John DeLorean with DeLorean "Proto 1" |

DeLorean shop steels itself against time

May 22, 2005 | CHICAGO TRIBUNE | by Steven Kurutz, New York Times News Service
John DeLorean with DeLorean "Proto 1" |
In the dim half-light of a Long Island garage, a handful of DeLoreans stand in corners or suspended on hydraulic lifts, their gull-wing doors ajar more than two decades after the DeLorean Motor Co. went bust. Visible through a dusty window to the parking lot, perhaps 20 more DeLoreans, lined up and identical, sit waiting.

This is P.J. Grady’s, a modest gray automotive garage tucked behind a used-car lot in West Sayville, N.Y. As the sign on its roof—DeLorean Motor Cars—indicates, the shop specializes in the repair and restoration of DeLoreans.

It is estimated that around 9,200 DeLoreans were built in the car’s three years of production, 1981-83, and that about 7,000 are left. Of those, a good number have passed through the hands of Rob Grady, P.J. Grady’s owner, who has spent 20 years as one of the world’s few DeLorean experts. DeLorean owners from Maine to Florida send him their cars.

For many years, P.J. Grady’s was about as profitable as an Edsel dealership, but that has changed. The teenagers who saw “Back to the Future” 20 years ago and were fascinated by the film’s time-traveling DeLorean are grown and seeking the low-sweeping coupe. At the same time, the car is approaching its 25th birthday.

Where once values hovered around $17,000, a restored DeLorean now runs close to $30,000.

“In the last five or six years, the values have gone way up,” said James Espey, vice president of the DeLorean Motor Co. in Houston, which bought the rights to the brand and sells restored models.

It was long believed that DeLorean parts could not be found, so many cars were garaged, but Espey’s firm bought the DMC parts inventory. Espey estimates that the company has enough gull-wing doors to last 120 years at the current rate of use, and enough interior carpet to cover a football field twice over. The company opened a second branch near Tampa. And two shops near Los Angeles, DeLorean Motor Center and DeLorean One, serve the West Coast as P.J. Grady’s serves the East.

Of the handful of DeLorean specialists, P.J. Grady’s is the oldest, going back to 1979, when Grady became one of the original DeLorean dealers. For $25,000 he received the right to sell the DMC-12, and a poster of the car autographed by DeLorean, which still decorates his office.

Like many dealers, Grady signed up based on the reputation of DeLorean, who had been an engineering and marketing star at General Motors—in the early 1960s he created the Pontiac GTO. But from the start, his company was besieged with problems, starting with too little capital and the fact that the car, priced at $25,000, made its debut in 1981 in one of the worst economies in recent memory. “The cars were never hot sellers,” Grady said.

Topping it off was DeLorean’s arrest in 1982 for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, still a sore spot with DeLorean enthusiasts. (DeLorean was acquitted after claiming entrapment.) When the company filed for bankruptcy protection that year, Grady continued to honor his customers’ warranties. He found himself doing more and more repair work on DeLoreans, until that was all he did.

Not surprisingly, he has developed an affection for the car, though it is tempered by years of daily involvement. “It’s a good car,” he said.

DeLorean enthusiast Mike Deluca, hovering nearby, said: “Rob is being modest. He’s completely dedicated. I was driving by once, and it was Easter Sunday. It was freezing. Rob was out in the parking lot testing temperature sensors.”

In a far corner of the garage, the P.J. Grady’s mechanic, Pat Tomasetti, stood in blue coveralls beneath a DeLorean on a lift, draining oil. Tomasetti has been repairing and restoring DeLoreans at P.J. Grady’s for 13 years and is accustomed to overzealous fans of the car. He laughed as he recalled the time a Japanese man showed up with his family, saying he had flown to America to visit Disney World and P.J. Grady’s.

The DeLorean Tomasetti was working on had come from Pennsylvania and was set to have its fender replaced, among other repairs. Another DeLorean, its door crunched, needed extensive body work. Outside, dozens more waited, a daunting workload for two men.

I’d like another mechanic, but it’s hard keeping them,” Grady said. “Most guys don’t like doing restoration work. It’s dirty, and there’s also the repetition.”

People who spend time around garages tend to acquire a detailed know-how of car design and mechanics, but DeLorean experts have refined that. Because of its unpainted stainless-steel body, the DMC-12 was available in only one color, silver. Its interior was black leather or gray leather, and the car changed little over its brief production run.

So while the Corvette aficionado has a half-century of paint schemes, body types and options to ponder, the DeLorean lover must be content with trivial changes—the radio antenna on the ’81 models is in the windshield, for example, while on the ’82 it is on the left rear quarter.

Pointing to a model whose license plate read BK2DFUTR, Grady made the indistinguishable cars distinguishable. “We just got this one out of mothballs,” he said. “It sat for four years. The owner decided to sell it. It only has 11,000 miles.”

He continued: “That one over there was in a wreck. Needs a new door.” Then he walked over to a car covered in dust. The passenger window was stuck halfway down, and the seat was given over to orphaned parts. “This is the 530,” he said reverently. “It’s a Legend prototype, Twin Turbo. They only made three of these.”

The 530 is going to be restored as his DeLorean, Grady said, just as soon as he finds the time. “Sometimes you get a little burned out,” he mused, reflecting on the vagaries of being a DeLorean expert. “Then something rejuvenates you.”

Chicago Tribune-Sun - May 22, 2005 |