Vintage vehicles, Automotive history and stories from motoring's past. 

DeLorean - brilliant, boondoggle or just Back to the Future

DeLorean DMC-12

By any measure, John DeLorean was a brilliant engineer. Working with GM’s legendary Bunkie Knudsen, he helped invent Pontiac's game-changing Wide Track stance and transformed the brand from an old ladies' car into America's performance champ when he created the GTO, arguably the world’s first true muscle car. His brilliance was recognized within GM to the point he was under consideration for the company's CEO. 

But when he moved from Pontiac to head the Chevrolet division, he ran into an implacable foe, General Motor's cultish bean counters. They didn't care for his efforts to increase Chevrolet's quality, to make cars lighter, better handling, more European in approach. Those kind of things cost money. And the bean counters only concern was looking good on next quarter's profit and loss statement. After all, they were selling nearly half of all cars sold in America. Why rock the boat with innovations?

Once promoted into the stultifying, airless, beige-on-beige offices of GM's intractable bean counters, DeLorean saw the problem clearly and bailed out of the company altogether. He soon hatched a dream to create a modern re-invention of the sports car, a responsible car that didn't waste resources and made a statement about the future. With its sleek stainless steel bodywork designed by legendary Italian stylist Giorgietto Giugiaro, and riding on a Lotus-designed suspension, the DeLorean DMC 12 looked good. On paper. 

But something happened along the way to production of DeLorean’s dream car. Either he bought into his own hype or simply lost focus, but the DMC 12s were released to the public before they were fully sorted. Complaints about a lack of power, mechanical glitches, and a price thousands higher than promised, slowed sales. 

The dream was fading fast. As DeLorean flailed about, desperately trying to save his company, the U.S. government set him up, entrapping him into a money raising scheme involving a cocaine deal. Much like Preston Tucker back in 1948, DeLorean was acquitted of all charges, but the damage had been done. His dream of an “ethical sports car” was over after around 8,500 cars rolled out of the Irish factory as 1981-83 models.

The popular Back to The Future movie trilogy featured a DeLorean as a crazy, time traveling coupe, ensuring the car’s fame amongst a new generation. One of three cars used in the movie later fetched half a million dollars at auction. Three biographical movies about DeLorean’s misadventure were announced to be in pre-production several years ago, but to date, not one has been released.

A Texas-based U.S. company purchased all rights to the DeLorean name along with enough spare parts to build 3,000 more cars. They’ve worked out fixes for the the cars’s original problems and offer power upgrades as well as restoration and repair services. Should you have the budget, they’ll even build you a brand new DeLorean from scratch. 

We've also seen the DeLorean elsewhere on the Curbside in our turkey cars feature. 

The DeLorean DMC 12, truly a time traveling dream that refused to die.

By Jim Cherry

The Curbside Podcast about the DeLorean