The rise and fall of John Delorean
A bad boy of car industry whose story is quite noteworthy
The DeLorean DMC-12 has earned an iconic status in car world thanks to Back to the Future franchise. It’s a car that’s respected by all petrolheads. However, the story of the man behind that car is rather controversial, but his legacy is quite noteworthy.
John DeLorean grew up in Detroit, and since he was young, he was a car enthusiast. The first car-related job he got was at Chrysler, and later Packard. After getting some proper experience in car industry, he started working as the chief engineer at Pontiac in 1956.
One of John's projects was the iconic Firebird. Credit: Marconi Museum
His first project was the Pontiac Tempest, but what really put him on the map was the legendary Pontiac GTO. John saw the potential in big powerful cars, and the GTO proved what kind of visionary he was.
1964 Pontiac GTO. Credit: Pontiac
Thanks to GTO’s popularity, John became the head of Pontiac in 1965. When he took this position, he became a rebel in the car industry. While others were having boring meetings, John was partying with models half his age, hanging out with celebrities, even divorced his wife and invested money in some baseball teams.
Delorean next to a Pontiac Le Mans. The 12 millionth Pontiac made. Credit: RPM Canada
If that wasn’t enough to cause stir, he also bought a Maserati Ghibli, since he didn’t like any of the GM cars. Despite all of these things, GM still made him the president of Chevrolet. But, in 1973, he stated that he was leaving the company because he wanted to “do things in the social area”. Not sure what he meant by that, but some rumors claimed that GM were fed up with him and sacked him.
Credit: RPM Canada
At this point, people were wondering what John was going to do. Well, he had a dream to create a mid-engined sports car. Thanks to his charisma and reputation, he soon found investors that would help him achieve his dream. After gathering a team of experts, the DeLorean Motor Company came to life, with a factory in Northern Ireland.
The first (and only) car that came out of the factory was the DMC-12. The letters in the name are an abbreviation of the company’s name, while the number 12 referred to the starting price of $12.000. When it comes to design, you can see some similarities with the De Tomaso Mangusta and Lotus Esprit S1, which means that it was designed by none other than Giorgetto Giugiaro.
DMC prototype. Credit: Silodrome
The DMC-12 went on sale in 1981 and it looked very cool, with its gullwing doors and futuristic design. Mind you, there were many downsides. For example, the body panels were made out of stainless steel, resulting in a lot of weight. Apart from that, it had a 2.8-litre V6 Renault engine, which could only produce 130 HP at its full output. The DMC-12 couldn’t really brag about its performance either, since it needed over 10 seconds to reach 100 km/h and the top speed was 195 km/h.
John believed that Americans would love his car, but the 1980s were a rough period for the US economy; if someone wanted a DMC-12 in the States, they had to pay $25.000 for it (due to high import tax). Moreover, the reviews of the car were bad. Many journalists reported on poor handling and bad quality.
Credit: Road & Track
John hoped to make 30.000 units per year, but between 1981 and 1983, only 8.583 units were made. Despite this, the car became popular around the world thanks to Back to the Future franchise. It didn’t really improve the its reputation, but John was very thankful to the screenwriters because he received huge amounts of money from toy licenses.
'Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads.'
Sadly, the DMC-12 project was ended, and at the end of 1982, John was arrested in Los Angeles for the possession of 27 kg of cocaine. He was found not guilty, but despite that, his reputation was destroyed. For years, he was trying to come up with a new car company and was even selling watches under his name. All of his business attempts were ruined by his past, and he was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1999.
In 2005, John DeLorean died of a stroke at the age of 80 in New Jersey. On his tombstone, there is an illustrated DeLorean DMC-12 holding his doors open like an angel that’s about to fly away .
Credit: Delorean blog