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The Sad History Behind the DeLorean


The DeLorean DMC-12 became an instant icon in Hollywood automotive history when Back to the Future was released exactly 30 years ago today on July 3, 1985.

And while most people know of the DeLorean thanks to the film, many don’t realize that underneath the flashing lights, extensive wiring, and that super awesome flux capacitor lay a production car that was anything but normal.

The DeLorean DMC-12 was truly one-of-a-kind, and it was the only vehicle ever produced by the DeLorean company.

But as iconic as the car was, it was doomed to have a not-so-Hollywood ending.

The man behind the machine

The DeLorean can be credited back to one man, and one man alone: John DeLorean.

DeLorean was born in the automotive capitol of the world, Detroit, in 1925. In the 1950s he began working as an engineer for the Packard Motor Company, later moving to General Motors (GM), where he developed the Pontiac GTO – a vehicle often described as the first “muscle car.”

He rose quickly through the corporate ranks at GM, eventually becoming the youngest general manager of the Pontiac division.  In only a few years time he would become the youngest head of Chevrolet in history.

Due to his success with GM, DeLorean was naturally well known and respected in the automotive industry. He lived a lavish lifestyle (as one would expect from a man of his caliber) but that lifestyle would eventually lead to his fall from grace.

Rise of the DeLorean DMC-12

DeLorean resigned from GM in 1973 and formed his eponymous company.

His goal was to create his dream sports car, a dream he could not accomplish whilst being inhibited by GM’s ideologies and goals.

Delorean DMC-12

This dream also couldn’t be completed without a considerable amount of money. In all, $175 million was required to get the project into motion. But with the financial help of the British government, as well as celebrities such as Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr. pitching in, he was able to get the project off the ground.

The first prototype DeLorean DMC-12 was completed by American automotive chief engineer William T. Collins (who was formerly chief engineer at Pontiac), but it would be a long and grueling process before the DeLorean was to be set into mass production.

Many of the original plans for the car were deemed unsuitable, and it eventually underwent a complete re-engineering, which Colin Chapman (founder and owner of Lotus) oversaw.

DeLorean DMC-12 Head on photo with doors open ...

Official production of the DMC-12 began in 1981 in DeLorean’s factory in Dunmurry, Ireland.

The DMC-12 was fitted with a PRV (Peugeot-Renault-Volvo) fuel injected V6. Its speedometer maxed out at 85 MPH (which Back to the Future fans may find especially interesting, as the DeLorean time machine needed to hit 88 MPH in order to travel through time).

Its gull-wing doors, unpainted stainless-steel body panels, and rear-mounted engine were definitely not common within the automotive industry, and many considered the car highly unusual.

But if the DeLorean’s appearance didn’t scare potential buyers away, its price sure did. It carried a then-hefty price tag of $25,000.

…& the fall

The financial burden that the DMC-12 took on the DeLorean company eventually became too large for production to continue.

On October 19, 1982, the British government announced the plant would be shuttered.

The burden had fallen hard on John DeLorean as well, who was arrested for drug-trafficking in Los Angeles on that very same day.

DeLorean had been approached by a former drug smuggler turned federal informant several months before his arrest, and the two men engaged in a series of discussions regarding a deal involving cocaine smuggling and money laundering. The hope was that the money from the drug smuggling would save DeLorean’s business.

His trial was highly publicized, and all the while DeLorean maintained that he had been set up by the government. A jury eventually acquitted him in August 1984, but by then the DeLorean motor company was all but a memory.

DeLorean died at age 80 from a stroke on March 19, 2005.

& the rise again?

The DeLorean DMC-12 regained public interest after being showcased in Back to the Future, one year after DeLorean’s acquittal.

It quickly became a collector’s item, and a rare one at that: only about 9000 DMC-12’s were ever produced.

So, perhaps the story did in a strange way have a happy ending. DeLorean may not have created a prestigious car company, but he did create a car that will remain legendary perhaps forever.

Did that outweigh his pain and suffering? Most likely not… but at least the man will always remain a legend and a success in the eyes of Back to the Future fans everywhere.

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