A production designer and illustrator in the film business since 1987, Michael Borthwick relied on his vehicles to get him to work for the extremely early and very late hours typical of the industry. Alternating between a sports car and more practical vehicles, he’s been known to drive everything from an Envoy, an Acadia to a Firebird.
While he currently counts on a Chevrolet Camaro SS as his daily driver, it’s the cars he drives sparingly that attract the most attention. Besides a vintage Corvette, Borthwick owns a 1983 DeLorean DMC-12 (Canadian edition) which he picked up in 2005. It has appeared on set if a director wants to use it in a music video or fashion shoot with a retro theme. His car has also been a part of the Official DeLorean Owners of Canada (ODOC) convoy that’s appeared in Toronto’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade for the past decade. According to Borthwick, his DeLorean has even won trophies at car shows by just showing up.
While the DeLorean has a massive draw for those in the film business or fans of science fiction, Borthwick had different reasons for his purchase. He tells us what he loves most about his vehicle.
“I guess I was about 45 when I decided I wanted an older car that I could restore, something that would preserve a bit of history,” said Borthwick.
“I started looking and kept seeing variations of the same theme – Mustangs, Corvettes, Chevelles – and wanted something that was completely different. I looked at a Lotus because I like the old ‘James Bond’ movies, but heard they’re kind of problematic, and you’d need to have a lot of mechanical experience. Then I remembered the DeLorean. After two years of looking for one, I found it in the Autotrader at this little place in Vaughan (which has gone out of business).
“I was the second owner of the car. I later found out is what’s known as a Canadian spec car. Of the 9,200 DeLoreans made only 88 were made specifically for Canada. Some feel they’re pretty much the same car, but the nice thing is they’re made later in the production run, where a lot of the bugs had been worked out.
“I’m a member of the ODOC and we’re quite active in locating these super rare DeLoreans. It’s kind of like finding the lost Canadians, right? We’ve found about 50 of them worldwide.”
Asked about the modifications or restoration work he’s done on his vehicle, Borthwick confesses he’s kept it as close to original as possible.
“I tried to keep it really stock,” said Borthwick. “There’s absolutely nothing that you can see that was not as it would have been in 1983. I even have a working old cassette radio and the last set of matching Goodyears – the tires are different sizes! The front tires on a DeLorean are smaller than the back tires, which is fun. It was in very good shape when I got it. The original owner told me he drove it like a boat, meaning only in the summer and only on weekends.
“There were a couple of dents in the stainless steel that weren’t too noticeable, but I wanted to have fixed. Plus – this is kind of funny – when the cars were shipped here (from Ireland where they were manufactured), the suspension was too high. They thought that a full tank of gas plus a little bit of gravity would push down the front and back end of the car, but the shocks were too strong, so the DeLorean was sitting about two or three inches higher than engineering specs. Even though it wasn’t technically how a DeLorean should be from factory, I wanted to lower the car to its intended height. This was before Wells Auto was around, so I had to take it down to Chicago to get fixed, which was a pain, and obviously it was in good enough shape for the nine-hour drive.
“You can’t avoid having a DeLorean and not have people talking to you about ‘Back to the Future,’” said Borthwick. “Mine’s just the stock DeLorean – it doesn’t have all the fancy flux capacitors and things on it, but it is the biggest conversation starter. You cannot go anywhere like filling it with gas without people remarking on the fact that they’ve never seen one before, somebody step uncle’s friend’s cousin had one, or shouting ‘Hey, Marty.’
“As a vintage car owner, you’re just the custodian of it and the idea is to keep it as nice as possible until you have to pass it on to the next person. I wish I’d gotten more because the prices for the DeLorean have gone crazy. It’s now $70,000-plus depending on how well the car is kept. It’s outperformed my RRSPs! I’ve also never seen seller’s remorse like this: People who’ve sold their car are looking for another one or asking where theirs is years later.”
This article was edited for space and clarity. Want to be featured in Why I Love My Vehicle? email us at email@example.com.
Renée S. Suen is a Toronto-based lifestyle writer/photographer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @rssuen
A CLOSER LOOK: 1983 DeLorean DMC-12 (Canadian edition)
“What really attracted me to the car was how unique it is,” said Borthwick. “All the history, including the many patents found in that car from folding mirrors to the gull-wing doors, to the torsion bars that lifted the gull-doors.
“I knew that the performance wasn’t what it was hoped to be. It came out at a time where there were all sorts of US government regulations on fuel consumption and they hadn’t really figured out how to compensate cubic inches for fuel injection, so the car is a little under powered. That didn’t really matter much to me because when it goes, it goes, but it doesn’t get there very quickly. But once you get it up to a decent speed, it handles very well. So, if you’re trying to race somebody, you’re not doing the right thing.”
“Since I got the car, I’ve been struck with peoples’ reaction to it,” said Borthwick. “They have the biggest smiles mostly because they’ve never seen it before or never expected to see one. People always confuse it with a Bricklin. Then there’s funny things that people believe about the car – one person even told me it was originally built out of Teflon and all the paints fell off it.
“The little community we have in our ODOC group has been surprising and amazing. It was originally the Ontario DeLorean Owners Club, but it has ballooned. We decided to go national with it and now we have about 200 to 300 people that are either fans or own cars (Ontario is by far the largest group). It’s just an amazing little sense of community that we’ve developed through the cars.”
EMBODIMENT OF THE 80’s
“Even without the movie, the DeLorean has become a symbol of the 1980’s,” said Borthwick of the mid-80’s sports car. “It’s what the general public thinks of and it’s very much a symbol of the time. It’s the first car with folding mirrors, and they all look the same. When the ODOC get together, it takes a little time for us to figure out whose is whose. It’s pretty funny actually; you need to know what to look for. Besides three different kinds of hoods, it’s the subtle changes someone’s done to their car or their licence plate.