The notorious history of the DeLorean sports car

It’s estimated that there are still 6,500 DeLorean DMC-12s on the road

When most of us think of the DeLorean sport scar we think of the movie Back to the Future and Dr. Emmit Brown’s time machine. In the movie the car is equipped with a plutonium-fueled nuclear reactor and Flux Capacitor that allows the car to time travel once Marty McFly gets it up to 88 miles per hour.

While the plot of the movie may seem pretty crazy the story behind the original DeLorean DMC -12 is equally as outlandish.

The DeLorean Motor Company was started by John DeLorean who had been an executive with General Motors. He was credited with designing such cars as the Pontiac GTO, Firebird, and Grand Prix. After leaving General Motors he wrote a scathing book about his time at the automaker called On a Clear Day you Can See General Motors. The book sold over a million and a half copies. Some critics viewed the book as somewhat self-serving given he was starting his own auto manufacturing company.

DeLorean’s company started in 1975 in Detroit, Michigan and only produced one model, the future-looking stainless steel DeLorean DMC-12 sports car featuring gull-wing doors. Early investors in the company included The Tonight Show’s Johnny Carson, Sammy Davis Junior, and Roy Clark. Although the car didn’t sell particularly well at the time it has since developed an almost cult-like following partly because of the movie Back to the Future. In fact there are more than 80 DeLorean’s known to have been restored to look like the car in the movie.

The company built its manufacturing plant in Northern Ireland because it was able to negotiate huge investment and grants from the British government, partly because the British government hoped the jobs and opportunities would help reduce some of the violence in Northern Ireland at the time.

Production began and ended in the early ’80s after making only about 9,000 cars. The company had projected that breakeven would at about somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 cars.

Reviews of the car at the time were mixed. The MSRP of $25,000 (about $70,000 today) was very high at the time and so limited the car to specific buyers. It was also considered to be somewhat under powered. It did 0-60 mph in 10.5 seconds. The stainless steel panels showed fingerprints and stains easily. While no cars came painted from the factory, some dealers and owners painted them to add distinction. There was also talk of coming out with a four door version of the car.

Many different factors contributed to the company’s failure to become profitable and survive. Poor sales, high cost overruns, unfavorable exchange rates where just a few. In 1982, the company tried to raise money through a stock issue but the Securities and Exchange Commission had questions about the company’s viability and that was subsequently cancelled. The company also lobbied the British government for more funds but were tuned down because it could not raise matching funds.

It was during this dark hour for the company that John DeLorean was arrested and charged with conspiring to smuggle $24 million worth of cocaine into the United States. A videotape showing DeLorean discussing the drug deal with undercover FBI agents was presented at trial. He was eventually acquitted of all charges, largely because his lawyer was able to successfully argue entrapment. His reputation though was beyond repair. As he said at the time “Would you buy a used car from me?”

The company went bankrupt in 1982 with over 2,000 people losing their jobs and investments of over $100 million lost. John DeLorean was forced to declare personal bankruptcy and face numerous lawsuits. His 400 acre estate in New Jersey was taken way and later converted to a golf course by Donald Trump. John DeLorean died in 2005 at the age of 80.

Today it’s estimated that there are still 6,500 DeLorean DMC-12s on the road and they can fetch upwards of $25,000.

Controversy surrounding the company and the car still continues today. A businessman started up the DeLorean Motor Company of Humble Texas, and announced that they would start custom-making electric DeLoreans. The widow of the late carmaker sued claiming the trademarks and images were still owned by the estate of John DeLorean. The case was eventually settled for an unknown amount and the DeLorean Motor Company of Humble now has the rights to use the name.

A relaunch of the DMC-12 is planned for some time this year.

Catch Driving, with Jens on CHON FM Thursdays at 8:15. If you have any questions or comments you can reach out to Jens Nielsen at drivingwithjens@gmail.com, Facebook or Twitter: @drivingwithjens.

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