(CNN) — If you’ve seen the new DeLorean Alpha5 electric car, you might be disappointed that it doesn’t look much at all like the famous DeLorean DMC-12 from the “Back to the Future” movies. Really, other than the gullwing doors, there’s not much that clearly ties the cars together.
But the Alpha5, which made its public debut recently, does resemble some DeLoreans you might not remember because none of them were ever actually made.
It’s one thing to buy the DeLorean name, put it on some new vehicle and declare it an “official DeLorean.” But the DeLorean DMC-12 was an icon of modern design. Its successor should not just bear the DeLorean name, it should look like a DeLorean, too.
But after 40 years, what should a DeLorean look like? Surely it should at least somewhat resemble the DMC-12 that starred in the movies, but the car company went bankrupt before the first film even debuted. So the company’s designs didn’t evolve over the following decades the way those of other car brands did. Ironically, the “Back to the Future” car remained firmly stuck in the past. To imagine what today’s DeLorean would look like, the company’s new designers had to fill in a nearly 40-year gap.
They wanted to imagine what DeLoreans would have looked like if everything hadn’t stopped. To do that, they’ve filled in some rather large gaps in the timeline, starting with the future the original automaker had envisioned for itself.
As it turns out, the Alpha5’s progenitor really wasn’t the DMC-12. Instead, the Alpha5 traces its roots back to DeLorean’s second car: the four-seat DMC-24, a car the new designers didn’t just make up.
Having gone out of business in 1982, the original DeLorean Motor Company never produced the DMC-24, but it was in development. ItalDesign Giugiaro, the Italian design firm that crafted the angular, bare metal form of the DMC-12 had gotten as far as crafting a concept car version before DeLorean went under. The DMC-24 was ultimately unveiled later in 1982, in slightly modified form, as the Lamborghini Marco Polo concept car.
Then, of course, there are all those other cars ItalDesign helped develop for DeLorean over the next 40 years. There was the Alpha2, revealed in 1996, the Alpha3 of 2006 and, the Alpha4, a hydrogen-powered SUV unveiled in 2013.
OK, not really. The new DeLorean once again turned to ItalDesign, now a subsidiary of Volkswagen Group, to design its new cars and, together, they decided to create a detailed fictional design history for the brand.
None of those vehicles — Alpha2 through 4 — ever existed, but DeLorean executives and ItalDesign’s designers speak of them as if they did. There are one-quarter scale models of all these cars. There will be period car magazines with these “just revealed” models on the cover. There’s Hot Wheels packaging designed by Mattell graphic designers in the correct style for each period just as if the toys had hung on drug store racks back in the day. (Hot Wheels really is selling a model DeLorean Alpha5.)
The new DeLorean Motor Company and its partners at ItalDesign aren’t trying to fool people. Anyone who has been alive for much of the last 40 years knows these vehicles never existed. But just going back to a car from 1982 to design a modern vehicle would have left the company trapped with a “retro” look that could really only be applied to one model, CEO Joost de Vries said. So designers made up a history as a way of freeing themselves from the constraints of the actual history.
The process of creating different vehicles helped designers figure out the key elements of DeLorean’s “design language,” such as a subtle front wing. It was modeled on the strip of darker material across the nose of the DMC-12 but turned into a functional aerodynamic feature. The Alpha4, the SUV, will serve as a model for DeLorean’s next planned model after the Alpha5, an electric SUV.
A darker reality, and the birth of a new DeLorean
This faux history looks promising but DeLorean’s real history was far darker. It stands as a warning to any number of new automotive start-ups, including the new DeLorean, about how badly wrong things can go and how quickly. After only barely starting production, DeLorean went into liquidation shortly after its founder, former General Motors executive John DeLorean, was arrested on drug charges in a videotaped sting operation. He was later acquitted, but the company, which had been struggling anyway, didn’t survive.
DeLorean’s assets were purchased by a Texas mechanic named Stephen Wynne, along with other undisclosed investors. Wynne’s company built a reputation maintaining and repairing DeLoreans. The initial plan was for the new DeLorean company to make electric versions of the original DMC-12 but, in the last several years a much bolder plan was hatched.
The new DeLorean Motor Company was formed, with Wynne’s original company as the biggest investor, to make all new electric vehicles. De Vries, who formerly worked with Tesla and Karma Automotive, another EV startup, leads the company, and a new headquarters building is planned in San Antonio.
For the time being, there will be no DeLorean factory, de Vries said. The company will work with an outside company to build the cars, de Vries said, just as the start-up Fisker is doing with its new Ocean SUV. The Alpha5 is planned as a limited edition. Only 9,531 will be made, just one more than DeLorean built of the DMC-12. The company expects those cars to be in production some time in 2024.
“The coupe is our halo car,” said de Vries. “It’s awesome. It’s the purest interpretation we have of the brand, but we need to get to the SUV if we’re going to become a car company.”
That was a big part of the reason for a made-up history. DeLorean needed a design heritage to draw on, he said, in order to stretch those more evolved themes into vehicles that might not have even been envisioned in 1982. De Vries expects to reveal a new DeLorean full-sized luxury SUV in early 2023.
“We’re actually launching our second generation SUV,” de Vries said, “because we did have an SUV in 2013.”
Well, not really, but designers will be working from the Alpha IV to derive the company’s future production SUV. After the radical looking Alpha5, de Vries promises, the big SUV won’t be conservative and constrained.
“We can’t afford to have a brick,” he said.
DeLorean also unveiled two concept vehicles at the house in Monterey, California, where the company was showing off its first planned production model. One, the Alpha5 Plasmatail, is version of the Alpha5 with a higher back end for more storage space. The other, the Omega, is an extreme off-road EV with huge tires and a slender body high off the ground.
DeLorean’s designers have filled in the past and are looking far into the future. For now, the present remains a work in progress.
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