Photo by Collins Laatsch

Photo by Collins Laatsch

Back in Time

Travis Hoewischer / Aug 2, 2018

Scott Mulhollen stared at the screen in silent disbelief. With only an hour notice, he’d received a tip on an eBay auction too good to be true. As the clock ticked away with only seconds to spare, he made his first and only bid.

He took a moment to let the win sink in, then he picked up the phone to confirm it was all really happening. The stranger who answered seemed somber, then his wife got on the line and was clearly confused. She didn’t even know her husband was selling it.

“Who is this?” she asked again, to which he politely replied, “I’m Scott, the guy who just bought your DeLorean.”
Graciously offering to back out of the sale, Mulhollen learned the car was the couple’s first purchase together when they were wed in 1982 and had been meticulously maintained ever since. But now retired and downsizing, it was time to move on.

“I didn’t have the heart to tell them what I was going to do to their car. You never know how someone is going to react,” he recalled. “So I chose to respect their memories, assuring them I was going to take care of it as lovingly as they had, that it wasn’t going to a chop shop or flipper.”

Mulhollen wasn’t kidding. He loves the car, and has his whole life. But he’s no classic car aficionado or broker of automotive ephemera intent on turning a quick buck.

“You rarely find a car this pristine and well preserved, and never at this price,” Mulhollen explained, whose bid was well above the $28,500 he actually paid. “The guy who owned it before me was an electrical engineer and stripped the entire car and rewired it, because DeLoreans were known for sometimes catching on fire. Collectors want everything original, so I was the only bidder.”

That was hardly the end of the upgrades. It’s taken nearly 30 years and a small fortune to realize the vision of his adolescence. But after months of delays and painstaking modifications, Scott Mulhollen is now the owner of a bona fide time machine.

“I remember sitting in the theater as a kid watching Back to the Future and dreaming about someday owning ‘that car,’” he confessed.

Mulhollen now runs his own self-defense school, which often requires connecting with kids who aren’t always easy to reach. A long-time collector of iconic ’80s memorabilia, his office is more of a museum dedicated to his childhood, from Garfield to Ghostbusters. Not just trinkets either—evertything from autographed animation cells to a legit proton pack. Even his martial arts background and enthusiasm for teaching grew out of his own experience with bullying. He was an actual Karate Kid who defied more than a few naysayers and turned a calling into a career. “When kids come here, it helps to let them know I was just like them,” he explained. “But there was still that one big dream that remained out of reach.”

For those of a certain age, it’s almost impossible to overstate how beloved Back to the Future is as both a personal and pop cultural milestone. I was an exchange student to Japan in the summer of ’86 and my host brother had a bootleg recording of just the audio from Back to the Future he’d played on his Walkman nearly nonstop for a year before I arrived. It’s essentially how he learned English. We’re still in touch, and can still exchange every line of dialogue even decades later.

“When I was initially considering all of this, I knew it had to be a business to make sense, but one that enabled me to share this passion with others and make a positive impact,” he recalled. “With the right combination of private rentals and charity events, I knew I could make it work.”

It cost nearly twice as much to convert the car as he’d paid for it, and it shows. It looks handmade, which it is and as it should. There’s a delicate balance to creating cinematic replicas. Too stingy and it feels cheap. Too polished and it feels mass-produced. Perhaps only the Batmobile is as indelible down to the most exacting detail. Complete with lighting and sound effects, diodes and doodads, Marty McFly himself couldn’t tell the difference.

“When the film’s prop makers were designing the car, they wanted it to look like something Doc Brown could have made in his garage,” he explained. “It took the builder seven months, and even then, he’d have taken another month or two if I let him.”

Once you get past the heavy price tag, the sticker shock gives way to immediate envy.  Plenty of people spend as much or more on a midlife crisis car that no one wants to have over for their birthday party or private gathering. You could have just another Tesla, or you could have a time machine and folks will gladly pay you to come hang out for a few hours.

“My goal is three years to pay off the car, a few big gigs and we’ll get there,” he noted. “The car isn’t really an expense; it’s an investment that holds its value. I could sell it tomorrow and still make money on the deal.”

Delays in the conversion pushed the debut until just after Ready Player One’s premiere—which was unfortunate, but not tragic. Summer commitments like Ohio Comic Con and a recent al fresco screening of Back to the Future at the Gateway Film Center were already booked, and events to raise funds for children’s charities and Parkinson’s research were also in the works. But blockbuster blowouts aren’t the only option to get up close and personal with a piece of the past, or the future.

“I have a woman coming down today from Toledo with her husband to see the car, and he has no idea. Those are the reactions that are priceless,” Mulhollen said. “People get emotional, they get overwhelmed. I’ve had people cry before. Whether you’re a CEO or the guy who operates the forklift. They may be in their forties, but when they sit in this car, suddenly they’re 10 again. It really is a time machine.” •



About time?

New Albany resident brings DeLorean back to future

By Allison Ward
The Columbus Dispatch

Posted Oct 1, 2018 at 5:05 PMUpdated Oct 1, 2018 at 7:49 PM

Scott Mulhollen’s wheels stop people in their tracks.

At a recent fundraiser, passers-by couldn’t help commenting and asking questions about the vehicle, or posing for photographs next to it.

It’s so cool. Man, they did a good job on this.

I saw the trash compactor when I pulled up -- it’s the real deal.

Can you drive it on the highway?

Yes, the 1981 DeLorean -- outfitted like the famed time machine from the “Back to the Future” film trilogy -- can be driven on the highway.

“That’s a real Ohio license plate,” said Mulhollen, though he lamented the fact that the vanity plate, unlike most other details on the car, doesn’t exactly mirror that of its Hollywood inspiration. His reads OTATME; the California plate from “Back to the Future” reads OUTATIME, which already was taken by another Ohio driver.

The visceral reactions that many people have to his car reinforce why Mulhollen decided to track down a DeLorean (made only in 1981 and ’82); have it remodeled in the likeness of the time machine (flux capacitor and all); and launch a business, Ohio Time Machine Rental, to share it with others.

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“People my age -- men -- have sat in this car and cried,” said Mulhollen, 42, a New Albany resident who also owns a self-defense studio. “I did. It’s this fantasy world. We remember pretending to drive this car (as kids) with a pillow and stuffed animals.”

Since May, when he received the car back from his “Back to the Future” expert (the props specialist has built more than two dozen replica time machines), Mulhollen has taken the vehicle to 10 events, from fundraisers and festivals to comic-con events and corporate parties.

He even was hired by a woman to drive her husband around as a birthday present.

“I’m a firm believer there are more ‘nerds’ out there than regular people,” Mulhollen said.

Jon Glass had a fan-boy moment recently when the time machine pulled up to an event for which he was hired as a DJ -- a fundraiser for the Mother Ship, an organization that supports parents of children with special needs.

The “adult prom” at Worthington Hills Country Club was themed “Enchantment Under the Sea,” as was the dance in the first “Back to the Future,” starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd.

“My wife is going to be so jealous I got to see the DeLorean,” said Glass, 37, of Galloway.

The couple rented the second film to watch during one of their first dates and threw a party on Oct. 21, 2015 -- the future date to which the main characters travel in that movie.

As he looked over the car, Glass reveled in the details: the placement of circuits, the dashboard, the fog funneling from the back end. He also loved the props that Mulhollen brought: Nike self-lacing shoes, a hoverboard and more.

“This has to be a labor of love,” Glass said. “It’s not, ‘Oh, let’s make some extra cash.’ You do it because you love the movie.”

Mulhollen acknowledged that the movies -- released in 1985, ’89 and ’90 -- have greatly influenced him.

As a kid, he said, he was bullied and beaten up, leaving him to feel left out, much like Marty McFly (Fox’s character) in “Back to the Future.”

“I had low self-esteem, and I had to immerse myself in my imagination,” said Mulhollen, who grew up in New York and Georgia with divorced parents. “When I saw this movie, I saw that boy -- who was a bit of a troublemaker but didn’t have a lot of friends.”

That, together with the film’s fashions and music, hooked Mulhollen on it.

A decade ago, he had begun collecting pop-culture items that reminded him of his childhood (“Ghostbusters” toys, Lego bricks), he said, but he wanted something more memorable.

For about a year, he said, he researched both the car and the potential market for a rental business in Columbus. An estimated 50 replica time machines can be found throughout the country, Mulhollen said.

For guidance, he tapped DeLorean time-machine owner Adam Kontras, a central Ohio native living in California. To help him secure a DeLorean and have it authentically remodeled, he reached out to props specialist Bruce Coulombe in Oviedo, Florida, near Orlando.

Mulhollen took a call last October from an employee of Coulombe’s saying that he had found a DeLorean on eBay in near-mint condition. With 40 seconds left in the online auction, Mulhollen placed a winning bid. (He wouldn’t divulge the price but said he got a “great deal.”)

Transforming the vehicle into a time machine took about six months.

Since the spring, the car has traveled to Chicago, Michigan and all over Ohio.

Packages start at $250 an hour at Customers cannot drive the car, according to the website: “Due to insurance liabilities we unfortunately cannot have a client drive the car. However, there are special circumstances where a person can drive it a few feet on a private, closed area. This arrangement will need to be discussed during booking.”

Scott Gales hired Mulhollen in May for a semiannual sales meeting for Rocky Brands, a Nelsonville shoe-manufacturing company. Gales and his co-workers performed a skit that centered on the past and future of the company, making the DeLorean an ideal prop.

“It’s a piece of Americana,” said Gales, a vice president and general manager. “It’s a family movie -- and a lot at our convention probably saw it as kids.”

Plus, he said, the movie’s theme still resonates because everyone has moments they wish they could undo.

Mulhollen’s passion for the car and the film, Gales said, was evident.

“He knew every word and knew what buttons to push when we told him what we were doing.”

Mulhollen often arrives to events dressed in a puffy vest and jeans -- a la Marty McFly. He maneuvers revelers into ” ’80s poses” for pictures.

“It’s a wonderful Christmas card photo op,” said Emy Trende, founder of Mother Ship and organizer of the recent “adult prom.”

Most important, Mulhollen wants the experience for those visiting with the time machine to be authentic.

“Physically, the car may not take you back in time,” Mulhollen said, “but, emotionally, it definitely does.

“Nostalgia is strong.”