Remembering John DeLorean

People who were around and abreast of the news of the day in the early 1980s will remember the field day the media had with John DeLorean. He was depicted as a jet-setting hipster who just happened to own a failing automobile manufacturing company who became involved in a cocaine smuggling scheme in an effort to save his company from financial ruin. This took place in 1982, and the last DeLorean DMC-12 left the plant in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland in November of that year.

In keeping with his swashbuckling personal style, DeLorean defended himself against the U.S. federal government and won, successfully asserting that there would have been no crime if the government didn’t create the scenario in the first place. DeLorean commanded no major deadlines after his acquittal in August of 1984, and he passed away in Summit, New Jersey in 2005. DeLorean was 80-years-old at the time of his death.  So, to many, the story of John Zachary DeLorean is one of failure and disgrace, but in reality, he had a remarkably successful career, and he earned everything that he got. He was the son immigrants, his father a millwright who arrived in America from Romania when he was twenty, and his mother came over from Hungary and accepted whatever work she could find, including a stint working for a division of General Electric. DeLorean’s parents were divorced in 1942 when he was 17 years old, apparently due to his father’s  tendencies toward violence and alcoholism.

DeLorean was born and raised in Detroit and he excelled in school, including the highly regarded Cass Technical High School. He was awarded a scholarship to the Lawrence Institute of Technology, which was a breeding ground for future automotive industry engineers, but left before graduation to serve in the Army for three years during World War II. When he returned home he helped his mother and siblings out financially by taking a job as a draftsman for a while and then went back to Lawrence, graduating in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

After working as an insurance agent and spending some time with the Factory Equipment Corporation, he wound up entering the Chrysler Institute of Engineering, graduating in 1952. He earned a master’s degree in automotive engineering while learning the business in a hands-on manner, and he was hired on by Chrysler after he graduated from their training facility. Just months later he left Chrysler for a better offer at Packard, where he was paid $14,000 a year. A couple of years later he was hired by General Motors to serve as an assistant to the head of engineering of their Pontiac division, Pete Estes, and by 1961 he was promoted to the position of chief engineer at Pontiac. He was just 36-years-old at the time.

Under DeLorean’s guidance, the sixties were an incredible period of growth for Pontiac. In 1959, Pontiac sold 383,320 vehicles; 1965 Pontiac sales topped 800,000 units, and DeLorean was name head of the entire Pontiac division. By 1968, Pontiac sales had reached 910,977 units. DeLorean had transformed the brand’s reputation for producing boring “cars that your grandmother would drive” into a hot and exciting commodity through the development of the muscular GTO, the Firebird, and the sharp personal luxury car, the Pontiac Grand Prix. Few if any individuals in the history of automaking can lay claim to the kind of success that DeLorean achieved at Pontiac.

He was again promoted and named head of the Chevrolet division of General Motors in 1969, and by 1971 the brand was breaking sales records, moving over 3 million vehicles. DeLorean was again rewarded with a promotion, this time to a GM vice presidency. However, he resigned shortly thereafter, feeling that his ambitions and somewhat free-wheeling personality were not properly served by a position that traditionally called for measured conservatism.

He formed DeLorean Motor Company in 1975, and construction began on a manufacturing facility in Northern Ireland in 1978. It became operable in 1981, over a year behind schedule, and there were some kinks to be worked out related to inexperienced labor that led to quality issues, but the 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 was ultimately delivered as promised. The DMC-12 (often  referred to as the “DeLorean” since there was no other model produced) was very expensive for a car that really didn’t offer superior performance, carrying a price tag of $25,000. The trademark features of the DeLorean DMC-12 were the stainless steel body and the gull-wing doors.

Production of the DeLorean took place between January of 1981 and December of 1982 before the company went into receivership and ultimately, bankruptcy. About 9,000 total specimens were produced, so the DeLorean DMC-12 is a rare commodity with a very interesting history. Perhaps the car’s biggest claim to fame is its central role in the Back To The Future movie trilogy; DeLorean famously wrote a letter to one of the film’s creators, Bob Gale, thanking him for paying tribute to the car, and the letter has become a valuable piece of motion picture memorabilia.

Too often people are remembered for their failures, and clearly the DeLorean Motor Company could be categorized as such. But if you look at the man’s total body of work, John DeLorean was a rare genius who bootstrapped himself to international prominence through his own merit alone, and his legacy should certainly include his many successes alongside his very public failure.

There were many great television series during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, but for those people who love American Muscle cars, certain shows stood out.  Here, we are going to take a look at 4 of the most famous cars from television series.  Claiming the number 4 spot is the 1966 Chrysler Imperial from Green Hornet, “Black Beauty”. “Black Beauty’s” 440 cubic-inch V8 that cranked out 350hp and had 480 pounds/ft of torque was built by Hollywood car builder Dean Jeffries.

Some people dream of getting their hands on one of the brilliantly designed cars by Carroll Shelby, but their dreams fall short when they look at the price tag of his famous Cobras or Mustangs.  There is good news for them; Mr. Shelby designed the Rootes Group Sunbeam Tiger, as well! In 1964, the Rootes Group was looking for a way to revamp the Sunbeam Alpine’s image from a “touring” car to a “sports car/roadster”.  They wanted the car to be modeled after the recently successful Shelby Cobra.

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2 Responses to Remembering John DeLorean

  1. Blair Burleson says:

    The article on DeLoren was very interesting and incitfull/


  2. Pingback: Pontiac Tempest: Tempest to GTO | Fossil Cars Blog

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