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John DeLorean with His Automobile. DeLorean made sure his cars looked cool, but even more importantly, he made sure John DeLorean looked cool. When DeLorean first rose to prominence in the 60s he became known as a swaggering bad boy with dyed-black hair, big sideburns, and unbuttoned shirts. As the head of Pontiac, DeLorean became a show-business fixture in Hollywood who dated starlets like Ursula Andress.

Playboy Carmaker John Z. DeLorean

Inventor of the GTO. Father of the DeLorean. Lover. Huckster. Genius.

John DeLorean was a 6′ 4″ automotive superstar. The tall, good-looking guy had it all — wealth, fame, style, success, a fashion-model wife. Father of the GTO, brain behind the Firebird, instigator of the Grand Prix, and eponymous founder of the DeLorean Motor Company. Shaggy hair—dyed jet black—thick sideburns, Italian suits, and shirts unbuttoned to the navel. He wore gold chains and had a garage stacked deep with foreign sports cars.

A Detroit native, DeLorean started in the business with Packard but soon moved to General Motors where he ultimately ran the Pontiac and Chevrolet divisions and is best remembered for starting the Muscle Car era by putting a big engine into a Pontiac Tempest and renaming it the GTO.

Unlike the conservative and reclusive auto executives of the time, DeLorean dressed in designer suits, dated and married models and starlets, and moved in celebrity circles. Yet, despite his high profile, many considered him to be on the fast track to one day lead the world’s biggest automaker.

DeLorean started in the business with Packard but soon moved to General Motors where he ultimately ran the Pontiac and Chevrolet divisions and is best remembered for starting the Muscle Car era by putting a big engine into a Pontiac Tempest and renaming it the GTO.

Unlike the conservative and reclusive auto executives of the time, DeLorean dressed in designer suits, dated and married models and starlets, and moved in celebrity circles. Yet, despite his high profile, many considered him to be on the fast track to one day lead the world’s biggest automaker.

But DeLorean chose to quit GM in 1973 to start his own business — DeLorean Motor Car Co. — and in 1981 launched the DeLorean DMC-12, a gull-wing sports car with an unpainted stainless steel exterior. Unfortunately, it was underpowered by a 130-horsepower Peugeot-Renault-Volvo fuel-injected V-6 and hit the market in economically depressed times.

DeLorean made sure his cars looked cool, but even more importantly, he made sure John DeLorean looked cool. When DeLorean first rose to prominence in the 60s he became known as a swaggering bad boy with dyed-black hair, big sideburns, and unbuttoned shirts. As the head of Pontiac, DeLorean became a show-business fixture in Hollywood who dated starlets

He had showgirls on his arm, starlets in his bed, and a string of supermodel wives. He delighted journalists and showbiz friends—and was a constant thorn in the side of his GM executives. He was dragged through courts and tried for everything from drug trafficking and racketeering to breach of contract and tax evasion, never once convicted. He went bankrupt, found God, and was saved by a movie about a time-travelling car. DeLorean was the stainless steel body of his DMC-12—he’d never rust, but oh, how easy he was to scratch.

For better or for worse, it’s impossible to mention the DeLorean DMC-12 without talking about the Back to the Future trilogy. Don’t worry – the films are bona-fide classics, and they made the iconic stainless steel sports car one of the most famous cars in history. But thinking of the DeLorean as just a prop from a movie is doing it a disservice — behind the DMC-12 is one of the most interesting stories in automotive history.

Although DeLorean is best remembered for the later car that bore his name, in the early 1960s he was one of Detroit’s biggest stars. As chief engineer at Pontiac, he helped transform the division from a maker of practical, conservative cars into one of Detroit’s leading producers of muscle. DeLorean received credit for a slew of practical innovations like concealed windshield wipers and vertically stacked headlights, but his major coup was dropping a giant 6.4-liter V8 engine into a Pontiac Tempest. The souped-up new model became known as the Pontiac GTO, one of Detroit’s most legendary muscle cars. Pontiac also introduced the Firebird under DeLorean’s watch before he eventually left the division to take the reins at Chevrolet.

Traffic from the January 1960 Detroit Auto Show with Cobo Hall in the background.

He had some big time Investors …

Before John Z. DeLorean had a capital “L” in his last name or an pseudo-European space—De Lorean—in his company name, he was plain John Delorean,  born in 1925 and raised on Detroit’s east side, a lower-middle class neighbourhood. His father a Ford factory worker, DeLorean grew up on Detroit’s east side during the Depression.

DeLorean’s mother was Hungarian and worked for General Electric. His father was from Romania and worked at the Ford foundry doing factory work. Despite a troubled relationship with his father, DeLorean was a motivated and successful young student who managed to gain entrance to one of the most elite public schools in Detroit: Cass Technical High School, popularly known as Cass Tech.

Originally conceived as a trade school for young men in 1861, Cass Tech grew so rapidly and successfully that in the 1920s students were asked to leave after two years to find jobs, in order to make room for those on the waitlist. Finding a job was relatively easy for Cass Tech’s students since the school functioned as a feeder into design divisions of the Big Three automakers. The young DeLorean’s course in life seemed to have been set. Yet, in the first of many odd twists in his biography, DeLorean initially decided to bank on his skills playing the saxophone.

Earning an engineering degree at the Lawrence Institute of Technology and, later, a couple of master’s degrees in engineering and business, he worked  for Chrysler and Packard Motor Car Company before moving to General Motors, where he made his mark in the early Sixties by creating the Pontiac GTO.  The GTO was immensely popular with young drivers, and nearly 250,000 of the fast and classy “hot rods” were sold in the  first five years of production.  Pontiac’s sales tripled, and before long DeLorean was in charge of North American operations, bringing home a $650,000 annual salary.

People either loved him or hated him, DeLorean was vain, impulsive and sometimes overbearing.  He wore trendy clothes and earned a reputation as a swinger after his second divorce, when he started dating celebrity beauties like Ursula Andress and Raquel Welch.  In 1972 he met supermodel Christina Ferrare, who was half his age, and she moved in with him.  Detroit did not approve of DeLorean’s lifestyle, so in 1973 he “fired GM” and set off on his own.  The DeLorean myth grew.  He was a maverick, a risk taker, and he had bold dreams.

It was partly DeLorean’s Hollywood hippie lifestyle — shaggy hair and dates with Raquel Welch and Ursula Andress — that earned him his “maverick” moniker. He was, according to one auto industry observer, “perhaps the ultimate fantasy figure for every underpaid automotive hack or working-class car nut in America.”

Where he clashed with the auto industry’s conservative corporate establishment was in his sleek, singular vision, infused with overtones of the 1960s social revolution, of sporty wheels for the masses — an “ethical” sports car, DeLorean called it: compact, efficient, safe, and affordable. It was a challenge to Detroit, which had lost leadership on all these points.

Marrying Christina, DeLorean dabbled in real estate, car dealerships and miniature race cars.  But what he really wanted to do was start his own car company and break the hold that Ford, Chrysler and GM had on the American auto industry.  The sporty DMC-12, he thought, would do the trick.  The sleek stainless-steel sports car with the distinctive gull-wing doors boasted a 130hp Renault engine and could go from zero to 60mph in eight seconds.

DeLorean needed $175 million to finance his dream.  Over one hundred investors, including Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis, Jr., put over $12 million into a partnership for research and development while the British government produced $156 million in grants and loans in return for DeLorean locating the DMC factory in Northern Ireland.

At the time, Northern Ireland was a war zone, and it was thought that bringing jobs to the area and getting people to work together would help to ease tensions during the darkest days of the Troubles.

The factory brought together the area’s Protestant and Catholic workers together in one workplace for the very first time, although there was a separate entrance for each group. (This design scheme supposed owed more to geography than factory-imposed segregation, since the building sat exactly on the border between the two communities.)

Ultimately, there were other drawbacks: since Northern Ireland did not boast a highly trained labour-pool, many of the De Lorean cars had to be rebuilt in the United States. Despite its gull-wing doors and perfectly rustproof stainless steel body, the DMC was criticized as poor-performance. “The De Lorean was a substandard car (with) a cool-looking body,” as Alterman puts it. Undaunted, DeLorean planned to make a plastic-body car that would sell for $20,000. Before that could happen, DeLorean ran into trouble with his other import business—the one from South America.

DeLorean’s pitch: to build the first “ethical” sports car—a car that was sporty, fuel efficient, and safe. That car was the DeLorean DMC-12, with its distinct stainless steel body and gull-wing doors that set tongues wagging. But the reality was that the DeLorean wasn’t much faster than a station wagon (thanks to a wheezing French-designed V6), and it didn’t handle well. It retailed at $25,000—more expensive than a Corvette or the Porsche 924 Turbo. The company hoped to sell 12,000 cars a year, but sold only 3000 in 1981.

(Britain liked the idea of creating 2,000 new jobs in a region suffering a 20 percent unemployment rate.)  DeLorean risked relatively little of his own money — $700,000 is the best estimate — but he seemed to have made his dream come true.  The Auto Prince lived like royalty in a $7.2 million, 20-room Fifth Avenue duplex, a $3.5 million estate in New Jersey and a $4 million California ranch.  He made sure DMC’s $25,000-a-month New York offices were located in a skyscraper that towered as high as the nearby GM building.  He paid himself nearly half a million dollars a year and his estimated value in 1982 was $28 million.  John Z. DeLorean was a real American success story, the poor boy who made good.  Or so it appeared.

Production started on the DMC-12 in early 1981, but the company was already hamstrung by serious financial problems. It’s a shame, because the car was every bit as unique and groundbreaking as DeLorean said it would be. With the Lotus-designed suspension and four-wheel disc brakes, the car handled well, and the PRV V6 could take the car from zero to 60 in under nine seconds – more than respectable in the horsepower-deprived early ’80s. But where the car really stood out was its styling. With its stainless steel body and gull-wing doors, the DMC-12 was unlike anything else on the road.

The DMC-12 immediately captured public imagination and became a huge hit after Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) drove the tricked-out time-machine version of the car — complete with fictional flux capacitor —  in the 1985 smash hit Back To The Future. 

Alas, in real life, not many people could afford the DeLorean, which was priced at a then-astronomical $25,000. As such, the car failed to recoup $175 million in investment costs.

Drivers began complaining. The DMC-12 looked fast, but anyone who got behind the wheel quickly learned that the car was dreadfully slow. For starters, the car’s small engine only produced 130 horsepower, and the stainless steel paneling that gave it such a distinct appearance was heavy. Thanks to its high weight and puny engine, the exotic car could only groan from 0 to 60 in a sluggish 10.5 seconds. The DeLorean DMC-12 didn’t just earn poor grades for performance, either. The dye from the floor mats would rub off onto drivers’ shoes. The iconic gull-wing doors had a habit of becoming hopelessly stuck. The unpainted stainless steel body looked really cool, but it was nearly impossible to keep clean. In other words, the car wasn’t fun to drive, wasn’t pleasant to ride in, and was almost always dirty.

A financial miss, the DeLorean still had its fans—Johnny Carson loved it so much, it was the car he was pulled over in during a drunk driving arrest in Beverly Hills in 1982. But its inventor lived higher on the hog than ever. He rented a Fifth Avenue apartment in New York, owned property in New Jersey and California, and was a staple of the cocaine-fueled 1980s glamor scene as his company dove further into the red. Margaret Thatcher denied a bailout, and DeLorean got desperate.

The car looked like it would never have its day in the sun. Despite initial long waiting lists for the car, the company was bleeding money, and in 1982, the company went into receivership. Facing mounting debts and claimed threats on his life, a drug trafficker-turned FBI informant pressured DeLorean into bankrolling a cocaine smuggling operation, and on October 19, 1982 he was arrested in a massive sting operation.

In the summer of 1982, DeLorean received a phone call from James Hoffman, a convicted felon turned FBI informant.  According to DeLorean, Hoffman told him he could find investors to save the DeLorean Motor Company.  Over the course of the next three months, Hoffman slowly explained his intricate plan which eventually morphed into a scheme involving cocaine smugglers and a bank for laundering money.  DeLorean would be required to front some money to procure the deal.  DeLorean went along with these discussions, planning to trade company stock for the seed money for any deal that would benefit the company.  Before going to meet the “investors” to consummate the deal, DeLorean wrote a letter to his lawyer, sealed it, and gave instructions that it should only be opened if he did not return from the meeting.  In the letter DeLorean claimed that he didn’t know Hoffman’s investment scheme involved a massive drug deal until it was too late.  DeLorean wrote that he was afraid to back out and that he was in great fear for his family’s safety if he tried to back out of the deal.

The meeting occurred in an airport hotel room on October 19, 1982.  Unbeknownst to DeLorean, the hotel room had been wired for audio and video recording by law enforcement.   Videotape made moments before DeLorean’s arrest show him briefly examining 25 kilograms of cocaine and saying “It’s better than gold.”   Soon thereafter, law enforcement agents burst into the room, took custody of DeLorean and charged him with trafficking in cocaine.

During DeLorean’s jury trial, prosecutors relied heavily on the videotaped evidence. Hoffman, the prosecution’s star witness, was on the stand for 18 days.  To counter the accusations of the prosecution, the criminal defense attorney contended that DeLorean had been conned by a lying, convicted drug smuggler, turned paid government informant, who enticed DeLorean with the prospects of big investments in his dying company.

DeLorean’s defense lawyers relied upon the entrapment defense and claimed that the he had not been predisposed to commit the crime of drug trafficking until the government’s informant initiated the illegal “investment” scheme.  Defense lawyers also argued to the jury that government agents lied, destroyed crucial notes, backdated documents and withheld important evidence.  DeLorean did not testify at his trial.  After 29 hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted DeLorean on all criminal charges.

John DeLorean with undercover FBI agents. (NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

New York Daily News covers John DeLorean’s arrest.
(NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

One could say that DeLorean shared with his prosecutors and their Washington bosses a tragic trajectory of hubris. The trial marked one of the earliest tests of government guidelines issued by the attorney general in 1981 for undercover operations following the ABSCAM scandals of the late 1970s. DeLorean’s victory was the first acquittal of a defendant on the grounds of entrapment after hearings on the issue by the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, which had issued a report four months earlier in an attempt to curtail undercover police abuses. Today, government misconduct is a daily headline, from police shootings to massive invasions of privacy under the cover of the Patriot Act. With antiterrorist agencies seeking out potential jihadists by tracking pro-ISIS sympathizers on Facebook and luring them into bomb plots, the same questions of overreaching and entrapment are more urgent than ever.

On a personal level, DeLorean’s acquittal turned out to be hollow victory. Following the trial, DeLorean lost everything, including his wife. Within a year, Cristina Ferrare, daughter of an Italian butcher in Cleveland, married ABC-TV executive Tony Thomopoulos, Bronx-born son of Greek immigrants. They did all right — Ferrare as itinerant TV host, Thomopoulos as one of the industry’s ubiquitous execs, bouncing from job to job until the Hollywood trades no longer took notice.

DeLorean’s tragedy was not his alone. The automobile industry in which he’d risen to such heights, and which powered the postwar US economy for so many years, lost world dominance to its own incompetence and overseas competition. His hometown, the city of Detroit, was a burnt-out shell. Deserted by the white beneficiaries of the auto industry’s economic blessings, the municipality’s tax base went to the suburbs with them, and Detroit’s first- and second-generation black migrants, who’d fled persecution elsewhere for their own piece of the American Dream, faced a broken Motor City and 25 percent unemployment. For these outcomes, there is enough blame to go around, but DeLorean did his small part by locating the factory to build his dream car in another country.

What saved the maverick automaker from utter destitution and ignominy was pure Hollywood. The licensing deal for DeLorean DMC-12 used in Back to the Future helped keep the car’s namesake afloat.

“John DeLorean wrote us a fan letter after the movie came out” the movie’s co-screenwriter Bob Gale recalls. “‘Thank you for keeping my dream alive.’”

Despite his acquittal, DeLorean’s financial problems continued to mount. In 1999, he declared personal bankruptcy and was later forced to sell his 434-acre estate in Bedminster, New Jersey — which Donald Trump eventually purchased and turned into a golf course.

John Z. DeLorean in this April 1981 photo. (AP)

DeLorean was married four times. His first marriage was to Elizabeth Higgins on September 3, 1954, and divorced in 1969.  DeLorean then married Kelly Harmon, the sister of actor Mark Harmon and daughter of Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon and actress Elyse Knox on May 31, 1969; they divorced in 1972. His third marriage was to model Cristina Ferrare (with whom he had a daughter on November 15, 1977), ending in divorce in 1985. He was married to Sally Baldwin until his death in 2005. DeLorean also adopted a son, Zachary, as a single father.

DeLorean’s name is correctly spelled without the space, as DeLorean; the same goes for the Company. Only if the use of lower case letters was not possible (or not wanted), for instance on typewritten documents of the DeLorean Motor Company, is the use of a space correct. This appears to have been the company’s chosen form. In typeset documents, a half space, not a full space, appears between the two portions, and the same is visible in more stylistic representations, as on the automobiles themselves.

DeLorean appeared in a widely published magazine advertisement for Cutty Sark whisky in the year prior to his arrest and the collapse of his company. It was captioned “One out of every 100 new businesses succeeds. Here’s to those who take the odds.”

When Back to the Future came out in 1985, featuring DeLorean’s namesake car, DeLorean wrote a letter to Bob Gale, one of the movie’s producers and writers, thanking him for immortalizing the car in the film. The letter can be seen in the special features of the Back to the Future DVD release.

In 1999, DeLorean declared personal bankruptcy after fighting around 40 legal cases since the collapse of DeLorean Motor Company. He was forced to sell his 434-acre estate in Bedminster, New Jersey, in 2000. It was purchased by real estate tycoon and 45th President of the United States Donald Trump and converted to a golf course

The timeline of DeLorean’s personal history is so tied to the history of automobiles that, even after his death in 2005 (at age 80, after suffering complications from a stroke), his various supporters and detractors are still debating his accomplishments and foibles. Both lists are long. Some argue for the flashy and obvious, such as the DMC-12’s gull-wing doors and rust proof stainless steel body. But other innovations attributed to DeLorean include the lane-change turn signal, the recessed windshield wiper, and a list of inventions and patents ranging from 3 to 200, depending on who you ask. He also was said to be responsible for bringing the overhead-cam engine to GM.

DeLorean died at Overlook Hospital in Summit, New Jersey from a stroke, on March 19, 2005 at age 80. DeLorean and former wife Cristina Ferrare became born-again Christians following the entrapment controversy.

Some of DeLorean’s image obsession paid off, but it tended to veer into the realm of hilarious narcissism. His 2005 Washington Post obituary noted that one of his ex-girlfriends claimed her Christmas gift from the carmaker was “a leather-bound portfolio featuring photographs of himself.”

A rebel to the end, DeLorean literally took his rock-star image to his grave. DeLorean was buried in Troy, Michigan, wearing a black motorcycle jacket, blue jeans, and a denim shirt. He was interred beneath a headstone featuring his iconic DeLorean DMC-12, still with an outstanding warrant for his arrest back in England.

Rick Wagoner, Chairman and CEO of General Motors said in a statement: “John DeLorean was one of Detroit’s larger-than-life figures who secured a noteworthy place in our industry’s history. He made a name for himself through his talent, creativity, innovation and daring. At GM, he will always be remembered as the father of the Pontiac GTO, which really started the muscle-car craze of the ’60s.

Still, DeLorean’s cars continue to capture the public imagination. The DeLorean Motor Company name has been bought by a Texas-based firm, and it recently announced that it is taking orders for people who are interested in buying a DMC-12 when the car is re-released in 2017.

John Z. DeLorean is arrested in $24 million cocaine deal – Oct 19, 1982

5 Things You Might Not Know About John DeLorean | Mental Floss

John DeLorean – Wikipedia

The Stainless Steel Life of John Z. DeLorean – Web Originals

The Last Interview John Z. DeLorean Never Gave – Autoblog

Automaker John DeLorean is arrested for drug dealing in 1982 – NY …

The Rise and Fall of John DeLorean

DeLorean Motor Company | The Best Source for your DeLorean

Crime History: John DeLorean, Creator of “Back To The Future” Car …

October 19, 1982, John DeLorean Arrested With Briefcase Full Of …

My John DeLorean Story – Forbes

My John DeLorean Story – Forbes

JOHN DELOREAN – pontiacs online

How John DeLorean Took Us Back to the Future – Los Angeles …

Back to the Future: the FBI DEA Entrapment of John Delorean


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