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History of the DeLorean Motor Company


DeLorean Motor Company logo

DeLorean Motor Company logo

Kristen Hall-Geisler for About.com

The Man, the Myth, the Legend: John Z. DeLorean:

Long before the DeLorean Motor Company got off the ground, its founder John Z. DeLorean was born in 1925 in Detroit, the son of a Ford Motor Company employee. As a young man, DeLorean earned a master's in engineering from the Chrysler Institute, then worked for a while in the Packard research and development department. He moved to GM's Pontiac division, and was made the brand's chief engineer in 1961. A few years later, he was instrumental in creating the Pontiac GTO, and in 1969 he was promoted to head Chevrolet.

Out of the Frying Pan, into the Fire:

While he was top dog at Chevrolet, he was saddled with the 1969 Chevy Vega, "an absolutely disastrous car," according to his autobiography "DeLorean." Despite the horror of the Vega, he was again promoted to head of GM's Car and Truck Group in 1972. DeLorean writes that the ethical and business problems he had with the company had become to big to ignore by the early 70s, and in 1973 he resigned from the General's employ. He became a corporate consultant in order to raise funds to do what he really wanted to do: build his dream car.

DMC-12: Anatomy of a Dream:

In 1974, the John Z. DeLorean Corporation was established, and in 1975 the DeLorean Motor Company came into being. That same year, DeLorean created the Composite Technology Corporation to develop new construction materials, some of which would be used in his dream car.
What would be in that dream car? DeLorean said it should be "fun to drive, safe to operate, and long-lasting." And of course it should have super-cool gullwing doors. And what could be longer-lasting that unpainted stainless steel for the body?

Building the Dream:

DeLorean hired the famed Giorgetto Giugiaro of Ital Design and Colin Chapman of Lotus to assist in creating the DMC-12, and he rented space formerly occupied by Xerox in Manhattan. After looking into Puerto Rico and Ireland as sites for a factory, in he settled on Northern Ireland, which offered the best deal. The factory's opening ceremonies in 1981 attracted IRA protesters, and the first 70-80 cars to roll off the line were so bad they were parked, unfinished, along the fence. DeLorean had to set up correction facilities on the East and West Coasts of the U.S. to fix completed cars before they could be delivered.

If You Build It, They Will Throw Molotov Cocktails at It:

"In hindsight," he wrote, "I can say that going to Northern Ireland was a mistake." It was the middle of the Troubles between Catholics and Protestants, and in 1981, 143 Molotov cocktails were lobbed over the fence, burning down the office and all its paperwork. The facility had to be shut down several times out of concern for safety. Vendors wouldn't visit the war-torn city of Belfast. The exchange rate between the pound and the dollar tanked, meaning his cars were now $25,000 in the U.S. instead of $18,000 like the DMC-12's nearest competitor, the Corvette.

This Is the End:

Despite the setbacks -- and they were major -- there were orders on the books for thousands of DMC-12s. DeLorean tried to ramp production up to 14,700 a year to meet demand, but the cash flow problems were too serious. The DeLorean Motor Company was put into receivership by the British government in 1982, and in his desperation, John Z. pursued questionable sources of funds and ended up in a DEA cocaine bust in October 1982. In 1984, he was found not guilty of all counts against him, but his dream car company was long gone by then, with only about 8500 examples ever completed.

The Happy(ish) Ending:

DeLorean said the dies for building his dream car were dumped in Galway Bay off the coast of Northern Ireland after DMC the company went kaput. But that wasn't the last we'd hear of the DMC-12. In 1985, the car was the star (after Michael J. Fox) of "Back to the Future," where it played a time machine, courtesy of some extra doodads attached to the back. Reaching 88 mph -- not even close to its top speed of 130 -- sent Fox and mad scientist Christopher Lloyd ricocheting around in time. These days, Sports Car Market magazine has the DMC-12 selling at auction for less than its original price, somewhere around $20,000.
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