The widow of John DeLorean, the automotive impresario who created the short-lived DeLorean DMC-12 sports coupe, has sued Universal Studios over royalties from the film company’s use of the distinctive gull-wing car in its 1980s Back to the Future movie and sequels.
The suit filed in New Jersey claims that the money for using the DeLorean “time machine” in the films has been paid by Universal since before 2005 – when John DeLorean died – to the wrong beneficiary, according to a report in USA Today.
Reaping the rewards has been a Texas company that produces new replica DeLoreans and revamped used models and goes by the name of the DeLorean Motor Co., although it has no connection with John DeLorean or the original company that produced the car.
The widow, Sally DeLorean, says the Texas company and Universal owes her and her family a substantial amount for years of unpaid royalties.
According to the original 1989 agreement, Universal was obligated to pay 5 percent royalties based on all the money made from the films as well as commercial ties-ins and merchandise featuring the DeLorean, which was used as the basis for eccentric scientist Doc Brown’s time machine, a central element of the movies.
The suit says that the Texas company must pay the DeLorean estate all the funds that have come from Universal under the agreement, and that the film company must pay the estate future royalties. The Texas firm has threatened a countersuit claiming that it is the rightful owner of the DeLorean name and the existing contract with Universal.
The lawsuit comes as yet another piece of the colorful history of the DeLorean, the stainless-steel car produced by John DeLorean, who previously had been a flamboyant and innovative engineer and executive with General Motors.
His original DeLorean Motor Company, founded in 1975, built the cars in a factory in Northern Ireland, producing about 9,000 of them until it was shuttered in 1982 after bankruptcy and a notorious episode reputedly involving John DeLorean and a large pile of cocaine, with which he allegedly was trying to save his business.
DeLorean beat the rap for the cocaine caper, but the automaking business was done.
The prevailing opinion is that the DeLorean automobile would have faded into obscurity had it not been for its role in the three highly popular Back to the Future films. In them, the car was decked out in all sorts of faux scientific gear for its role as the vehicle in which Doc could speed into the future or the past.
The movie car struck a resounding chord with movie fans and classic car hobbyists alike, so that in the ensuing years, DeLoreans have taking on a new role as bona fide collector cars.