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How an immigrant mechanic used $5 million to bring DeLoreans back to the future

More than 30 years since the last DeLorean rolled off the factory line in Ireland, the car known for its gull-wing doors and its role as the time machine in the movie "Back to the Future" is once again slated for production, thanks to one mechanic with a lot of patience.

Pre-order interest has been so overwhelming, DeLorean CEO Stephen Wynne tells CNBC, that the site's submission form has been capping out the company's inbox. Over 3,500 enthusiasts are looking to secure the first 12 DeLoreans planned for 2017.

"People are getting so antsy that they're thinking that they're going to try and sue us to take a deposit on the car," he says.

But for Stephen Wynne, a self-taught English mechanic who emigrated to the U.S. in 1980 just as former GM executive John DeLorean was preparing to launch his eponymous car brand, that wouldn't be the most unexpected thing that's ever happened to him.

Owning DeLorean Motor Company is.

"That's always been my dream with DeLorean: To make the car that they were unable to make in Belfast all those years ago." -Stephen Wynne, DeLorean CEO

A mechanic buying out the manufacturer of the car he specializes in is as unlikely as it is impressive, and it took Wynne time.

Born in Liverpool, Wynne appreciated English and French cars, which quickly became his specialty. When he emigrated to Southern California in the early '80s, he found his niche: he started a foreign car repair shop. It surprised him how little attention competing body shops were paying to the newcomer DeLorean.

Stephen Wynne has had a passion for DeLoreans since they debuted in 1981.
Source: Stephen Wynne
Stephen Wynne has had a passion for DeLoreans since they debuted in 1981.

"There was no competition," Wynne recalls. "Nobody wanted to touch them, and it just seemed like the opportunity to go for." Soon after, Wynne was focusing solely on DeLoreans with his service and parts business DeLorean One.

Perhaps others had reasons to stay away. By 1982, less than two years after producing its first car, DeLorean Motor Company filed for bankruptcy.

First DeLorean fell

In 1975, when he founded the company, John DeLorean had hopes of one day rivaling the major automakers by impressing car aficionados with the sleek design of his two-door DMC-12. Unfortunately for DeLorean, any fledgling automaker would have been in for a rough time by the time production finally began in 1981.

The U.S. target market was in a full-fledged recession, oil prices had skyrocketed, and interest rates were the highest they had ever been. An unfavorable exchange rate coupled with cost overruns doubled the DeLorean price tag, which was supposed to be $12,000.

Worst of all, customers compared the DeLoreans to other cars on the market and remained underwhelmed.

Automobile entrepreneur John Delorean poses with one of his distinctive sports cars at a beach next to San Francisco Bay.
Roger Ressmeyer | Corbis | VCG | Getty Images
Automobile entrepreneur John Delorean poses with one of his distinctive sports cars at a beach next to San Francisco Bay.

With his company desperate for cash, DeLorean got himself caught up in a plot to smuggle millions of dollars worth of cocaine into the country. He was acquitted after a Federal jury ruled the sting operation that exposed DeLorean crossed the line into entrapment.

While DeLorean battled his way to another acquittal, this time against charges of fraud and tax evasion, Stephen Wynne slowly built his DeLorean One service and parts business. He expanded to another shop in Houston and capitalized on the car's rising fame, thanks to the "Back to the Future" franchise. Then, in 1997, an intriguing opportunity presented itself.

The holding company that had taken over DeLorean's inventory and picked off the intellectual property after the automaker filed for bankruptcy was looking to sell. Wynne jumped at the chance, acquiring everything that remained to the DeLorean name.

"And once we bought all that," he says, "it was like, 'OK, now what are we going to do with all this inventory?'"

Qin Chen | CNBC

For starters, the new DeLorean Motor Company (DMC) built out a 2.5 acre warehouse and restoration center in the Houston suburb of Humble, Texas. "Unless you go to a DeLorean convention, you'll probably never see more DeLoreans in one spot then what you do when you come here," Wynne says.

Now shops exist in Chicago, Seattle, and Florida. Affiliates in Japan and Europe keep the DeLorean experience alive around the world. "That's most important to me. I want to keep the cars on the road and I want to provide a real good service to my customers," Wynne says.

Getting DeLorean back to the future

Despite owning all the parts, rights, and space to finally make new DeLoreans for the first time in three decades, one obstacle still stood in Wynne's way. Regulations that were written with major automakers in mind made it financially prohibitive for a limited company like DMC to start production on replica cars that wouldn't meet today's standards.

After spending years working with an automotive trade group, DMC was given the green light: Congress passed the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act in 2015, making it possible for upstarts to produce replica models of cars first produced over 25 years ago, provided that all intellectual property is owned by the manufacturer and the cars meet today's emission requirements.

"When we got the news it was probably a week of walking around not believing it," Wynne tells CNBC. "That's always been my dream with DeLorean — to make the car that they were unable to make in Belfast all those years ago."

With the parts on hand, and pending final regulation feedback and the securing of a last outside investment, Wynne believes the company has the ability to make at least 300 DeLoreans, starting with 12 cars in mid- to late 2017. The price of the new DeLorean is projected to be around $100,000, meaning Wynne is likely to see a nice return on the $5 million he's poured into his company over the years.

"We've forgone profits because our holding costs are so high," he says. "But we've been holding on to the hope that we could put ourselves in the position that we're in today."

And yet, even with the final ability to create a car of his own, Wynne is still looking to stick very closely to the original DMC-12.


"They went from a green field with a prototype to delivering cars ... in something like 28 months," he says. "But there were corners cut and we'd like to just correct those corners and really do the car some justice and make the car not the car that it should have been, because it was that, but the car that it could have been."

While it's unlikely that that means adding a flux capacitor, the company does say that it plans to update to a more modern interior, as well as a much more powerful V6 engine with around 300 horsepower. That will nearly double the capacity of the original DeLorean. "So it just means, by default of doing this, the performance of the car will change dramatically," Wynne says.

The upgrade will likely stoke the already overwhelming demand for the cult classic replica. And if there is anyone who understands the passion from could-be customers, it's Wynne.

"DeLorean is a people friendly car," he says. "People will come up to you and say, 'Hey DeLorean! I haven't seen one, this is great, can I take a picture?' or, 'Hey, my dad used to have one!' Everybody has a DeLorean story, but it's with a smile on the face ... it's always a nice story."

And so is the story of the mechanic who came to own the car.