‘Time Machine': Man Finds ’81 DeLorean With Original Tires, Less Than 1,000 Miles in Barn in Wisconsin

‘Time Machine': Man Finds ’81 DeLorean With Original Tires, Less Than 1,000 Miles in Barn in Wisconsin
(Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)
Michael Wing
11/1/2023
Updated:
11/10/2023
0:00

Back in time—that’s where Michael McElhattan, 46, traveled to when he entered a barn this past October and found a DeLorean inside. Like a time capsule, the car made famous by the movie “Back to the Future” exhibited some of its rarest original features in this barn find.

As for time, the car’s 90-year-old owner, Dick, had clocked little time in it since first purchasing the DeLorean (or DMC 12) in 1991. The odometer displayed less than 1,000 miles. So the illusion of time travel was quite convincing—yet not entirely.

For the DeLorean had time-related issues that showed its age. The way it was neglected and had become “one with the barn” was markedly obvious. But, boy, was Mr. McElhattan revved up anyhow with this barn find!

Mr. McElhattan owns DeLorean Midwest in Crystal Lake, Illinois. He deals exclusively in the antiquated DMC 12. “Nothing attracts attention like a DeLorean,” he told The Epoch Times. “It’s just a feel-good car that’s extremely recognizable, whether you’re 90 years old and you remember the hype of these cars, or if you’re young.” Pushing 17 years in business, DeLorean Midwest has seen some 1,250 service tickets.

The DeLorean barn find is the same model as the car featured in 1985's cult classic "Back to the Future." (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)
The DeLorean barn find is the same model as the car featured in 1985's cult classic "Back to the Future." (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)
DeLoreans made a splash with their zany brushed stainless steel, paintless bodies, gullwing doors, and unmistakable lines. It’s a misconception that the stainless steel made them heavy, Mr. McElhattan said. Their Lotus designers used a thin-gauge steel frame reinforced with fiberglass that shaved off weight. Without primer or paint, the stainless steel weighed only a pound more per panel.

But it was the 1985 Michael J. Fox film that launched the car into the stratosphere, making it a cult classic in America.

Mr. McElhattan arrived at Dick’s barn in Dousman, Wisconsin, 60 miles from Crystal City, with fellow DeLorean aficionado and restorer Kevin Thomas. Mr. Thomas would play a role in unraveling the car’s history by connecting with the original owners. The two men met up with Dick, who was 90 but still getting around and still sharp. They shared a few beers in his luxurious living room bar before heading out to the barn to see the DeLorean.

“What really captivated me about this car is it’s a complete time capsule from ’81,” Mr. McElhattan said, speaking of the 42-year-old car with only 977 miles on its odometer.

Parts-wise it was “physically untouched from the factory.”

The DeLorean barn find viewed from the side-front. (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)
The DeLorean barn find viewed from the side-front. (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)
The DeLorean barn find from the side-rear. (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)
The DeLorean barn find from the side-rear. (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)

“Because the mileage is so low, I don’t believe that car’s really ever had any parts changed. The tires on the thing were original,” he said, noting the unusual thickness of the treads.

What was of concern was the interior—or, rather, what was living in the interior. The car had become a condominium for mice. Opening the DeLorean’s famous gullwing doors, he saw them scurry about and, he admits, that was a first for him. They had nests behind panels, ran across the console, and darted behind the radiator. The open ride home on the trailer would evict them, he hoped.

One needn’t mention the smell of the interior, for it was all too real. There was mouse scat everywhere. It was clear: this car needed a cleaning with a vengeance in order to salvage her.

Dick stands in the barn with his former DeLorean; (Insets) The DeLorean's gear shifter and the odometer, which has clocked 977 miles. (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)
Dick stands in the barn with his former DeLorean; (Insets) The DeLorean's gear shifter and the odometer, which has clocked 977 miles. (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)
Dick also told the DeLorean’s history. DeLoreans were at the height of their hype in 1981 when Hall Chevrolet dealership was a Chevy-DeLorean dealer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They were the first owners of the car and kept it long after the DeLorean company famously fizzled out in ’83—two years before the iconic movie “Back to the Future” lit up the silver screen.

The company was American, but all the DeLoreans were built in a plant in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the dollar was weak to the pound then, and that drove the price up.

“Sales just weren’t where they expected them to be,” said Mr. McElhattan, a DMC 12 expert. “In October of ’82, John DeLorean was arrested on drug charges, and that really closed the factory.”

Regardless, the dealership wanted to keep one DeLorean for themselves, maybe to see if it went up in value, Mr. McElhattan said. Then in ’91, they decided to part with it. Dick, then in his late 50s, bought the car in mint condition.

A view of the DeLorean barn find's front grille. (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)
A view of the DeLorean barn find's front grille. (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)
A rear view of the DeLorean barn find. (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)
A rear view of the DeLorean barn find. (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)

“He just thought it was an interesting car,” Mr. McElhattan said. “He said that he really liked the look of it.

“He really just never drove it much.

“After having it for a few years, he kind of wondered why he bought it because he wasn’t much of a car guy.”

So, time passed.

One decade turned into three and the car got neglected as Dick got older. It was stored it in a dusty barn, those mint factory tires went flat, and the rims sank into the ground. Then—you know how it goes—a nephew comes along to help his uncle sell the barn clutter. That nephew was Mark.

Mark contacted DeLorean Midwest in September and, low and behold, another DeLorean had emerged from the mists of time—one of only 9,080 ever made.

The DeLorean barn find exhibits its gullwing doors. (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)
The DeLorean barn find exhibits its gullwing doors. (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)
Mr. McElhattan and Mr. Thomas sit in the DeLorean barn find in early October; (Inset) The DeLorean's original license plate. (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)
Mr. McElhattan and Mr. Thomas sit in the DeLorean barn find in early October; (Inset) The DeLorean's original license plate. (Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)

After exchanging offers and counteroffers with Mark, Mr. McElhattan and Mr. Thomas were only too happy to compensate Dick for the find. They brought it back to the shop. They would air it out and try turning the engine.

Mr. McElhattan posted about the new discovery on their YouTube channel, “DeLorean Nation,” where they have made DeLoreans into full-blown aftermarket “time machines.” And another discovery was made.
(Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)
(Courtesy of Michael McElhattan)

“The original owner’s son recognized the plate and said, ‘I think that might be my dad’s car,’” Mr. McElhattan said. “Kevin shared the VIN number with him.” The former owner confirmed the mileage and even sent the original bill of sale from 1991 that mentions Dick.

It was almost like traveling back to the future.

Now, DeLorean Midwest has big plans to fully restore and promote this barn find. It’s already stirred a media buzz. The restoration should take a year.

When asked why DeLoreans have endured timelessly in the hearts of so many, Mr. McElhattan said, “They’re instantly recognizable and just put a smile on your face.”

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Michael Wing is a writer and editor based in Calgary, Canada, where he was born and educated in the arts. He writes mainly on culture, human interest, and trending news.