John Z DeLorean

Bookmark and Share

John Z DeLorean

By Geoff Wheatley

John Z DeLorean was by any standard a man who left his mark on the Motor Industry.

A one time V.P of General Motors, obtained by working his way through the ranks of the American Motor Industry. However, he is seldom remembered for his time with G.M. but for a remarkable car that he conceived and produced, simply called the DeLorean DMC-12. As was the custom in the early 1970s he invited "Ital Design" of Italy to create the styling and the British manufacturer "Lotus", to develop the production requirements.

1981 Delorean DMC 12


The rear mounted engine was a unit developed by a multi-venture between Volvo, Renault and Peugeot. The engine was an all alloy design and had been successfully tested for the then new US emission regulations. (The same ones that almost killed most of the imports at that time!) He wanted to build the body out of a new material marketed under the name ERM. (Elastic Reservoir Molding.) The production included glass fiber covering a new type of urethane foam. The reports at the time suggested that this new material would be as tough as steel but only half the weight. His idea to utilize this product as part of the main frame structure met with strong objections from his design team. Their main concern was that this material had no been fully tested to the satisfaction of the industry and DeLorean, being smarter than most CEOs took their advise and ended up with a conventional steel chassis.

However, he did get his way with the body being made of brushed stainless steel panels bolted to the fiberglass frame of the car. This was just not unusual it was highly attractive to any potential buyer. Now add the equally unique Gull-wing doors reminiscing a very expensive European car that took the motor world by storm a few years earlier! Despite the fact that these doors were heavy weighing over 900 pounds each, they opened with ease thanks to the use of preset torsion bars and gas struts. The car was first shown as a prototype in 1975 and caused quite a stir within the market. It was certainly different both in design and presentation and was priced within the reach of an average motorist give or take a few dollars. However, production did not commence until early in 1981 six years after its first exposure to the motoring world.

The reason was simple, money! DeLorean was looking for someone who could invest at least fifty million dollars and was prepared to wait a few years before reaping the rewards of their investment. Obviously the Private Financial institutes were not over keen on such an arrangement and with the American economy going through a mild recession that sort of money was hard to find. However, DeLorean was certainly a smart operator and an equally excellent salesperson.

1981 Delorean DMC 12


Through an international investment institution he became aware of the need for the British Government to create employment in economically stricken Northern Ireland. The ship building industry had collapsed, a main stay of the Ulster economy and the political unrest between the north and the south did not encourage private industry to set up shop even when promised economic assistance from Prime Minister Thatcher"s Conservative Government.

DeLorean flew to London and after a few months of negotiation with the powers that be set off to build a modern state of the art factory in Northern Ireland located on a 72 acre site that even boasted its own test track. The actual investment figure is still a little vague for reasons that will become clear later. However, official figures indicate that about eighty million 1979 US bucks were invested by the British taxpayer. In addition there were a couple of private investors who, seeing the government throwing their cash into the venture, added a little more to the pot! The first car rolled out of the factory early in 1981 and was an instant hit on the UK market despite the fact that all early production was planned for the US market and very few Right Hand cars were produced. Of the few that were, they were simply for demonstration to ensure future UK sales once the American market had been established.

The US launch was not quite as successful as expected in fact it would be more correct to say that the car was not the run away success as anticipated both by DeLorean and the British Taxpayer! Between the spring of 1981 and November 1982 a total of 8,583 cars rolled out of the factory gates for export to the USA.

Around October of 1982 DeLorean left the green fields of Ireland to return to the US on a business trip. He did not return. The company went into receivership in December 1982 leaving about 3000 workers out of a job and the British Government in the hook for eighty million dollars. Looking back it is easy to see that the whole project was badly timed. The dollar was under pressure and the exchange rate made the car expensive in the US market while the quality of the product left something to be desired simply due to an inexperienced work force most of whom had never owned a car let alone produced one!

One of the principle selling points about the car was its guarantee of a long life. To be fair that seems a genuine claim as it is estimated that around 6,000 still exist and are in regular use by their owners. The brush steel body proved not to be such a great idea and I have seen some painted to hide the deterioration of the finish. But, and it"s a very genuine but, the sheer delight of opening those gull wing doors and easing yourself into the cockpit is an experience that any motoring buff should experience at least once in their life!

What happened to DeLorean? Well he never set foot on British soil again for obvious reasons. He did get arrested but not for taking the Brits for a lot of money, he was charged with the illegal possession of drugs but nothing more happened and he died just a few years ago in his bed! Obviously a gifted engineer and certainly a great salesperson. If you happen to see a DeLorean DMC-12 at a local car show take a little time and study the design and features of this vehicle it is, by any standards, quite unique
Geoff Wheatley ©

PS Thatcher asked her friend President Regan to see if there was any way to retrieve some of the funds that De Lorean had personally acquired through this joint venture. The exact figure has never been disclosed but it was certainly in the few millions bracket. Apart from the drug incident nothing was done. I can only assume that De Lorean was one extra smart cookie!

BACK TO TOP is in no way associated with any automotive manufacture, race track, race event.
All automotive brand names, model names and event names are the property of the respective manufacture and event owners.