Pick of the Week: Johnny Carson’s 1981 DeLorean
Tony Ierardi knows a thing or two about celebrity cars, having restored the iconic Countach from Cannonball Run for his friend Jeff Ippoliti. Now Ierardi and his team at DeLorean Motor Company in Orlando are back in the collector-car spotlight with their latest project, a 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 that once belonged to Tonight Show legend Johnny Carson.
The car, available on Hagerty Marketplace, is the first of two company DMC-12s that John Z. DeLorean shipped to Carson in appreciation for his $500,000 investment in DeLorean’s automaking venture. This one (VIN SCEDT26T8BD002439, generally referred to as 2439) is notable because Carson accidentally locked himself inside it shortly after it was delivered to his California home. (His second DeLorean, VIN 4523, made headlines when Carson was pulled over while driving it in 1982 and charged with drunken driving. That DMC sold for $115,000 on Bring a Trailer almost three years ago.)
Ierardi, who owns one of three official Classic DeLorean sales and service centers in the U.S. (the others are located in Texas and California), has owned five Lamborghini Countachs in his life, but he fell in love with DeLoreans at an early age, years before the car became a time-traveling legend in 1985’s Back to the Future.
“When the first one came out, I was 12. For me it wasn’t about sports and girls, it was about this cool car. I always dreamed of owning one,” Ierardi says. “I know they say don’t meet your heroes, but meeting the DeLorean has been a great experience. The movie was great and brought a lot of attention to the car, but I already loved it before that. It was always about the car.”
This particular car was one of those “special” DeLoreans on Ierardi’s list. It all started when he joined the DeLorean Owners Association in 1990; four years later, Ierardi bought his first DMC-12. In 2003, after meeting DeLorean Motor Company CEO Stephen Wynne, who purchased DeLorean’s entire stockpile of parts and resurrected the company name in the mid-1990s, Ierardi opened the Florida location of DMC in January 2005. His shop is not affiliated with the original car company started by John Z. Delorean.
“We’ve been buying and selling DeLoreans for almost 19 years, and we have a VIN list of what we consider special cars,” Ierardi says. “This one was actually auctioned through a heavy construction equipment site (Vantage Auctions Inc.), and the guy who won it kind of threw out the idea that since he had two DeLoreans he’d be willing to part with one. So, when we saw the VIN and realized it was the first Carson car, we offered to buy it directly from the auction company ourselves.”
The deal was done on September 19, 2022, and Ierardi and his team were in a quandary about their next move.
“We knew it deserved a restoration, but we were trying to decide: Should we sell it as-is and let someone else restore it, or restore it ourselves? So we worked on it in between jobs for six months, then we kind of changed gears and said, ‘Let’s do it all.’”
Engineered in part by Lotus, with an angular form styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro, this particular DMC-12 was completed at the DeLorean Motor Company plant in Belfast, Ireland, in July 1981 and delivered to Carson a short time later.
It features DeLorean’s instantly recognizable brushed stainless-steel body and gullwing doors, as well as an optional gray leather interior, louvered rear window, Dolby sound system, air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, power side mirrors, and early digital clock. It is powered by a 2.85-liter V-6 engine—located in the rear—that’s rated at 130 horsepower with 153 lb-ft of torque and mated to a manual transmission. It sits on cast-alloy wheels (14 inches in front, 15 inches in the rear).
The car comes with a 6000-mile or six-month warranty on all the parts, which were sourced directly from DeLorean Motor Company. There are 89,680 miles on the odometer.
In addition to this car and the previously mentioned Cannonball Run Countach, Ierardi has restored DeLorean Prototype-1 (designed by Bill Collins), which resides at the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania; the twin-turbo DeLorean; and the third-built 1983 Delorean DMC-12 Gold Edition.
With more than a week remaining in the Hagerty Marketplace auction, Johnny Carson’s first DeLorean (one of fewer than 9000 DMCs built) has been bid to $31,000. The auction closes on Friday, December 8, at 3 p.m. EST.
“DeLorean is a great car, and had it not been for a couple of missteps, I think it would have made it,” Ierardi opines. “I’m glad it lives on though. I had a five-year-old kid in here the other day who said, ‘I’m going to own one of these someday.’ It definitely has lasting appeal for people of all ages.”