CRYSTAL LAKE – At a climatic moment in the 1985 film “Back to the Future,” main character Marty McFly frustratingly tries to restart his time-traveling DeLorean after the car’s engine suddenly died.
McFly’s mentor, Doc Brown, is working to connect the cables and harness the lighting that would strike the courthouse in the fictional town of Hill Valley and generate the 1.21 gigawatts needed to send McFly from 1955 to 1985.
Fearing the implications of being stuck in the 1950s, McFly turns the ignition multiple times to no avail. Out of frustration, McFly bangs his head on the car horn, and the DeLorean unexpectedly starts. He immediately puts it into drive, striking the cables Doc Brown connected and sending McFly and the DeLorean back to the future.
For the numerous DeLorean owners in today’s world who operate the estimated 6,000 DeLoreans still in existence, they don’t need to resort to head-banging tactics to maintain and fix their iconic cars made famous by the “Back to the Future” trilogy.
Owners in Illinois, the Midwest and even Canada often turn to DeLorean Motor Company – Midwest, an inconspicuous service company located along Lutter Drive in Crystal Lake.
Only one of five DeLorean service shops in the United States, the Crystal Lake business employs a handful of auto technicians to do everything from tune ups to full restoration work strictly on DeLoreans, a long defunct car brand known for its gull-wing doors and unique makeup.
“At heart, it’s an English car with a Japanese air-conditioning system, American electronics in the dash and a French engine,” said DMC – Midwest president David Swingle. “If you work at a regular automotive place, you’re doing maybe nothing but brake jobs and tune ups on a bunch of different cars. Here, we will do everything from changing upholstery to rebuilding engines.”
The service work requires technicians to use a variety of skills to fix and maintain the estimated 80 DeLoreans shipped a year to the Crystal Lake shop from across North America, including areas near New York and Montreal, Canada, Swingle said.
A Motorola engineer for 30 years, Swingle opened the DeLorean service company with his wife, Julee Swingle, along Tek Drive in 2007 before moving the business a few miles east to Lutter Drive in 2012.
David Swingle said he started the business as a “hobby gone wrong,” turning his passion for car restoration into a full-time business. A member of a Midwestern DeLorean club, David Swingle has always been drawn to the unique car, purchasing one in 1997 and restoring it with his son.
There are other DeLorean followers just as fanatic as the Swingles. Boosted by the hit movies, the DeLorean’s lifespan has remained strong well into the 21st Century, fueling enthusiasts’ desire to maintain and preserve the thousands of DeLoreans that remain.
For an invitation-only customer appreciation day on Saturday, the Swingles expect to see at their shop DeLorean owners who range from their early 20s to mid 80s – a consistent trend since the couple opened the business.
“The movies have really broaden the appeal of the DeLorean a lot compared to a normal collector car. ... That has a lot to do with the longevity of the car,” David Swingle said.
But the movies aren’t the only reason for the DeLorean’s popularity. Aside from being asked questions like, “Where is the flux capacitor?”, the Swingles often have to clarify misconceptions about the original DeLorean Motor Company and what happened in the decades after the company went belly up in 1982.
An automobile industry executive, John DeLorean and his company manufactured roughly 10,000 DeLorean models, including the famous DMC-12 sports car, from 1981 to 1983 out of a plant in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
But lack of demand, cost overruns and a drug trafficking investigation into DeLorean all contributed to the downfall of his company, which filed for bankruptcy in 1982. DeLorean was ultimately acquitted of all civil and criminal charges before he died from a stroke in 2005.
Following the company closing in the early 1980s, a company in Columbus, Ohio, acquired the remaining DeLorean Motor Company parts, with the idea of selling them and servicing DeLorean owners.
By the mid 1990s, Stephen Wynne, who owned an independent DeLorean service shop in Houston, Texas, acquired DMC’s original naming rights and the remaining inventory from the Ohio company, according to the company’s website.
Under the name DeLorean Motor Company, Wynne eventually helped open five DeLorean service centers throughout the United States, including the Crystal Lake shop, as consumer demand increased for shops that could restore DeLoreans to showroom quality.
By the early 2000s, Wynne’s DeLorean Motor Company started reproducing parts based off the original inventory his company acquired from Ohio. The five service shops primarily now use reproduced DeLorean parts but also some parts manufactured from the plant in Northern Ireland, David Swingle said.
With a focus on restoration work, the Crystal Lake shop primarily deals with owners who haven’t actively used their DeLoreans on the road for the last 10 to 15 years. The shop reproduces its own DeLorean parts locally and also stores customers’ cars for the winter.
Business has been steady since the Swingles opened shop in 2007. The shop on average services about 25 DeLoreans at one time.
The business also fields requests from typical auto shops, asking for tips on how to service DeLoreans, its rear-end engine, stainless-steel frame and other unique features.
“I can’t tell you how many shops have called us for technical advice or saying, ‘I’m going to have this customer ship this car to you,’” said Julee Swingle. “It’s not that they’re bad mechanics. They just don’t see stuff like this very often.”