The much-maligned DeLorean DMC-12 may be getting the last laugh

1981 DeLorean DMC-12

John DeLorean took his fair share of hits over the years. He also helped make a few—like the Pontiac GTO, Firebird, and Grand Prix. Oh, yes, and then there’s the car that bears his name.

OK, so the 1981–83 DeLorean DMC-12 wasn’t an immediate hit. Many would say it was an epic failure. But it found its way eventually, undoubtedly with a little help (or perhaps with a lot of it) from its starring role in the Back to the Future movie trilogy. Now, with a Hagerty Vehicle Rating of 84, it is one of the hottest collector cars on the market. Seriously.

What is the Hagerty Vehicle Rating? Based on a 0–100 scale, the HVR takes into account the quantity of vehicles insured and quoted through Hagerty, as well as auction activity and private sales. A vehicle that is keeping pace with the overall market has an HVR of 50. Ratings above 50 show above-average interest, while vehicles with a sub-50-point rating are lagging in the market. The HVR is not an indicator of future collectability, but it says a lot about what’s trending hot and what’s not.

You’re likely familiar with DeLorean because: 1) the only automobile that the DeLorean Motor Company ever built at its production facility in Dunmurry, Ireland, was an unusual—and unmistakable—stainless steel sports car with gullwing doors; 2) the company met its doom when John DeLorean was charged with drug trafficking in 1982 while attempting to raise money to keep the business afloat (he was found not guilty, by the way); and 3) Doc Brown decided a DeLorean was a good way to travel through time. “The way I see it,” Doc tells his protégé Marty in the 1985 film Back to the Future, “if you’re going to build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”

The movie’s popularity helped turn the V-6 DMC-12 from a less-than-smooth operator—that many felt was way overpriced at $25K when new—into a “Wow, that’s cool” movie star that stands out in a crowd. “I don’t think these would be worth anywhere near what they are without that movie,” says Hagerty valuation editor Andrew Newton. Plus, there weren’t many of them built—an estimated 9000 or so—which only adds to their desirability.

The DMC-12 is such a pop culture icon that a dude in California actually built a DeLorean hovercraft that he cruised in San Francisco Bay.

1981 DeLorean DMC-12 Engine
1981 DeLorean DMC-12 Interior
1981 DeLorean DMC-12
RM Sotheby's
1981 DeLorean DMC-12

It certainly doesn’t hurt the orphan brand’s popularity that there is a strong and active community of DeLorean owners, and that DMC parts and service are readily available through a privately-owned, Texas-based company (with no ties to John DeLorean or his family). In addition to its headquarters in Humble, Texas, the company also has locations in California, Florida, and Illinois.

Meanwhile, the two-seat DeLorean DMC-12 keeps rising in both appeal and value. Its HVR rose two points since the previous rating, thanks to a spike in insurance quotes and policies, as well as a 1.7-percent increase in its Hagerty Price Guide values. The average value of a DeLorean in #2 (Excellent) condition is $46,300, regardless of model year. That’s nearly double its #2 value of $24,200 in 2011. Prices have risen 7 percent in the last year, 42 percent in the last three years, and 50 percent in the last five.

Models with an automatic transmission are worth 5 percent less than those with a manual gearbox. And the special Gold Edition DMC-12 is worth three times as much as a standard version.

DeLoreans are most popular among Gen-Xers, which makes sense given they were in their late teens and early 20s when Back to the Future was released. Gen-Xers account for 41.3 percent of DeLorean insurance quotes, compared to 32.3 percent across the rest of the market. Millennials account for 26.8 percent of the DeLoreans quoted.

The most ever paid for a DMC-12 was $541,000, which someone shelled out in 2011 for one of seven Back to the Future cars—one of three that survived. More recently, and much closer to reality, a 1981 DMC-12 sold for $23,100 at RM Sotheby’s Auburn Spring Auction in May.

The car has found its way back onto the big screen this summer with not one, but two DeLorean movies: Framing John DeLorean, which came out June 7, and Driven, set to be released August 16. Neither film is very kind to the man, who died in 2005, or the car. But the DMC-12 is not a failure. In fact, it’s hot.