DeLorean: A Man, a Car, a Deal Gone Wrong

"DeLorean DMC-12 (15704582713)" by jeremyg3030 - DeLorean DMC-12. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons -
A DeLorean DMC-12 (Photo by jeremyg3030 via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1981, the first DeLorean DMC-12 rolled off the production line.

Here are some things you may not have known about the car made famous as the time machine in “Back the the Future.”

Company founder John DeLorean was well known for his work at General Motors. He designed the Pontiac GTO, Firebird and Grand Prix, and the Chevy Vega. He was promoted to head the Chevrolet division and eventually was made Vice President of production of General Motors cars and trucks.

However, he didn’t fit the conservative mold of most General Motors executives and eventually parted ways with the company in 1973.

DeLorean formed the DeLorean Motor Company in 1975.

DeLorean had early investments from entertainers such as Johnny Carson, Roy Clark and Sammy Davis Jr. He also raised money by having car dealers buy shares in the company. This wasn’t enough money to start a car company from scratch, however.

DeLorean approached several governments with the promise of building the cars in their country in exchange for massive incentives and tax breaks. Places which expressed initial interest included Ireland and Puerto Rico. Eventually, DeLorean struck a deal with the British government to build the cars in then-economically depressed Northern Ireland.

DeLorean built six buildings to house his company on the outskirts of Belfast. Many of the workers were inexperienced, which led to quality issues, especially in early models.

The car, famous for its stainless steel shell and gull-wing doors was powered by a six-cylinder engine developed by Peugot, Renault and Volvo. The initial sticker price for the DMC-12 was $25,000, about $70,000 today.

The underpowered engine, lack of personalization options and less-than-sterling quality led to weaker-than-expected sales. This, combined with high costs and lousy exchange rates hurt the company’s cash flow.

A reorganization centered on a stock offering was derailed by U.S. government questions about the company’s viability. The British government refused to help further unless DeLorean found matching funds from private investors.

In an attempt to scrounge up private investment, John DeLorean became the target of an FBI sting operation focusing on drug traffickers. He was arrested in October 1982 on charges of conspiring to smuggle $24 million worth of cocaine into the United States. DeLorean was famously videotaped talking with undercover FBI agents about the drug deal. DeLorean was eventually acquitted, after it was revealed that the FBI agents originally approached him as legitimate investors.

However, the case permanently tarnished his reputation.

The DeLorean Motor Company went bankrupt in 1982 after producing just 9,000 vehicles.

John DeLorean retired to New Jersey, where he continued to fight legal cases regarding his company into the 1990s. In 1999, he declared personal bankruptcy and was evicted from his home. He died following a stroke in 2005 at the age of 80.

In 2007, a company that purchased the parts that remained following the bankruptcy announced it would sell like-new versions of the DMC-12 for $57,000.

Our question: What speed did the DeLorean in “Back to the Future” need to reach to travel through time?

Today is Flag Day in Quebec. It’s National Hug Day and National New England Clam Chowder Day. It’s the birthday of comedian Benny Hill, golfer Jack Nicklaus and singer Placido Domingo.

40 years ago in 1976, the top song in the U.S. was “I Write the Songs” by Barry Manilow; the No. 1 movie was “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” while “Bring on the Empty Horses” by David Niven topped the New York Times Nonfiction Bestsellers list.


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