DeLorean Upgrades

Reading this week:

  • Politics in Africa: A New Introduction by Nana K. Poku and Anna Mdee

So as I have mentioned before, I own a DeLorean. DeLoreans are the most amazing car ever made, but also they have some design flaws. Plus, they’re all about 40 years old now, so they’re bound to have some quirks. A common one is a voltage leakage somewhere in the car, which means that if you leave the car alone long enough, you’ll come back to a drained battery, which sucks. Since I only ever drive the thing about once a week, I have long had installed a battery disconnect, so that when I park it I disconnect the battery.

This is pretty straightforward and easy. The battery compartment in the DeLorean is actually in the interior, behind the passenger seat. So the usual thing I do is sit down in the driver’s seat, reach over, move the passenger seat forward, reach into the battery compartment, and connect or disconnect the battery. It is a perfectly fine solution. Except that, you know, it probably takes a solid five seconds or something to do, and you wind up putting your arm at a weird angle, which, like, come on. So I decided there was a better solution. I started poking around for different battery disconnect solenoids I could find in the internet, before discovering that DeLorean Parts Northwest already had a kit put together. So I bought that.

The center console with one of the dummy switches removed. The two switches on the driver’s side are for the windows, though the switch for the passenger window is actually supposed to be right next to the passenger’s seat. It got moved by a shop I hired to install a new radio but who subsequently wound up breaking the gear shifter. That’s just how DeLorean repair typically goes, but the switch position has been bothering me for years now and the other thing I wanted to do today was put it back.

What they sent me is what is pictured up top. You got the solenoid, a chunk of battery wire, a toggle switch that’s already wired up, another thing for continual 12V power I didn’t wind up using, and some connectors and stuff. The kit is advertised in part as a security device – the toggle switch is supposed to be hidden somewhere, so a would-be thief wouldn’t actually know how to get the car started. I decided against that. The center console of the DeLorean, you see, has five switches… or so it appears. Two of the switches are for the windows, one is for the rear window defroster, and two of the buttons are just fake. They’re “dummy switches,” just for decoration. They do, however, just scream to be used, so I wanted to put the toggle switch in place of one of those. My initial idea was to get like a super cool red toggle switch thingy, but then I got a better idea to try to 3D print a switch cover that looks like the other DeLorean switches, but housed the toggle switch for the kit. So I learned how to do 3D cad for the first time and bashed this together:

Getting it printed was a whole different adventure. The number of 3D printers I don’t have access to right now is frankly astounding. I bought my dad one years ago, but my parents are moving and his is in storage. Yale has a center with 3D printers, but it is currently closed for COVID. New Haven Free Public Library also has 3D printers, and they are also closed. There are all the online services, but they were more expensive than I thought they would be, so turns out our local print shop in fact has 3D printer services, but the 3D printing guy was on vacation when I called, and when he showed back up, they were out of black filament, so I had to wait another week. Really frankly astounding.

Anyways. It was almost time to rip the car apart. But first, shopping! It was pretty impressive, if I say so myself, the level of stereotypical manliness that went into the Saturday morning when I did this. First I climbed into my 80’s sports car and drove to the hardware store, where I bought some connectors and some tools. Then I drove to the autoparts store, where I bought more parts for my sports car. Then I drove home, and started working on my sports car.

Stuff I bought so I could do this install. Buying small amounts of wire is annoying and expensive.

I actually approached the process with a large amount of trepidation. I am very good at taking the car apart, and not so good at putting it back together. Some things I have gotten good at via repetition, such as replacing the thermostat, and one time I did an alternator belt change in the nuke school parking lot while wearing my uniform. Of course, there was that time back in high school that I would up shattering the window and then drove to my girlfriend’s place just so I could cry on her shoulder. True story. But today went pretty well!

The first step (after taking out the battery) was to install the new solenoid in the battery compartment. For that I had to drill some holes in the fiberglass of the battery compartment. I was worried about that both because drilling random holes in the car feels dangerous, especially around electrical stuff, and also didn’t have a drill, which made it harder, lemme tell ya. But I got it installed with the provided bolts, so that worked. Then I had to take off the center console, made significantly simpler by following the instructions in the official DeLorean repair manual I purchased. I could have been smarter about where I put my bolts and screws, but in the end I got them all back in the right spot (pretty sure). The parts on my DeLorean don’t fit the greatest after 40 years of amateur repairs, but the people in the Lowe’s parking lot today thought it looked pristine, so I guess it’s fine.

Tools, phone for listening to podcasts, and repair manual.

The next step was measuring out the wire and then attaching the connection hardware. I repurposed the engine cover as a workbench. Hopefully I didn’t lose any little parts into the engine or anything. This all went perfectly fine which was nice, and then I really just had to attach everything up after running the wires into the right spot. I took the opportunity to clean some dust out so that was good. I didn’t do anything fancy with the wire runs; they just wound up snaking into the battery compartment through the normal battery compartment opening, and are hidden by the interior fabric that just flaps down in that spot. So you can’t see anything unless you dig and I didn’t have to fret about putting more holes in the car.

At this point I did a test by connecting the battery back up, and it worked great! You flip a switch, the solenoid gives a satisfying “thunk,” and then the car can operate or it can’t. Very neat! I disconnected the battery wire again, and managed to get the center console back together, only temporarily putting the gear shifter through the tear in the leather caused by the gear shifter getting pushed through the leather last time the center console was reassembled. I cleaned everything up, put my now very scattered tools away, and the day was complete, with no crying! This is a feat for me!

And now, before and after shots!

Battery compartment before:

Battery compartment after:

Center console before (you already saw it but here it is again):

And center console after:

Ain’t it a beauty????


Okay when I wrote the rest of the above I didn’t actually have my little button cover yet. I just got it today and installed the sucker, and um, well I’m happy with it, but it could be a lot better. So turns out I messed a few things up. First off I had planned on just ramming through a piece of a paperclip as the hinge, figuring the PLA of the print would be easy to melt through. And it was! But what was not easy was getting anything resembling an actual hinge to work, and I quit before I completely melted the thing. I also didn’t actually measure the hole it was supposed to be mounted into, and just measured one of the dummy switches, which was a mistake because turns out the dummy switch is designed the way it is because the hole was smaller than I thought it was, not because they were cheap on plastic, so I wound up having to chop off a chunk of it using a kitchen knife heated up with a grill lighter. This is the detritus of all those efforts:

After all that, turns out I chopped off the bits not quite center (because like, I was using a kitchen knife heated with a grill lighter) and so when I installed it into the center console it didn’t quite fit center, so the actual button itself is no longer flush with the level of the button housing. At this point, I was just happy the button itself went into the button cover rather nicely:

These pictures taken before I had chopped off all the necessary bits; doesn’t it look nice though?!

Overall I am pretty happy with the project. It is functional and it looks pretty nice actually. I mean, clearly it was printed out of PLA and boshed in there, but I think the power symbol on top of the button housing turned out really well. And it mostly sticks on there, despite the lack of hinge. The advantage of 3D printing is of course rapid prototyping, and I have all sorts of ideas of how to make it better, but printing this one cost me $37 because I don’t own my own printer. I am considering changing that. We shall see.