Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cars of Distinction

This was my first car, a 1978 Renault 5 GTL DeLuxe (aka a LeCar) that I bought new for $4700 in the summer of 1979. I loved that car until some unlicensed kid turned in front of me at an Inglewood intersection in May 1986 and, unable to stop quickly enough, that ended my R5's life.

I never had any serious problems with this car, but the one challenge to owning it was finding someone to service it. I'd purchased it from the Canoga Park Renault dealer largely because the salesman bragged about the great mechanic they'd just hired away from Holiday Motors in Sherman Oaks (where I'd first test driven an R5 a few months earlier). Alas, the mechanic was unreliable about actually showing up. This was also about the time Renault bought American Motors, so the Renault franchise switched to the AMC-Jeep dealership next-door. But when it came to servicing the Renault they didn't inspire much confidence and soon I was taking her to another Renault dealer, Santa Monica Import Motors (which also handled Peugeot and Lotus and other exotic cars) on Ocean Boulevard, across from the Santa Monica Pier. They kept me and my R5 happy, but going to Santa Monica for service wasn't very convenient for a West Valley resident.

So when I got a card from a new independent shop right in Canoga Park that specialized in French and English cars I checked the place out. Cars of Distinction they called themselves. The proprietor was an Englishman by the name of Stephen Wynne and amidst the Jaguars, Rovers, Peugeots, and the occasional Citroen or Rolls-Royce there were also plenty of Renaults. And the business seemed to thrive, growing larger over the years he took care of my R5.

The third major expansion of Cars of Distinction was the separation of the DeLorean DMC-12 servicing -- which they'd started, in part because DeLorean used the Peugeot-Renault-Volvo engine, after DeLorean collapsed-- into its own unit called DeLorean One. It wasn't too long afterwards that my R5 was killed and I had no more contact with Stephen Wynne, Cars of Distinction, or DeLorean One.

Until this week when PBS' MotorWeek featured "The Return of the DeLorean." Hearing Stephen Wynne's name mentioned in the report caught my ear. Then I heard a old familiar voice come out of my TV.
The Return Of The DeLorean
Steven Chupnick

Huey Lewis sang about it, Doc Brown cooked it up on the silver screen, and Marty McFly blazed in and out of decades with it. I'm talking about the DeLorean. The stainless steel car that is better known in movies than on the streets. Well this week, Steven Chupnick heads Over The Edge to tell us the story of this 1980's flash in the pan and its amazing return. So hold on to your Calvin Kleins for what's old is shiny and new again. – John Davis

It was one of the cars that defined the 1980's: the image of it sticks in your head, brimming with gadgets, gizmos and flux capacitors...

The DeLorean was the car that took Marty McFly "Back to the Future." Now, the past is the future.

But it was way before the movie franchise when John DeLorean began the DeLorean Motor Company, better known as DMC. The man behind Pontiac's GTO series had a much bigger vision after leaving General Motors.

In the 1970's, he developed the prototype which would then become one of the world's most famous vehicles. It even turned up right here on MotorWeek back in 1982.

John DeLorean built his facilities in Northern Ireland and his dream was under way. But just as the dream of designing his own car was beginning, it came crashing down hard. Not long into the start of production, the British Government stopped funding the car. John ran out of money, allegations of drug deals entered the picture, and his life quickly spiraled downward. It was about that same time Stephen Wynne crossed the pond to the states. A trade mechanic, whose love of the DeLorean has now grown into his career.

STEPHEN WYNNE, PRESIDENT & CEO, DELOREAN MOTOR COMPANY: We had a few customers that had DeLoreans and they couldn't get satisfactory service. And the dealers were all kind of iffy because they were going out of business. We started working on them and it seemed easy to work on them.

The work was easy because there was still a ton of product. As the doors on the Ireland factory closed in 1983, the workers there continued to press out thousands more parts. So was it really the end of the dream? About ten years later, Stephen bought the company name, as well as all the remaining DMC parts, moved to their facility in Houston, Texas, and in 2009, he's bringing the DeLorean back to the road.

WYNNE: For us to have this warehouse of the NOS inventory is just priceless for what we're doing today to have this kind of in-depth quality and quantity of parts.

The NOS inventory, or new old stock, is what is helping Stephen and his right hand man, James Espey reinvent the brand.

JAMES ESPEY, VICE PRESIDENT, DELOREAN MOTOR COMPANY: I don't think Stephen and I are creating the future as much as we're keeping the past alive.

And it's John's original vision that keeps them going as well.

ESPEY: There's not a day that goes by that the thought of John doesn't cross my mind. He wanted to create a car that was something ethical, and by sheer virtue of the fact that so many of the cars are still around here 25 years later, it's a pretty good testament to the longevity of the car.

The new DMC facility is 40 thousand square feet, 75 percent of it is warehouse. That's where Leif Montin comes into play.

The parts and inventory supervisor has been working for the DeLorean Motor Company since 1979, back in Ireland and then opening up the original parts store in Irvine, California.

The memories he has of John and the old crew are endless, but his best is still being around these cars.

LEIF MONTIN, PARTS/INVENTORY SUPERVISOR, DELOREAN MOTOR COMPANY: It was always my interest to make sure that the people that bought this car should have an opportunity to keep it running. So when DeLorean folded and Consolidated International bought the assets, so to say, they bought me too.

The other side of the building is the workshop for restoring and repairing the DeLorean. Don't think these DeLoreans are like the older versions. They're putting all kinds of new toys in there, including a touch screen fold-out panel, rear-view camera and a built-in navigation system. Is Stephen Wynne really Doc Brown?

WYNNE: Doc Brown did all the mad scientist stuff; I'd rather be the one who keeps it a little bit more on the ground.

So no need to worry about getting these things up to 88 miles-an-hour, cause... "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads..."
Good luck, Stephen, with your continuing enterprise. And good fortune with the "new" DeLorean.

1 comment:

Jeff Branch said...

"a 1978 Renault 5 GTL DeLuxe" - wow!, the GTL DeLuxe version. Today, that is like saying a Toyota Corolla GT-S; the sports version. Never mind it is still a Corolla.

One of my early cars was a Ford EXP - don't ask me why (see It was bright yellow.