Wooler Hodec were the company selected to develop a right-hand drive configuration DeLorean DMC-12 for the UK and European markets.
They were assigned a number of the early black cars for development purposes and set about the task of modifying a standard left-hand drive car to make it compliant with UK specifications and of course, the custom work involved in making the cars into right-hand drive.
This section of the website provides an overview of this phase of the DeLorean project, and highlights a few example of right-hand drive DeLoreans that PJ Grady Europe have worked on.
During our research into the right-hand drive DeLoreans, we also list just a few of the challenges faced by Wooler Hodec during the conversion process, and we answer the question - why do the British drive on the 'wrong' side of the road!
As the DeLorean DMC-12 cars were rolling off the production line in Dunmurry, John DeLorean was contemplating the potential markets for the car. Predominantly the car was intended for the US market, although the appeal of the cars design and unique features meant that it could be marketed anywhere. However, DeLoreans first consideration was Europe.
With many of Europes nations driving on the right-hand side of the road (as in the US), the configuration changes between the standard specification DMC-12 and European specification were unlikely to be major.
However, DeLorean saw that a significant marketplace was the United Kingdom one of the few nations to drive on the left-hand side of the road, with right-hand drive configured cars.
The reason why the UK continues to drive on the left-hand side is historic and dates back to the early nineteenth century when all travel was by horse and carriage. As carriage drivers were predominantly right-handed, the UK laws at the time declared that they should drive on the left-hand side of the road to avoid accidentally whipping any unsuspecting pedestrians with their driving whips! This meant that the whipping hand was always furthest away from the pedestrian walkways. However, Napoleon Bonaparte, the renowned French military commander, was left-handed. From his perspective, carriage drivers should drive on the other side of the road (the right-hand side), as he would himself. This belief was rigorously imposed on all countries that Napoleon conquered during his military career. Other nations merely adopted driving on the left for their own convenience.
Ultimately, Napoleon was unable to defeat the British, losing to Admiral Nelson at the battle of Waterloo in 1815. Thus the British continued their tradition of driving on the left-hand side of the road much to the amusement of our European neighbours.
That aside, DeLorean knew that in order to sell DMC-12s into the United Kingdom would mean producing a right-hand drive configuration of the car. Responsibility for this project was allocated to Chuck Bennington, the DeLorean Motor Cars managing director.
The choices posed to Bennington were to either build right-hand drive models, or to perform a post-production conversion exercise.
Given the cost of new body moulds, tooling and a host of specific parts that a factory build right-hand drive configuration would require, Bennington opted to investigate the idea of a post-production conversion.
They selected a small company called Wooler Hodec, who were based in Andover, Hampshire on the South coast of England. Wooler Hodec had previously undertaken other projects for General Motors, including converting Jeeps to right-hand drive, and were ideally placed to undertake a prototyping exercise for the right-hand drive conversion program.
As the project was merely an exercise in prototyping to see if the idea was feasible and cost-effective, John DeLorean did not want to sacrifice any of the production DMC-12 cars, as each of these were saleable assets of the company. In much the same way as donor cars were selected for Legend Industries and the twin turbo project, DeLorean selected to use a collection of black cars or early models which were not intended for sale to the public.
The Black Cars
The black cars are so called as they were often without stainless steel panels. They were used by the Dunmurry factory as test beds for the development of new production methods and test runs. In some cases this included testing the stainless steel for dent durability, among other things.
The fibreglass tubs of the black cars were fairly bad, as they too were early attempts before the quality was finally established for the production runs. The under bodies were produced using a technique called VARI, which essentially means two shells separated by foam being compressed together, with resin injected as a hardener. Once the resin hardens, the units become extremely strong and most importantly, lightweight.
Unfortunately, against the advice of Lotus, who had used this technique with great success for their own range of sports cars, the DeLorean production methods decided to try and speed up the hardening process by heating the bodies in an oven. This caused the resin to dry at varying rates, causing the body sections to contract in places resulting with inconsistent units.
This is evident when trying to fit stainless panels to the cars, as it is very difficult to get a neat fit when the tub itself is not uniform. This is not too dissimilar from some of the early 500 VIN cars, where there is sometimes a noticeable gap between the windshield and the dash.
So, a series of black cars were shipped to Wooler Hodec for the project, and the company was also given the contract for disposing of any unusable body tubs all of which were either crushed, or set alight in a bonfire in the adjacent field. In the background of the picture below, you can see the red grabber unit used to lift the DeLoreans into the crushing machine. Apparently this machine was covered with DMC badges representing all of the DeLoreans it had crushed.
The Wooler Hodec prototyping was performed in three waves.
Firstly, a small number of test cars were produced primarily to assess the extent of the work. Each of these cars was equipped with a manual transmission, and had black interior upholstery. A few of these cars survive today, and one has been exported to Australia where it is law that all cars MUST be right-hand drive.
The second batch of cars were more complete, and were equipped with European specification fittings including light fittings, side indicators, removal of catalytic converter and so on. These cars were all registered as test vehicles by the Dunmurry factory, and all bore the registration prefix AXI. Some of these cars were assigned to DMC executives for use in Ireland, although it is questionable how much they were actually used.
Of the 20 cars planned for this batch, only 12 were completed as the company went bust halfway through the project.
The final batch of conversions were completed in the Dunmurry factory and all had manual transmissions with black interior upholstery with one exception VIN 12175, which is the only factory authorised right-hand drive black automatic. These cars were all registered with the prefix SIJ.
In total, around twenty authorised right-hand drive conversions were carried out, and the work that Wooler Hodec undertook in each conversion was extensive including:
Custom steering rack and pedal configuration.
Modifications to body tub, to move pedals to right side and to fill the void on the left side.
New remodelled dashboard and carpets
Moving of electrical system
Moving of heater matrix and air conditioning unit
Moving of handbrake
Resetting of windscreen wipers and fittings
Installation of 140mph speedometer (some were kph)
Installation of Euro spec lights
And many other changes
Sadly, the idea of producing right-hand drive DMC-12s never got further than the prototype stage as the DeLorean business folded.
Wooler Hodec ceased trading sometime afterwards.
A handful of independent right-hand drive conversions have been performed, One to note is a car that featured in the TV program 'For the Love of Cars' this car was RHD converted around 1990 to varying degrees of success and quality although not being factory authorised, it does not hold the same value or rarity value as the Wooler Hodec models.
Understandably, the authorised right-hand drive DeLoreans are quite rare, and when they do occasionally come up for sale, they attract a premium price tag against a standard left-hand drive model.