For this marque article, I have chosen a manufacturer that was in business for only seven years and produced just one model. The company is DeLorean, founded in Northern Ireland by John DeLorean, an American industry veteran who had worked for Chrysler, Packard and General Motors before founding his own company in 1975.
DeLorean’s parents had immigrated to the US from Romania and Hungary and his father had worked for a time at Ford. DeLorean had a stellar career at General Motors launching the Pontiac GTO and Firebird models before becoming the General Manager at Chevrolet.
DeLorean chose Northern Ireland for his factory because he received huge subsidies from the British Government to create jobs – 2,000 at the peak of production. He contracted ItalDesign and their star designer Giorgetto Giugiaro to design a two seater sports car. The result, originally called the DeLorean Safety Car became the DMC-12.
The DMC-12 was the only model produced and was clothed in stainless steel with gullwing doors. The chassis was designed by Colin Chapman at Lotus and was derived from the Esprit. On to this was fitted a fibreglass monocoque and then bonded to the monocoque were the stainless steel panels with the heavy doors supported by gas struts. Most of the cars that left the factory were unpainted although it has been reported in some articles that several hundred were built purely in fibreglass as test cars.
Lotus also had a hand in designing the suspension, also based on the Esprit. This meant that the first cars handled really well. Unfortunately the US Government brought in new regulations for road safety and this meant that the ride height was adjusted upwards which screwed up the handling. The DMC-12 was fitted with a 130hp 2.8 litre V6 from the Renault-Peugeot-Volvo joint venture which was different from the original design – the team wanted a Citroen Wankel engine with about 200hp developed jointly with NSU. The engine proved to be too thirsty for the intended market and they swapped it for the mass produced V6.
To set up a new car company requires lots of cash. DeLorean was one of the highest paid executives in the US when he left General Motors and he had cultivated a celebrity lifestyle that meant that he knew lots of wealthy stars. DeLorean needed to work hard to raise the funds from his network and he then approached the British Government for further funding. They were only too keen because Britain was suffering from a poor economy and job losses – this would be a shining light in the industrial landscape. So the factory was built in Northern Ireland to get the funding and DeLorean contracted Renault to build the facility.
Even though construction of the factory started in 1978, the first cars started to roll off the line in 1981. The original plan was to be shipping cars in 1979 however engineering problems delayed the release. They had just got the cars to a satisfactory state of quality when the US arrested DeLorean on charges for drug smuggling. This one act toppled the house of cards and the factory shut in late 1982.
As production was starting, DeLorean went out looking for new money. He planned to take the company public but the US Government forced him to cancel it by raising questions about the viability of the company structure – which strangely wasn’t any different to other manufacturers. DeLorean approached the British Government for more help and they refused, presumably because they were concerned about how the original money was spent. Then DeLorean was approached by two men who appeared to be new investors and they suggested that one way to raise money was through the importation of illicit drugs into the US. The “investors” turned out to be from the FBI and they recorded their conversation with DeLorean and promptly arrested him.
He was acquitted on the charges because it was proved that the FBI used entrapment to gain their flimsy evidence. He then spend over ten years in court cases regarding the failure of the company and ultimately was declared bankrupt in 1999. He died in 2005 aged 80.
At the time that the company went down in 1982, Colin Chapman had a massive heart attack and died. He was about to be questioned about his involvement in payments from DeLorean to Lotus and in 1992, a senior Lotus executive pleaded guilty in the case titled “Conspiring with the late Colin Chapman and others to defraud the DeLorean Motor Company”. The executive went down for four years. So there appears to be quite a web of intrigue with financial and political shenanigans going on.
When the company went bankrupt, the remaining cars and parts were sold off, ultimately being acquired by the DeLorean Motor Company of Texas owned by Steve Wynne – a British entrepreneur whose original company had been servicing US based cars for several years. He bought enough parts to build another 500 cars, however the tooling was missing from the old factory – there were reports that they had been sold off for ship ballast!
Only 9,000 cars were manufactured – this figure is disputed by several sources which is not uncommon for low volume manufacturers. The reality is that somewhere over 8,500 were built by the factory. Of these only 17 were right hand drive – converted by a UK company at the request of the factory. The idea was that all the cars would be sent to the US, however there was demand from other countries. At least two of these 17 now live around Sydney as I used to see them regularly on my way to work.
With regards to quality – it was so bad that DeLorean had to set up Quality Centres across the US to fix up problems before the new owners took delivery. Finally there is a strong following for the cars and not just because they became film stars in the Back To The Future series. The DeLorean Owners Club in the UK has a good source of information at www.deloreans.co.uk and in the States there is the DeLorean Owners Association at www.deloreanowners.org– both sites have cars for sale.