1981 DeLorean DMC-12 Is Our Bring a Trailer Auction Pick of the Day

·3 min read
Photo credit: Bring a Trailer
Photo credit: Bring a Trailer

• Any DMC-12 is an icon of its time, but this twin-turbo DeLorean dials up the 1980s by being formerly owned by the late actor Jim Varney, who played Ernest P. Worrell in a series of beloved movies.

• DeLoreans are often unfairly derided for the modest 130 hp produced by the 2.85L V6. Here, a twin-turbocharging system takes power to a healthier 200 hp.

• Because of their popularity, parts availability for these cars is quite good. This example has the potential to be an excellent weekend driver, and comes with a great story for your local Cars and Coffee meet. Bidding ends on Friday, May 27.

If you are a child of the 1980s, the first rubber-faced comedian you fell in love with was not Jim Carrey, but Jim Varney. Despite training as a serious Shakespearean actor, Varney found breakout success with the goofball slapstick of the Ernest movies. Ernest Goes to Camp. Ernest Saves Christmas. Ernest and the Flimsy Pretext for Another Weirdly Profitable Movie. The DeLorean shown here belonged to the late actor, and it's currently listed on the auction site Bring a Trailer—which, like Car and Driver, is part of Hearst Autos.

By all accounts a kind, keenly intelligent, and sensitive man, Varney made his fortune pretending to be a complete idiot. But at least a lovable idiot. Armed with his signature catch phrase, “KnowhutImean, Vern?” he blundered through life, wrecking everything before setting it right again. When you're eight, there's not much funnier than watching a grownup fail spectacularly at unplugging a toilet. Ernest was a household name, and Varney made millions.

As he was born and lived in Kentucky, you'd expect the money to have gone toward a sprawling ranch and some kind of pickup truck. It did, but Varney clearly had more stylish tastes. At some point, he purchased this 1981 DeLorean DMC-12, and later had it fitted with an Island Twin Turbo system from Turbo Manifold Inc, in New York.

In 1981, Car and Driver tested the DMC-12 against the Ferrari 308GTSi, the Porsche 911SC, the Datsun 280ZX, and the Chevrolet Corvette. The DeLorean was the slowest, but not by a huge margin, and the car's unique exterior design and interior appointments impressed. "What DeLorean has here is no less than the executive sports car," we gushed.

Sadly, that conclusion was based on some wishful thinking. "Its performance is likely to do a complete about-face if John Z.'s deal with Legend Industries, the builders of Fiat's turbo roadsters, bears the twin-turbocharged fruit he's counting on." It didn't.

Photo credit: Bring a Trailer
Photo credit: Bring a Trailer

John Z. DeLorean's spectacular fall from grace has been well documented, the subject of two movies in recent years. In a way, this car is the answer to the question, What might have been? Turbo Manifold Inc. grew out of the ashes of Legend Industries, after the DeLorean collapse bankrupted that company. While the system is relatively simple and safe for only low-boost operation, 200 horsepower with a DMC-12's 2700 pounds would have been excellent performance for the mid-1980s. It's not far off what you got in the previous generation Subaru BRZ.

While Varney clearly enjoyed his DeLorean, and there are photos of him with it, at some point the car got parked. But just as Jim Varney was much more than a hick in a denim vest and khaki cap, the DMC-12 is better than its reputation would have you believe. This example with its period-correct turbos lets you imagine a world where, just maybe, Ernest Saves DeLorean. KnowhutImean, Vern? As of May 21, with six days left in the auction, bidding was at $32,000.

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