Meet the man who runs Canada's only DeLorean repair shop
There are about 200 of the iconic 1980s vehicles in Canada, says Justin Sookraj
Justin Sookraj knows that his repair shop for DeLoreans isn't a great business model.
"I don't recommend it," the 39-year-old owner of Wells Auto said with a laugh.
In fact, he didn't plan to service DeLoreans when he took over his uncle's used car lot in Guelph, Ont., leaving behind a corporate job at Mercedes-Benz. And when friends asked him to work on their DeLoreans, he turned them down.
"I'd always sort of shied away from it, saying, 'Guys, I'm not a shop ... I'll break my car all day long but until I'm a business ... or if I'm a business, then I will,'" said Sookraj, who owns two DeLoreans himself.
But when he relented, his business grew so quickly he had to find an assistant and move to a new location in Milton, Ont. Now, he's quite happy with his small, but dedicated, client base, he told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.
The DeLorean DMC-12 sports car, with its distinctive silver exterior and gull-wing doors, became a pop culture icon after its role as Doc Brown's time machine in the 1985 film Back to The Future.
But the beloved vehicle's past is rife with challenges and controversy.
Its underpowered engine coupled with a high price led to slow sales. After producing just 9,000 cars, the company went bankrupt in 1982, despite several bailout attempts. That same year, the company's playboy founder John DeLorean was charged with drug trafficking, but later exonerated.
The remaining cars were sold off to an American liquidator and sold below list price. It's estimated that about two-thirds still exist.
For Sookraj, that narrative is all part of its allure.
"It has an appeal to it beyond its movie fame because of the history behind it, but also its uniqueness. Nothing else looks like this on the road."
There are only a handful of DeLorean shops in North America, with dedicated garages across the U.S.
In Canada, Sookraj's shop is a lifeline for the owners of what he estimates to be a couple hundred DeLoreans across the country.
Designed to be an "ethical" sports car — built with sturdy, stainless steel body panels and fuel-efficient engines — many are still in good condition.
With the oldest models nearing four decades of service, more and more DeLoreans are making their way to Sookraj's shop for work, but not necessarily for the reasons one might expect.
According to Sookraj, the cars can be a magnet for collisions, likely thanks to leering drivers who take their eyes off the road. In the past year, six customers came to his shop with fender benders.
"Defensive driving is an absolute must," he said, adding that DeLoreans seem to attract a different kind of attention than other classic cars, thanks to the film role.
"People are a little bit more — how can I put this? — hands-on with the vehicle than they necessarily need to be of somebody else's property," he said.
Love at first sight
Sookraj understands the curiosity, though. It was Back to The Future, after all, that sparked his own love for the car.
When he was nine years old, he and his father drove past a car dealership in Toronto. Out front was a DeLorean.
At the time, he thought the car was nothing more than a prop from the film.
"When I saw that it was a real car and asked my dad more about it, you know, I had to have one," he said.
Eight years later, he bought his first, dilapidated DMC-12. It needed more work than he expected, however, and he returned it after a few days.
Years later, he had a second chance when he met a fellow enthusiast — and convinced him to sell his car.
"We hung out in his driveway for three nights and after driving the car a bit, just talking cars, he's like, 'You know what? If I'm going to sell the car I'm going to sell the car to you,'" Sookraj recalled.
Beyond his shop, Sookraj's love for the DeLorean motivated him to start a Toronto car show dedicated to '80s and '90s makes and models.
'Going up in value'
Sookraj estimates the costs for repairing a DeLorean aren't far off from repairing other vintage cars of the era.
Acquiring the necessary parts has been pricey lately, thanks to the U.S.-Canada exchange rate, since he buys most of them from the DeLorean Motor Company south of the border and other overseas vendors.
Even if the customer base for his business is small, the shop is doing well — and knowing that these DeLoreans are coming in for far more than an oil change suggests there's room to grow.
"Every single vehicle, no matter how nice, is on what I call a restoration schedule because they all need something," he told Bambury.
Sookraj now regularly does frame-off restorations — where the entire body of the car is removed and parts are rebuilt — at his shop.
He expects to do plenty more in the coming years in hopes of keeping the last of the DeLoreans on the road.
"Doing so as a business means making sure that people understand that the cars are going up in value and will require work, money and parts to continue that way."
"This era is skyrocketing."
To hear the full interview with Justin Sookraj, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.
- In the radio version of this story, it's stated that Justin Sookraj saw his first DeLorean at age nine in the early 2000s. In fact, the year was 1989.Jun 08, 2019 11:29 AM ET