I used to love saying I was an ’80s kid. Until I realized it just means I'm old. We were the last generation to go through high school without computers, cell phones, or the Internet, and the last generation to experience a time when technology hadn't made the world a tiny place. Back then, skipping school meant a trip to the mall to ingest some low-grade heartburn and talk about the poster cars on our walls. When done, we'd then hop on our BMX bikes (think Redline, PK Ripper, and Mongoose) and ride home in the hopes we'd avoided detection.
As a whole, the decade was spectacular. TV shows like Miami Vice and Magnum P.I. kept us glued to the couch with companies like Members Only, Jordache, Swatch, and Bennetton setting the fashion trends of the day. Automotive technology was on the move as well with cars like Porsche's 959 and the Ferrari F105 achieving performance levels never before seen. Reagan was in the White House, folks had money, and for the most part, everyone seemed to be doing OK.
Now in 2019, us ’80s kids are adults with grey hair and in some cases kids of our own, and while certain circumstances in our lives might have changed, our passion for re-living parts of our youth has not.
I met Mark Woodsma a few years ago at a car show in northern California when he caught me staring at his Porsche 928. We struck up a conversation and stayed in contact until I spotted him again at the 2018 Radwood show in San Francisco. This time, however, there wasn't a Porsche in sight, but instead a tricked-out 1981 DeLorean the likes of which I'd never seen.
Before we get into that particular car though, a bit of history. For those who may or may not know, former Pontiac and Chevrolet Division Head John DeLorean founded the DeLorean Motor Company in 1973. This is the guy who is widely known for creating the first muscle car by way of the 1964 Pontiac GTO, and who then went on to such vehicles as the Pontiac Firebird and Grand Prix—amongst others. At the time he was considered somewhat of a maverick, and when the first DeLorean prototype appeared in 1976 (codenamed DSV-1), the vehicle fit his personality to a tee. With a fuselage that was sleek and modern, it served as the perfect platform to bridge the old technology of the 1970s with the over-exuberance and flash that the ’80s would become known for.
As a company, DeLorean was an anomaly, as it only produced one model—the DMC-12. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, and released to the public in 1981, it was the epitome of ’80s styling as it featured a stainless steel body, a rear-engine configuration, and, of course, signature gullwing doors. In total, fewer than 9000 were made, with the company—based in Ireland—closing shop in late 1982 when DeLorean was brought up on drug trafficking charges. And while I doubt anyone will ever tell you that the DMC-12 is a bad looking car, the unfortunate truth is that when you've seen one, you really have seen them all. Or so I thought.
That brings us here, to a radically customized DMC-12 that's owned by the aforementioned Mark Woodsma. Out of the gate, this thing screams indulgence and counters what traditionalists think a DeLorean should be. From the one-off paint job and wheels to the burbling exhaust, suspension, and mild engine upgrades, this may just be the best-looking DMC-12 in existence. Modifications aside, it's the story behind the car that really grabbed my attention as it was initially customized by one of the biggest underground influences of that decade.
“This custom one-of-a-kind DeLorean was built in ’82–83 for its original owner, Skip Hess, the founder of BMX Products, the Motomag Wheel and Mongoose Bicycles. I don't know why he had the car built, but I learned(via a close friend of his from the BMX community) that he bought the DeLorean because it had caught his interest due to its unique look, the gullwing doors, etc.” — MW
If you're under 35 years old, then the odds of BMX culture having an impact on you is probably slim. To anyone that was into BMX back in the day, however, Skip Hess was basically a God. It wasn't just that the bikes he designed were essential to us, but it was how we defined ourselves as kids.
Back then, Mark Woodsma was also a kid, and while I didn't know about this car until last year, Mark remembers seeing it over 35 years ago.
“I first became aware of this car (and the DeLorean for that matter), at the age of 10 or so. The car was featured in several magazines with one being Sports Car Graphic Magazine, February 1984, shortly after its completion in late 1983. It was that issue that I always have remembered to be my DeLorean introduction.
“I never remembered the story of it, but I remembered the car—the stance, the cool graphics down the sides, the coke trucks in the background, and how the look of the car's original design flowed together into the taillights. In my later years, I always wondered where that car was and what happened to it. Where did it go? Why was it MIA; was it wrecked?" — MW
Viewing the car in person is an experience unto its own, as it makes you think about what could've become of the DMC-12 if it had stayed in production a bit longer. Over the years a few painted cars have popped up, and with each encounter, I've always applauded the owners as their leap of faith usually improved the car in every way. Mark felt the same and while doing some research, was able to uncover information about the individuals who put it all together.
"The ‘team’ consisted of three people: Gary Hall, who owned Hall Pantera in Los Angeles; Fat Jack Robinson, whom together with Gary Hall, formed a partnership called Ultra Cars and Components; and Kenny Youngblood, who was hired as the graphic designer by Fat Jack Enterprises. The car was purchased new by Skip Hess in Stockton, California, in May 1982 and delivered to Fat Jack.” — MW
What's interesting is that while many of us have had the vehicles of our youth leave an impression; it’s rare that we've ever seen them again, much less tracked them down for purchase. And while I wouldn't go so far as to call hunting this car down an obsession, Mark did more than most to find it. As a side note, this wasn't his first foray into the gullwing world, as he'd previously owned a DeLorean for the better part of three years. During that period, he connected with a community of owners and vowed that after owning his first that a second may be in the cards, but with one caveat—it had to be different.
“I didn't want another ‘regular’ DeLorean. If you want a different DeLorean, that usually means you wanted a painted one, and preferably black. I would always search the Internet for black cars, and I kept a log of cars that came up for sale. I made a few offers, even had a friend go look at one near Chicago, but nothing made me pull the trigger until this one, because it was this one that was always in the back of my head.” — MW
As fate would have it, Mark saw a photo of the Mongoose DMC-12 online in early 2017 and recognized it immediately as the car he'd seen all those years ago.
“I showed my wife the picture; I was very surprised and excited, but was mostly happy to see it still existed! And it looked to be in good shape. Via that photo, I found out who had the car and contacted him and learned where it had been all along. The gentleman had bought the car about a month prior from the son of a collector who had it since 1986, where I was told Skip Hess sold it at Auction. The original license plate from California backs this up, as the sticker on it is from ’86.
“We kept in touch for a few months sharing info and so on. In June 2017, while on a business trip, I paid him a visit to see the car. I thought at that time I could not buy another car, and that the price would be well above what I was willing to spend. The trip was great, and the owner was a true DeLorean fan. I got a good look at the car, took detailed pictures, and we went to lunch in it.
“Time went on, and eventually, the car was put up on eBay but didn't sell, happily for me. We continued to stay in touch, and in late August 2017 we came to an agreement on price, and the deal was done! I was again a DeLorean owner and now owned the very car that I had seen in that magazine as a kid. Amazing.” — MW
Once home, Mark took stock of what he'd done and dived head first into finding out precisely what modifications had been made to the car over the years.
"The car was in remarkable condition for its age, and just required some “coming out of storage work” initially. From what I've been told, it had not been used much since the late ’90s, thus the fuel system, alternator, A/C system, rear tires, rear brakes, and exhaust system were replaced by the previous owner." — MW
He also uncovered a host of mechanical and suspension upgrades as well. The front track, for example, had been narrowed about 4 inches and the shock mounts modified. That changed the position and angle of the shocks themselves and resulted in the upper mounts being relocated higher up on the frame. The front sway bar is apparently from a sprint car and also utilizes custom end links.
Outback, the DeLorean has a rear trailing arm layout with upper and lower links that are now both adjustable in length. The track itself has been narrowed 6 inches to allow for different offset wheels and wider tires. And while the drive axles still use stock CVs, the length has been shortened. The angle of the trailing arm has also been modified due to the narrower track, but the layout has been kept original. The rear shocks are much shorter due to modified mounting and now feature QA1 coilovers and a 10-inch tall spring.
Then there are the wheels, those glorious three-piece aluminum one-offs that were created by Ultra Components. Tucked underneath those painted fenders reside 15x8-inch fronts running a 205/50-series tire with the rears coming in at 15x10 inches with fat 295/50-series rubber. In person, they're just stunning and transform the overall persona of the car from something that is—dare I say—pedestrian to something that's aggressive and nasty.
Mechanically, the rear mounted 2.8-liter Peugeot-Renault-Volvo derived V-6 features Bosch K-Jet EFI, along with some mild head work (not verified) and an aftermarket exhaust. Mark estimates total output to be around 150 hp (stock was 130 hp).
As for the paint and graphics—and, by God, have they ever stood the test of time—they were created by a relatively large team. Kenny Youngblood, who was hired by Fat Jack Enterprises, penned the design creating more than 12 renderings with the final version being a combination of two of them. Greg Morrell, a painter who worked at Fat Jack Enterprises and then subsequently Boyd Coddington and Chip Foose, laid the paint with the final pinstriping being completed (or so Mark thinks) by a gent name Dennis Ricklefs. Nowadays, customizing the exterior of a car like this would be accomplished via digital renderings and then transferred to a vinyl wrap for installation. Back then, though, it was all about hand-laid painting an old school graphic design. So what was the cost of all this awesomeness back in 1982? A whopping $11,700 (about $31,275 today)—just under the cost of a brand new BMW 320i.
With the car now home, Mark had one question that remained to be answered: what was he going to do with it? Thankfully the answer turned out to be simple: drive, preserve, restore, and enjoy. However, before that could happen, there were a few issues that needed to be sorted.
“Since I've had it, I've done a fair amount of maintenance that includes front brakes, new QA1 shocks, and springs, bushings, strut bar, rebuilt steering rack, a cooling system refresh (water pump and all hoses, front to back), as well as rebuilt the shortened drive axles. There is, however, still more to do, such as upgrade the headlights, rebuild the shift linkage, fix a small oil leak... Luckily, the car was pretty clean underneath, with only minimal rust (yes, a DeLorean will rust on the frame) in a few spots." — MW
How does it drive?
“It drives well, but due to the suspension modifications, it's much stiffer and a little more nervous on the highway than a regular car. The seating position is very low and reclined, but that's not a problem, as there is ample room inside, and everything is in reach. The shifter is not too far back or forward, and the central tunnel is not too high. The door windows are small and let in some fresh air, but in the summer a working AC system is a must.
“The steering is manual and takes a lot of effort, especially with 205-series tires up front (stock is 195). Overall the feel is good, being a manual rack, but there is not much return to center in this car due to the modification of the front suspension, which also contributes to some noticeable bump steer, but I don't mind as it looks cool.
“It's not fast—everyone knows the average modern minivan is faster—but with only 2700 pounds to move around and a better exhaust system for some more power and punch, it’s easy to navigate modern traffic without difficulty.” — MW
After spending the better part of a day with Mark and the Mongoose DMC-12, I came away with a few things embedded in the enormous melon that sits atop my shoulders. First, this car is a piece of Americana that was built in the decade of excess with a paint scheme that foreshadowed a style of what was to come. As a brilliant marketing tool, Skip Hess also infused a bit of it into every Mongoose bike sold to the youth of America at the time.
Furthermore, this DMC-12 is void of anything that has to do with the Back to the Future franchise and it stands solely on its own due to the custom BMX touches that have been bestowed upon it. And while Mark doesn't plan to drive it daily (a good thing), the fact that he is restoring it to its former glory for the world to see is something that should be commended, as watching the public’s reaction to it is indeed a sight to behold.