Roads? Where Rich Weissensel is going he doesn’t need roads—at least while behind the wheel of his custom DeLorean hovercraft. “You can fly it over just about anything,” the amateur mechanic says gleefully. “I’ve taken it on water, on the beach—the best surface is ice.” He Frankensteined the vehicle in 2002 using a hovercraft air cushion and the stainless steel body of Doc Brown’s preferred automobile. Next March, as union plumbers dye the Chicago River green for Saint Patrick’s Day, Weissensel intends to shoot down the waterway in the craft as part of a yearlong 30th-anniversary celebration of Back to the Future that’s being organized by his club, the DeLorean Midwest Connection.
Robert Zemeckis’s time-travel trilogy is basically Citizen Kane for DeLorean nerds, but Weissensel’s obsession with the iconic 80s car predates the films. As the 50-year-old firmware developer recalls, it was 1977 and he was in junior high in suburban Lyons (where he still resides) and spending his paper route money on auto magazines, one of which carried a story on a concept car with gull-wing doors. It reminded the adolescent of an X-wing from Star Wars. Once he got his driver’s license, Weissensel would drive to Shepard Chevrolet/DeLorean in Lake Bluff on weekends to gaze at the dealership’s stock. He finally bought one in ’85.
Only after the car’s creator, John DeLorean, gave his blessing to Weissensel at the 2000 national DeLorean convention did the hobbyist begin tinkering with custom designs. “As a kid, I always did mashups with model cars, so I had ideas about doing that for DeLoreans,” he says. Aside from the DeLorean hovercraft, Weissensel has pimped the cult-classic ride into a six-door limousine, a roadster (which is topless), a turbo-charged racer, and a monster truck dubbed “D-Rex.” His collection also includes a Back to the Future prop car—an empty, engineless shell that couldn’t get you to Berwyn, let alone transport you back in time.