He called me the next week to tell me the owner had accepted my offer. That was four years ago,” said Knight, president of the Pacific Northwest DeLorean Club.
He recalls his first trip behind the wheel. He picked up his sister and went for a spin.
“We stopped at a Starbucks. When we looked — and this was a cold December evening — we saw all these people gathered around the car. I realized this was what it was going to be like owning a DeLorean.”
It gets worse, Knight added: “I have a friend — a real gearhead with a rebuilt 1965 Ford Mustang, and I’ll get way more attention in my DeLorean than his Mustang.”
“DeLoreans are kind of weird — like many cars from the ’80s, they’re not especially good as a used car,” said Autotrader’s Moody. But the “cool factor” well, that’s undeniable.
Even Doc Brown knew it. “The way I see it, if you’re going to build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style,” he tells McFly.
After 37 years, they’re still turning heads, Peterson said.
Janice Podsada: firstname.lastname@example.org. 425-3390-3097.
A plastic sign on the windshield of Samantha Hamm’s DeLorean lists the answers to commonly asked questions. It’s a lot like the TV show “Jeopardy!” — you have to know the question to understand her answers.
1. I don’t have one.
2. He was acquitted.
3. They open easy.
4. My mom would like to let you, but we have to be somewhere.
1. What is the flux capacitor, the time machine in the “Back to the Future” movie trilogy?
2. Who is John DeLorean, founder of the DeLorean Motor Co.? In 1984 he was acquitted on charges of conspiracy to obtain and distribute 55 pounds of cocaine.
3. What are the DeLorean’s signature two gull wing doors?
4. “What is ‘Can I drive it?’”