Before “Back to the Future” was released in 1985 – the year the Michael J. Fox film took John DeLorean’s beleaguered creation from bankruptcy to pop-culture relevancy – Rich Weissensel bought his first DeLorean DMC-12.
“My brother and I used to build those type of mashups from leftover parts from model kits, making our own custom versions. That’s kind of what happened with my DeLoreans,” says Weissensel, now a software engineer in Chicago.
Those current mashups include a DeLorean stretch limousine and a towering DeLorean monster truck. Both will be displayed this week to commemorate the 30th anniversary of “Back to the Future” at the Spring AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway, along with a replica of the DeLorean from the film. Other attractions at this weekend’s show include cars from Dodge’s 100-year history, including the General Lee and NASCAR drivers’ personal off-track vehicles.
While working for Schwinn, which loaned its collection of vintage bicycles for use in the film, Weissensel learned that the DeLorean would be an integral part of this new movie. He bought his just before the movie came out.
Weissensel refers to himself as a restorer, not a collector.
“I was basically picking up used DeLoreans and getting them back on the road,” he says. “I thought, ‘What am I going to do with these less-than-perfect spare parts?’ That’s when I got my first idea.”
He started the limo in 2000 after showing John DeLorean sketches of his mashup ideas at a DeLorean car show.
“He probably thought I was a bit crazy, but said, ‘If you think you can do them, give it a shot,’” he says. It took another 12 years to construct the exterior of the limo. It sits on a 20-foot frame – which had to be custom-built – and the interior and drive train are not yet finished.
“There’s a DeLorean moral code that to build my custom stuff I don’t want to destroy or wreck a good DeLorean. I always use damaged vehicles,” Weissensel says. “It took quite a long time to accumulate as many parts as I needed to build the limo.”
(DeLorean, who died in 2005, didn’t live to see the limo completed.)
The monster truck came together much faster. Another gearhead’s plan to merge a wrecked DeLorean and a wrecked 4X4 truck had been abandoned midway through; the car sat for sale for years, says Weissensel, who spotted it in the back of Motor Trend magazine.
“It was a bit of a laughingstock, but I thought, ‘If I can get my hands on it, I can make something people will either think is awesome or a total abomination,’” he says.
In a month’s time, working with a custom 4X4 shop near his house, Weissensel had the monster DeLorean ready for the car show circuit.
“There’s been a lot of ups and downs the last 30 years,” he says. “(The DeLorean) had a difficult start. The factory closed after it reached about 9,000 in production. There was the initial excitement, and the low, then the movie came out and it was back up.
“The car has been a bit of a phoenix rising from the ashes.”
Toys ‘of the Future’
Custom builders and car enthusiasts aren’t the only ones celebrating the 30th anniversary of the ’80s classic.
▪ In 2014, Lego released its now-sold-out DeLorean Time Machine, complete with Lego Marty McFly and Doc Brown.
▪ Funko also produced a Pop! Vinyl version of the time-traveling DeLorean, sold with a Marty figure. (Doc Brown sold separately.)
▪ Hot Wheels began producing a line of DeLoreans in 2010, including one based on the “Back to the Future” car.
▪ Diamond Select Toys released a 1/15th 14-inch replica complete with moving parts, lights and sound. It sells for $60.
▪ In March 2016, Hot Toys and Sideshow Collectibles will release a sixth-scale DeLorean Time Machine, with moving gullwing doors, a meticulously detailed interior and engine deck, and functional LED lights. A Marty McFly figure will be sold separately. They’ll cost $689.99 each; pre-orders are being taken at www.sideshowtoy.com.
WHEN: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Charlotte Motor Speedway, 5555 Concord Parkway South.
TICKETS: $11 for adults, free for ages 13 and younger; $32 for weekend pass.
DETAILS: 800-455-FANS; www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.