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Great Scott! DeLorean owners love car's moment in spotlight

DeLorean cars parked outside The DeLorean Motor Company

DeLorean cars parked outside The DeLorean Motor Company in Huntington Beach, Calif. on Sept. 10, 2013. Credit: AP

Doc Brown may be fictional, but Long Island has its own set of DeLorean doctors, creating and celebrating new incarnations the futuristic car spotlighted in the "Back to the Future" trilogy.

"The way I see it, if you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?" Brown said in the first film.

Jericho resident Dr. Dave Delman, a Brooklyn physician who also has a master's degree in engineering, and Huntington Station resident Tom Neiland, an electrical engineer, thought the car definitely had style when it came out in 1981.

They met on a DeLorean fan message board in 2002, became good friends and formed what today is the Long Island New York DeLorean Motor Club. They meet Saturdays to talk DeLoreans and help fellow enthusiasts with repairs, even attracting a degree of Internet celebrity in 2007 for building an electric DeLorean.

"I always thought it was kind of a neat car because John DeLorean started his own company," Neiland, 47, said. "When the movie came out, it gained a lot of popularity."

Fans around the country are celebrating Back to the Future Day -- Oct. 21, 2015, the future date characters Marty McFly and Doc Brown reached in their automotive time machine in "Back to the Future II." And for many, the DeLorean is still the futuristic wonder it was when introduced to mass audiences in the 1980s.

Some purists will deny being swayed by "Back to the Future," said Randal Atamaniuk, a vice president of the DeLorean Owners Association and author of "Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History." But even if that's true, he said, the movies cemented the vehicle's status as a pop culture icon.

"I never knew anything about the DeLorean until I saw 'Back to the Future,' " he said. "That's how a lot of us found the car and got to be interested in the car, because of the film."

And perhaps it was the film that saved the DeLorean's reputation, he argues.

The DeLorean Motor Co.'s two-year history was fraught with scandal that led to its demise. John DeLorean became the first American to launch a new car company in decades, setting up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1981. By 1982, the company had folded under the pressure of quality complaints, poor sales and recalls. DeLorean himself was arrested on cocaine trafficking charges. He died in New Jersey in 2005 at 80.

"Because 'Back to the Future' came, you get this totally different positive energy," said Atamaniuk, 36, of Alberta, Canada. "It took this car with a sour reputation and really gave it a major face-lift."

DeLorean's business failure, however, is how West Sayville's P.J. Grady Inc. earned its reputation. The auto shop is one of a few across the country that specializes in DeLorean repairs and it started when owner Rob Grady decided to honor the warranties on the cars even after the manufacturer closed.

"People just kept coming back," said Grady, 57, whom Newsday dubbed the "DeLorean Doctor" in 1987.

A DeLorean doesn't go very fast and it requires special parts, which can be expensive. The steel frame can also be prone to rust. But Delman said some of its design quirks make the car special -- such as the engine's location behind the driver, which can be useful.

"If you want to pick up a pizza, it's great," Delman said. "Put the pizza in the back and it keeps it warm."

The cars range in price, depending on condition, from about $20,000 for one that needs work to close to $80,000 for a showroom-quality vehicle, Grady said. The cars sold new in the 1980s for around $25,000.

Delman said some of the club's gatherings have attracted up to seven DeLoreans. Membership numbers are in the 60 to 70 range.

Delman even appeared in some reality shows, including TLC's "Four Weddings" and "Hard Parts: South Bronx" on the now-defunct SPEED Channel. Recently, he was asked to surprise a groom at a bachelor party. But nothing beats the attention they get driving on the streets of Long Island.

"I get the big thumbs up, people hanging out of the window with the cameras," Delman said. "It's a big draw for sure."


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