HomeCar CultureCommentaryDeLorean widow sues for royalties from ‘Back to the Future’ films

DeLorean widow sues for royalties from ‘Back to the Future’ films


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.

Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown and Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly with the DeLorean ‘time machine’ in ‘Back to the Future’ | Universal Studios

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.

John DeLorean with his automotive prodigy | DeLorean Motor Company

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.

A 1981 DeLorean sold for $62,700 at Barrett-Jackson in January | Barrett-Jackson

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.

Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.


  1. There is a much overlooked fact about the DeLorean DMC which was brought to my attention about five years ago when I attended an All Brieetish Meet where I viewed no less than three DMC-12’s (one of which was even signed on the dash by Michael J Fox). After I got over my initial confusion regarding their participation in an All British Meet (they were assembled in Ireland, what a dolt I am), I was further chastised by an owner for referring to the body as being stainless-steel.

    In fact, they are a fibreglass/plastic composite with stainless-steel cladding. Although almost universally referred to as a stainless-steel bodied creation (see reference in above article…), an all stainless-steel body proved to be far too heavy for the underpowered Peugeot power plant. Thus, Delorean specified a lighter plastic/fibreglass body with a thin skin of brushed stainless-steel.

    if you think about it, Doc Brown’s genius aside, how else could you control a flux capacitor across the space time continuum with all that stainless-steel shielding…


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