Few cars from the 1980s have ever drawn quite as much attention as the DeLorean. Powered by its starring role in the “Back to the Future” movies, the fascination grew the moment “Doc” Emmett Brown and his wild grey locks first appeared from behind the iconic gullwing doors. It didn’t save DeLorean from collapsing after building just 9,000 cars, but it turned those that were built into instant classics.
Over the past three decades, owners of the DeLorean DMC-12 have set out to fix some of the car’s many challenges; engine upgrades, better exhausts and lowered suspension—while leaving most of the car as stock as possible. But a lone DeLorean fanatic who became obsessed with the vehicle way before Marty McFly hit 88 mph has remixed the stainless-steel DeLorean shape into automotive creations as bizarre and brilliant of any I’ve witnessed.
Rich Weissensel first met founder John DeLorean at a Cleveland auto show back in 2000. He’d long had ideas to make custom DeLoreans, and after speaking with the founder, began sketching ideas. The following morning he presented his rough mock-ups over breakfast.
“John told me, ‘Well, if you think you can do it, do it.’ He probably thought I was crazy. But two years later, I had two or three of the projects done and ready for display at a DeLorean car show,” said Weissensel when I visited his weekend home in Piper City, Ill.
As I pulled up at the inconspicuous farmhouse, surrounded by corn fields and prairie, the cars stood out like Russell Brand at a neighborhood Tupperware party. Sat on the open grass was a DeLorean roadster, a six-door DeLorean limousine, and the D-Rex—a monster truck DeLorean. What was missing, unfortunately, was his hovercraft DeLorean. Yes, a hovercraft, temporarily out of service. Nevertheless, this was perhaps the wildest single-brand car collection anywhere in the country.
“The Roadster was one of the first projects I worked on,” said Weissensel, as we baked in the 97-degree heat. “I picked up a car with extensive roof and fire damage, and took inspiration from some of the original roadster designs created by artists in the mid ‘80s.” Weissensel is now redoing the original Roadster into what he calls his “version two form,“ and the project is nearing completion.
Weissensel wasn’t born into money, enabling him to undertake such financially draining challenges on a whim. Instead, he worked 18-hour days for two straight years, without a day off, to create an opportunity to live out his passion.
I quickly ask after the incredible DeLorean limousine, stretching the length of a school bus. Its interior remains unfinished. A mock setup was installed for visual purposes at a car show about a year ago, but with that now removed, Weissensel has set his sights upon finishing his most challenging project to date. This won’t be your typical Vegas limo, used as a gimmick for sleazy bachelorette parties. Rather it promises to be an authentic DeLorean. Only a stretched one. With six gullwing doors.
The car uses parts from five or six different cars. The unused doors from the convertible found a home in this project, along with a number of additional damaged vehicles. Weissensel didn’t want to kill any of the 9,000 DeLoreans produced; rather he waited until donor cars became available. The process was particularly complex: “Making a DeLorean limousine with six doors, you have captured panels where you can’t make significant adjustments without effecting the other panels. This project has already been in the works for 12 years and it’s not yet done. It’s an enormous amount of work.”
Next to the limo stood a DeLorean dirt thrower that towered many feet above my head. Despite its evident lunacy, the D-Rex only took a month to complete. Weissensel explained how this concept was already in motion before he began work: “It was a DeLorean with significant damage that was mounted to a shot K5 Blazer chassis.” After stripping it down, a 12-inch Super Lift kit was installed, as were 44-inch Super Swamper tires on custom-made 14-inch wheels. “All the pieces were a little bit more available, and whatever wasn’t,“ he said, "was easily fabricated. So it didn’t take too long to complete.”
Rich then asked if I’d like to give the D-Rex a spin. So with instruction as to mounting such a vast beast without breaking the truck (or myself), I climbed aboard and readied to go. The noise when firing the engine was immense: “It’s pretty much just straight piping,” said Rich.
Top tip: If you ever drive a monster truck DeLorean, be sure to bring ear plugs.
The D-Rex drove with ease, and although it wasn’t particularly fast and suffered from a dollop of bump steer, it certainly left a magnificent impression. Briefly driving onto the road outside the house, we passed an old lady in a beat-up mid ‘90s Camry. Her face was plastered against the window, and her dentures dribbling in amazement. My face, however, was staring intently at the road somewhere below, trying to maneuver down a small off-road path where we could push the limits of the truck more prominently.
Here, we spent time blatting around the lot, bouncing on bumpy trails, enjoying youthful good vibes. Rich has done many TV appearances in the D-Rex, and began telling me about one recent, surreal episode where Christopher Lloyd himself lay flat on the tiny parcel shelf behind the seats, as the D-Rex soldiered along. This car clearly has a huge history, and you could practically feel the stories being told through the aged steering wheel and worn leather seats.
By this point, I’d grown wildly attached to the beast. With no air conditioning, we spent most of our drive with the doors swung open, trying to salvage any cooling from the warm Midwestern breeze. But despite the heat, I didn’t want to stop.
Eventually, I had to. Shortly after disembarking, Rich let me drive his (almost) stock DeLorean DMC-12. It had the aforementioned Stage 2 changes to the Peugeot-Renault-sourced V-6, boasting 200hp instead of around 130. It also had the upgraded exhaust and lowered suspension. It drove beautifully, like a soft, comfortable cruiser. It had working air conditioning.
And I wanted to drive to Florida in it. Just because.
The character exuded from a DeLorean—stock or not—remains quite remarkable. Weissensel pointed out how the original DeLorean garnered a few untrue myths over the years: like how the DMC-12 was heavy for its era, when at 2,710 lbs. in 1981, it weighed less than a ’81 Porsche 911 SC, and considerably less than the 3,307 lb. ’81 Corvette Coupe.
For me, I’ve always had a fascination with the DeLorean, and yet growing up in the UK, I’d never had the chance to drive one; heck, I’d barely ever set eyes on one. Not only did Rich and his garage offer me the chance to fulfill my childhood “Back To The Future” induced dreams, but I got to witness—and experience—a collection so wild it makes Doc’s hair look tame.
“You’ll have to come back in the winter,” said Rich. “You’ll love driving the DeLorean hovercraft in the snow.”
“I think I shall,” I said.
“Plus,” said Rich. “The DeLorean monster truck kicks up snow like a beast.”
That’s a future I want to get back to.
Originally published in June 2013