The Harder They Fall: The Saga of the DeLorean Motor Company

BACK TO THE FUTURE

In 1997, Arthur Andersen settled with the British government for $35 million, followed two years later by a $27.75 million settlement with other DMC creditors. With that accomplished, the DeLorean Motor Company’s bankruptcy proceedings were belatedly settled in 2000.

Former Lotus executive Fred Bushell died on January 14, 2006, at the age of 78. Although he ultimately served more than three years in prison, Bushell shed no light on the fate of the missing GPD money. With Chapman, DeLorean, and Bushell all dead, the truth may never be known.

Sources vary as to exactly how many DeLorean DMC-12s were built; the total was something between 8,500 and 8,900. A remarkable number of those cars survive today. As DeLorean had planned, the DMC-12’s body does not rust and once the build problems were sorted, the car proved to be reasonably reliable. The overproduction of mid-1981 also proved an unexpected blessing, ensuring a robust supply of spare parts.

In 1997, Houston, Texas mechanic Stephen Wynne bought the remaining parts inventory along with the original engineering diagrams and the rights to the DMC name and logo. Initially, Wynne’s revived DeLorean Motor Company offered spares and restoration services, but in late 2008, the company also began selling new-build DMC-12s assembled from a combination of new and original parts.

REQUIEM FOR A REBEL

We suspect it will be some time before history decides exactly what to make of John Zachary DeLorean. When he died in 2005, the British press showed little mercy, characterizing him as a slick con artist and noting that when he died, the crown still had an outstanding warrant for his arrest on fraud charges. The American press was kinder, remembering the heyday of Pontiac and the GTO first, the drug bust and the collapse of DMC second.

It’s worth noting that for all the accusations and allegations, John DeLorean was never convicted of any of the crimes of which he was charged and accused. He always had a ready explanation for every setback and he never admitted any wrongdoing. Moreover, DeLorean’s achievements were as spectacular as his eventual downfall. To successfully launch a new car company is no small feat. Even Henry Kaiser, one of the greatest industrialists of the 20th century, fell short in that difficult arena, but DeLorean came remarkably close to pulling it off.

If the DMC-12 was not a great car, it was at least a workable one. Bill Collins, who had been very critical of its re-engineering, eventually admitted that Lotus had done a surprisingly good job. According to the late Sir Kenneth Cork, Coopers & Lybrand’s 1982 study concluded that there was a sustainable market for the DMC-12, albeit not as large as DeLorean had hoped. Even Malcolm Schade thought the company could have survived had it not been for the financial improprieties.

DeLorean always said that the DMC-12 was just the beginning. Aside from the mooted twin-turbo version, he had been toying with ideas for a follow-on luxury sedan since at least 1979. The maximum capacity of the Dunmurry factory was 300,000 units a year, BMW-rivaling volume in those days, and the mid-eighties were a boom time for luxury cars. If DMC had weathered the storm of 1981–82, DeLorean’s larger ambitions might not have been so far-fetched.

Perhaps that is the ultimate tragedy of DeLorean — the car, the company, and the man: not how far they fell, but how much higher they could have climbed.

# # #

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The author would like to thank Kathy Adelson of the GM Media Archive, which supplied the GM file photo of John DeLorean; Dave Parry, for the use of his photo; the docents at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo, California; and Tamir Ardon, whose extensive study of DeLorean’s life and career provided an invaluable starting point for research for this article.


RELATED ARTICLES


NOTES ON SOURCES

Our sources for the life and career of John DeLorean, the history of DMC, and the DMC-12 included Kurt Anderson, Barbara B. Dolan, and Joseph Pilcher, “A Life in the Fast Lane,” TIME 1 November 1982, pp. 34-36; Jason Barlow, “Grand Theft Auto,” CAR June 2005, pp. 68-73; the the BBC4 documentary Car Crash: The DeLorean Story (producer: Jezz Wright, director: Paul McGuigan, United Kingdom: Mint Productions/BBC4, May 2004); Gene Booth, “Man in the Tiger Suit,” Car Life, August 1965, pp. 13-15, 26; Greg Gorman, “Howard L. Weitzman,” Emily Couric, ed., The Trial Lawyers: The Nation’s Top Litigators Tell How They Win (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988), pp. 79-113; Michael Daly, “The Real De Lorean Story,” New York Magazine 8 November 1982, pp. 30-38; Remarks of Bill Collins, “DMCTalk Interview: Bill Collins” (posted by “Ilan,” 12 April 2008, DMCTalk.com, www.dmctalk. com/ showthread.php?t=8692, accessed 27 July 2010); Sir Kenneth Cork, Cork on Cork (Basingstoke, Hants: Macmillan, 1988); Mike Covello, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002 (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); Jeff Daniels, “DeLorean,” Autocar 18 October 1977, pp. 23-24; David E. Davis, Jr., “Road Test: Lotus Esprit: Rediscovering the back-roads berserker,” Car and Driver June 1977, pp. 72-81; “DeLorean: Cutting through the hype to discover an exciting GT car,” Road & Track December 1981, pp. 46-50; “De Lorean’s aim: an Irish BMW,” Autocar 14 March 1981, p. 23; “DeLorean Sale Cleared,” The New York Times November 17, 1982; John DeLorean, “Vega 2300,” Motor Trend August 1970, pp. 30-32, 80; John S. DeMott, Bonnie Angelo, and Peter Stoler, “Finished: De Lorean Incorporated,” TIME 1 November 1982, pp. 37-38; “Failed car maker DeLorean dies,” BBC News, 21 March 2005, news.bbc. co.uk, accessed 5 August 2010); William Flanagan, “The Dream Car of John De Lorean,” Esquire 19 June 1979, pp. 74-81; Robert Flowers, “The Women-and-Wheels Life of Johnny DeLorean,” For Men Only January 1969, pp. 32-33, 67-68; Richard Gadeselli, “DeLorean: the man who fell to earth,” Autocar & Motor 21 March 1990, pp. 46-51; Richard Gadeselli, “DeLorean: Living the Dream,” Performance Car January 1984, pp. 43-47; PJ Grady, “Mike Loasby” and “William T. Collins,” PJ Grady Europe, n.d., www.pjgrady. co.uk, accessed 29 July 2010; Larry Griffin, “De Lorean versus the World,” Car and Driver, December 1981, pp. 39-47, reprinted in Car and Driver on Datsun Z, 1600& 2000 1966-84 (Brooklands Books), ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1986), pp. 77-83; William Haddad, Hard Driving: My Years with John DeLorean (New York: Random House, 1985); David Henry, “Everybody loves a bargain,” Forbes 17 November 1986; John Hilton, “The Decline and Fall of the De Lorean Dream,” Car and Driver July 1982, pp. 63-70; Richard Hughes, “DeLorean: Belfast’s Concorde?” CAR February 1979, pp. 32-35; “John DeLorean Builds a Sports Car: The DMC-12,” Car and Driver July 1977, pp. 37-46; “John DeLorean’s DSV,” Road & Track December 1975, p. 72; “John DeLorean: US businessman whose plans for a futuristic car seduced the Government before failing spectacularly,” The Times 22 March 2005, www.timesonline. co.uk, accessed 25 July 2010); Lucy Kaylin, “Wings of Desire,” GQ September 2000, pp. 320-324; Mike Knepper, “I Remember John Z.,” Car and Driver June 1993, pp. 113-116; Mike Knepper, “Busted Dream: 1982 De Lorean,” Special Interest Autos #147 (May-June 1995), pp. 24-31; “Labour’s Arthur Andersen links,” BBC News, 30 January 2002, news.bbc. co.uk, accessed 10 August 2010); John Lamm, “Got a Spare $90 Million?” Road & Track July 1977, p. 44; Robert Lamm, “DeLorean Sports Car Chronology,” De Lorean: Stainless Steel Illusion (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks, International, 1983), p. 21; Ed Lapham, “DeLorean revisited: AutoWeek drives latest version of DMC-12 at Lotus” and “DeLorean ready for production,” AutoWeek 11 February 1980, pp. 8-9; and “Unraveled Dream,” AutoWeek 19 October 1982, pp. 25-31 Aaron Latham, “Anatomy of a Sting: John DeLorean tells his story,” Rolling Stone 17 March 1983, pp. 18-28; L’Editrice Dell’Automobile LEA, World Cars 1979 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1979); World Cars 1981 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1981); World Cars 1984 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1984); and World Cars 1985 (Pelham, NY: Herald Books, 1985); George D. Levy, “DeLorean Sports Car: John Z’s creation finally arrives,” AutoWeek 20 April 1981, pp. 12-13; Karl Ludvigsen, “Man on the Move: John DeLorean: He Made the Push Come to Chevy,” Signature November 1972, pp. 37-40; Ed Magnusson, Benjamin W. Cate, Steven Holmes, and Alessandra Stanley, “The Bottom Line: Busted,” TIME 1 November 1982, pp. 30-33; Charles McGrath, “He Pimped His Ride,” New York Times Style Magazine, 18 September 2005, www.nytimes. com, accessed 25 July 2010); J. Bruce McWilliams, “A Job for Jesus,” Car and Driver October 1982, pp. 95-98; “NIAO: Press Releases – DeLorean: The Recovery of Public Funds” and “DeLorean: The Recovery of Public Funds (Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, HC287),” Northern Ireland Audit Office, 12 February 2004, www.niauditoffice. gov.uk, accessed 10 August 2010; Jan P. Norbye and Jim Dunne, Pontiac 1946-1978: The Classic Postwar Years (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International Publishers & Wholesalers, 1979); Jane O’Reilly and Richard Woodbury, “The Stingers Get Stung,” TIME 27 August 1984, pp. 23-24; “People: Fred Bushell,” GP Encyclopedia, n.d., www.grandprix. com, accessed 25 July 2010; “Reading the Mail,” TIME, 19 October 1981, www.time. com, accessed 24 July 2010; Melody Petersen, “DeLorean Jury Rules Against Arthur Andersen,” New York Times 6 March 1998, www.nytimes. com, accessed 10 August 2010); Christopher Reed, “Obituary: John DeLorean,” The Guardian 21 March 2005, www.guardian. co.uk, accessed 25 July 2010; Robert Scheer, “Playboy Interview: John De Lorean,” Playboy October 1985, pp. 64-72, 134, 158; Michael S. Serrill and Russell Leavitt, “Law: The Case of the Purloined Tapes,” TIME 7 November 1983, p. 82; David C. Smith, “Launching a Car Company: Finances are the Hard Part,” Car and Driver Vol. 23, No. 1 (July 1977), p. 40; Mark Starr and Martin Kasindorf, “DeLorean: Not Guilty,” Newsweek 27 August 1984, pp. 22-24, and “Justice: De Lorean’s Day in Court,” Newsweek 12 March 1984, p. 85; Brian Stater, “Dark clouds taint Lotus founder Colin Chapman,” The Telegraph 14 December 2002, www.telegraph. co.uk, accessed 25 July 2010; John W. Styll, “Cristina Ferrare: In God I Trust,” Contemporary Christian Magazine April 1984, pp. 20-25; Tony Swan, “De Lorean: American assessment,” Autocar 13 June 1981, pp. 28-31; Tony Swan, “DeLorean: The American Dream is alive and fighting for survival in Northern Ireland,” Motor Trend May 1981, pp. 85-90; “The DeLorean Dilemma,” Car and Driver July 1981, pp. 64-70; “The DeLorean Saga,” Top Wheels: Exotic Sports & Classic Cars September 1993, pp. 62-66; “The sad tale of John DeLorean,” 23 March 2005, GP Encyclopedia, www.grandprix. com, accessed 25 July 2010; “Trials: The Fat Man’s Song,” TIME 18 June 1984, www.time. com, accessed 10 August 2010; Alan Walker, “The white light of Ulster,” CAR April 1981, pp. 46-49; Paul Wilner, “D-Day,” US 10 October 1983, pp. 62-63; J. Patrick Wright, On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors: John Z. DeLorean’s Look Inside the Automotive Giant (Chicago, IL: Avon Books, 1980); and Brock Yates, “New Kind of Wheel at GM,” Sports Illustrated 15 December 1969, sportsillustrated.cnn. com, accessed 25 July 2010. Many of these articles are indexed on Tamir Ardon’s DeLorean website, www.entermyworld. com.

Information about the DMC-12’s famous movie role came from “Back to the Future (1985),” Internet Movie Database, n.d., www.imdb. com, accessed 31 July 2010, and Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, commentary, Back to the Future, writers: Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, director: Robert Zemeckis, producers: Neil Canton and Bob Gale, United States: Amblin Entertainment/Universal Pictures, 1985; DVD, Universal Home Video, 2005.

Some additional details on the history of the PRV V6 came from Pertti-Tapio Mäkelä, “The Brief History of the Douvrin PRV V6 Engine” (n.d., The Douvrin PRV V6 Resource Centre, members.fortunecity. com/ douvrinprv/ id20.html, accessed 24 July 2010).

Information about the revived DeLorean Motor Company came from “Car News: New DeLorean – Back to the Past?” Car and Driver August 2007, www.caranddriver. com, accessed 31 July 2010; Marc Noordeloos, “Stephen Wynne, CEO of the DeLorean Motor Company – Q&A,” Automobile February 2009, www.automobilemag. com, accessed 25 July 2010; Robert S. Rodgers, “The New DeLorean Sportscar,” DeLoreanMotorcar.com, 2008, www.deloreanmotorcar. com, accessed 25 July 2010); and Mosi Secret, “DeLorean Lives On,” Houston Press 31 March 2005, www.houstonpress. com, accessed 25 July 2010.

Historical exchange rate data for the dollar and British pound came from Werner Antweiler, “PACIFIC Exchange Rate service, Foreign Currency Units per 1 British Pound, 1948-2007” (2007, fx.sauder.ubc. ca, accessed 2 January 2010). Please note that the dollar/sterling equivalencies presented in the article are approximate, intended for the reader’s general reference. This is an automotive history, not a treatise on currency trading or the history of international exchange rates!


35 Comments

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  1. I know you would use the word “cocaine” in the first line! Ha ha!

  2. I understand that while the Mercedes 300-SL had gull-wing doors for legitimate engineering reasons, on the DeLorean (and Bricklin) they were pretty much for the sake of cachet.

    Both the latter cars were pitched as being safe, but I wouldn’t want to be in an overturned car with gull-wing doors.

    DeLorean’s hair and sideburns don’t look that outrageous today, but the photo is ~40 years old, and GM was a conservative company.

    1. Believe me you wouldn’t want to be in any car upside down, On the Delorean, the top structure was strong, So it would be be a matter of kicking ore breaking out the big window, and being pulled to safety, or crawl to safety, far far safer than any American convertible

      1. I have no doubt that the DMC-12 had better rollover protection than a convertible. Rollover accidents are relatively infrequent, compared to other types of accidents, and with a car with as low a center of gravity as the DeLorean, it would probably take some effort to actually end up on the roof.

    2. The GM Media Archives photo was an official portrait (I don’t know its original date; GMMA did not specify), so DeLorean may have opted for a more conservative haircut specifically for that photo shoot — it looks less shaggy than in other contemporary photos of him. By the general standards of early-seventies coiffure, it was hardly outrageous, but it was notably shaggier than I suspect was customary for senior GM executives.

      DeLorean told [i]Car and Driver[/i] in 1977 that one of the purposes of the gullwing doors was to allow a much higher sill than would have been practical with conventional doors, allowing better side-impact protection. Mercedes adopted them because the sills of the 300SL’s frame were so high that conventional doors would have basically necessitated stuffing the driver through a tiny slot, and hinging the doors at the roof was simpler than redesigning the frame. Both were legitimate enough engineering goals, although in DeLorean’s case, it’s reasonable to assume showmanship was also a factor.

      The DeLorean’s doors were at least more reliable than the Bricklin’s, which were power-operated. Bill Collins said in 2008 that they deliberately avoided power assistance to keep occupants from being trapped with the engine off, although when the hydraulic struts where out, keeping the doors open is a pain, just as it is on an old hatchback. (In their [i]Back to the Future[/i] commentary, Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis said that was a persistent problem with the movie car, especially in cold weather.)

      1. The Delorean Doors were counter balanced by a torsion bar, the hydraulic struts were just to make the doors move more smoothly to simulate electric doors, and to cushion the beginning and end of their movement. The struts could be totally removed and the torsion bar could be used to lift small children off the ground. Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis were not mechanics or engineers, I could have totally fixed that ‘problem’ in less than 20 minutes for both (not each) doors.

        1. I’m sure that Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale would be the first to admit that they’re not mechanics, and they do acknowledge in the same commentary track that movie cars tend to be “cursed” — suffering mysterious infirmities and generally not performing as desired.

          In the [i]Back to the Future[/i] commentary track, they said that during cold night shooting, the doors would slowly flop down between takes, and that the prop guys would have to heat the hydraulic struts (with a hair dryer, if memory serves) to keep them pressurized. What ailments the film car’s doors may have suffered, I don’t know, but having owned several hatchback cars with failing hydraulic struts, my assumption was that worn struts were to blame; that was my diagnosis, not Gale’s and Zemeckis’, and if it’s wrong, the error is mine, not theirs.

        2. Don’t be fooled by that cryogenical torsion bar. The torsion bar helped with the doors being counterbalanced as you stated. I owned a Delorean for five years. These doors are HEAVY and provide stability to the structure when closed, (Like a targa top on a corvette does when in place) Those Hydraulic struts greatly assist in lifting the door and keeping it in an open position. The torsion bar makes it possible to open the door with the struts otherwise it would be extremely difficult to open these heavy doors.

  3. This may be your best post yet. I thought I knew the story, but you dug much deeper than any account I’d read up until now. Keep up the great work!

  4. As a technician in San Luis Obispo Ca. in the 80s and 90s, I spent a lot of my career working on Volvos, including the (in)famous PRV V6 models. Through patience and dogged persverance, I wrongly or rightly developed a local reputation of being able to make them run as they were more or less intended. This reputation led to several local DeLorean owners seeking out my help when there versions of that “ahem” POS began to give them grief. The well known laundry list of maladies plaguing the PRV is too long to go into here so I wont even attempt it. I did, however, have the opportunity to work on and drive one example that had been massaged with a pair of Garrett turbos at one point. Having experienced the stock models on many occasions, the turbo version was a welcome change. While not neck snapping by any means, it probably would have been what John Z. was looking for all along. Low rpm performance was virtually unchanged from the stock model, but the fun really began at about 3000. From there to the redline (about 5500 as I recall, but it could have been more)it would really press you back into the seat, giving the impression of the kind of performance one would expect for the price and sporting pretentions associated with it.
    Beyond that though, it was still just… a Delorean. All the problems mentioned in your article were still there. The doors, the outward visibility. (Seating position was so low, you could not see the hood or the front corners of the car. Sort of like looking out the view slot of a tank battened down for combat.) Rear visibility was even worse. The 5 speed shift linkage was heavy and sluggish, and the unassisted steering was slow and heavy, in spite of the lightly loaded front wheels. Another feature not mentioned in your article (although visible in the photos) was the “toll booth window”. Because of the extreme tumblehome of the door glazing, roll down windows were an impossibility. To allow at least some access through them, they were fitted with small access “window within a window” glazings that could be lowered to allow one to drop coins into toll booth baskets. They were pretty much useless for anything else. The aforementioned tumblehome of the side glass, in conjunction with the dramatic rake of the windshield meant that the cabin became a solar oven anytime the sun was out. This meant that one pretty much had to run the A/C all the time as there were no windows to roll down. This served to sap away another 5-7 HP from the already anemic engine. I could go on but the rest of the problems have all been well documented by your story and elsewhere.
    Sadly, the entire debacle was the product of a grossly inflated ego, however passionate JZD may have been.

    Thanks again for another great article.
    Joe Dunlap

    1. One of the sources I read was an article by David Freeman in [i]AutoWeek[/i] (5/17/82) about a turbo installation by Mike di Gonis of MD Engineering. It was an aftermarket thing, but it seemed like a reasonably good comparison for a production DMC-12 turbo. It was moderately boosted — perhaps 8.5 psi (0.59 bars) — and di Gonis claimed a power increase of 30% (i.e., about 40 hp). It was not a blazingly fast car, but [i]AutoWeek[/i] found it cut more than a second off the 0-60 mph times, and it was much stronger in the midrange. That sounds similar to the one you drove.

      Sadly, the poor outward visibility is all too common in modern cars. The last time I went to the L.A. Auto Show, I was dismayed to find that there were very few modern cars in which I could see any of the fenders from the driver’s seat. Having been spoiled by the low cowls of cars like eighties Hondas, I am waiting eagerly for the trend to go back the other way…

    2. The rotary engine is still the best HP(horsepower for all you brainiacs) per lb, smooth running engine. GM and Japanese finally resolved the seal problem, GM thumbed their nose at Delorean for wanting to use their wankel engine seal design, because of bad blood from JZD’s expose book of the inner working of GM in his book, On a Clear Dat,etc. If JZD had been half the ‘engineer he was purported to be, he would have added a supercharger, and gone for performance instead of economy in a new expensive $1.60/gal world. karma!!

      1. Seal integrity and horsepower/pound (or horsepower per liter) are not the only measures of engine efficiency. The reason rotary engines are not more common is that despite their excellent specific output, they have lower thermal efficiency than a good Otto-cycle engine, which is reflected in high specific fuel consumption and higher levels of some exhaust emissions. Even the current Mazda Renesis is very thirsty, both for gasoline and for oil.

        As the article states, DeLorean hoped to launch a twin-turbo version, but it was not the first priority. I believe the reason for the concern with fuel economy was CAFE. DeLorean Motor Company didn’t have other models to balance a thirsty sports car, and its financial situation was precarious enough that CAFE fines would have been a problem; if they’d had deeper pockets, they could have simply paid them and passed the cost on to customers, but I’m not sure they could have afforded that at the outset.

  5. Perhaps only a few people know John owned a mercedes gullwing. He owned a few exotic cars.
    The italian cars of the day were beautiful but not always reliable. The German cars were rock solid but not always beautiful. At the time there was one car in the world that was both.

    The Mercedes c111 concept car was breaking world records and wowing people in automotive shows around the planet. The idea of an aerodynamically stable triple digit vehicle was far reaching for the times. When mercedes canceled the project the italdesign company cropped the front and that was the beginning of the dmc12. Although the gull wing doors were a great gimmic to sell the car, the reality is they were in the design because the original design was a replacement for the 300sl. When the c111 project was scrapped there were people all over the planet that had written them blank checks to try to get them to produce it in some fashion. John may have even been one of those people. At the very least he would have been keenly interested in the mercedes development. There is no way John would have missed out on such a gold mine.
    If Johns version had been produced as he had intended instead of re designed out from under him it would have been a rocket just like its German predecessor. The DMC was never designed with a dogbone frame,clunky fiberglass/plastic moldings,and that damned over engineered frenchified prv engine. Those were all forced on Delorean by outside factors he could not controll. As a business man he wasn’t great but as an engineer he was. The theory was sound. Even in its asthmatic form the giugiaro design gives inklings of greatness. The mercedes fuel injection system is solid and reliable. The interior is part porsche part lancia, comfortable for a 6 footer like me.

    In THEORY the practical Germans and the passionate Italians should have made for the greatest car the world would ever see. Fitted with correct suspension, and better engine….and the car does handle deceptively well.

    The irony is the car ended up like the bismark.
    Percieved as the greatest of its time, feared by its competition, sunk by the british, captivating subject of discussion for the rest of time.

    1. The DMC-12 does have a certain general resemblance to the second C111, although other than the gullwing doors, it also bears a broad resemblance to various other mid-engine cars of the period (including Giugiaro’s own Maserati designs). It’s hard to imagine that either Giugiaro or DeLorean was unaware of the C111, which, as you note, was big news at the time. I don’t know of either acknowledging the relationship, but it’s not implausible.

      It wouldn’t surprise me if DeLorean had tried to get a C111. Interestingly, he did say that at one point that he tried to get GM to sell him the prototypes of the abortive mid-engine Corvette, but they wouldn’t bite.

      It’s true that the PRV was not the originally planned engine. As best as I could determine, the earliest plans involved the Comotor 624 rotary, based on the one in the Citroën GS Birotor and related to the one in the NSU Ro80. (Perhaps Bill Collins will chime in on this point.) The two-rotor Wankel would not have been any more powerful than the PRV — the 995 cc engine made 115 hp in the Ro80, 105 hp in the GS Birotor — and it would not have been nearly as reliable. On the other hand, it would have weighed less; even with only 115 hp, a 2,200-lb DMC-12 would have had a somewhat better power-to-weight ratio than the production car.

      While the production DMC-12 is quite a bit different than even the 1976 prototype, and that it was not really the car DeLorean originally envisioned, it seems a stretch to say those changes were imposed upon him. He chose the PRV V6 because it was the best deal available for an off-the-shelf engine; from what he told [i]Car and Driver[/i] in 1977, the leading alternative at that point was Ford’s Cologne V6, but Renault had excess capacity, and was more amenable to a deal. DeLorean also commissioned Lotus to do the production reengineering; that was not imposed on him by others, either. Unlike at GM, DeLorean was the final arbiter of those decisions.

      While the VARI fiberglass/steel backbone structure had its limitations, the original plan would also have been fiberglass, albeit not the same kind. The ERM process DeLorean originally planned to use was basically a core of urethane, impregnated with resin, layered with fiberglass and then compressed to about a tenth of its original thickness. It was a very new technology, and it’s an open question whether a two-piece ERM structure (with a steel front suspension crossmember and steel powertrain cradle) would have been strong enough and rigid enough. The main reason Lotus opted for the Esprit-style backbone is that they had tried the all-plastic monocoque on the original Elite, with very mixed results. ERM was an ambitious idea, and it might eventually have worked great, but working out the bugs would have been a daunting task, particularly with DMC’s resources. The old cliche about champagne tastes and a beer budget seems to apply…

      1. May be if you were taller than 5ft 1, you could see better. Get a VW cc, sorry bro, but a Delorean in a handicapped parking place at least won’t get door dinged by idiots…….

  6. Thank you for this in depth article on the Delorean saga. I’m a member of the Delorean Club of Fl and have driven 3 Deloreans so far. I drove 2 5 speeds and a auto. The 5 speed is the quicker of the 2, although the auto has it’s good merits as well. Deloreans aren’t super fast, but they are fun to drive. I had no problem with the visibility myself. Backing out you have to pay attention close. I heard soo many negative things about these cars from critics. I got in it and drove it and was very impressed.

    1. It must be said that very few mid-engine coupes do particularly well in rear visibility. I don’t know that the DeLorean is any better than its mid-engine contemporaries, but it probably isn’t any worse, either.

    2. The DMC made the Bricklin seem like a kit car, had JZD been a good person, he would have stayed with Bill Collins, but JZD was enamored with Collin Chapman,of lotus fame, and was willing to cast the the genius in his life (Bill Collins) that made him great to the curb, what an egomaniac loser…Karma sucks sometimes…….

  7. [quote=Administrator]The DeLorean’s doors were at least more reliable than the Bricklin’s, which were power-operated. Bill Collins said in 2008 that they deliberately avoided power assistance to keep occupants from being trapped with the engine off[/quote]

    I’d think that if the car went greasy side up, its weight would hold the doors shut whether they were power-operated or not.

    1. Two different issues. If I interpret Bill Collins’ remark correctly, he wasn’t referring to rollover safety, but rather the possibility of the power mechanism failing and keeping the doors from opening, even with the car right side up. (I’m not that familiar with the Bricklin SV1, so I don’t know what kind of backup mechanism was provided, if any, but the electro-hydraulic mechanism on the production cars was very troublesome.) With the DMC-12, a worn or failed hydraulic strut would keep the doors from [i]staying[/i] open, but it wouldn’t [i]keep[/i] them from opening.

      Of course, that doesn’t help if the car is on its roof, but for a low-slung, limited-production sports car, a mechanical or electrical failure (whether resulting from an accident or not) might well be more likely than a rollover accident.

  8. The Petersen Museum has one of the three American Express 24 karat gold plated cars in their collection. It’s on display currently with a Mercedes McLaren SLR and a Bugatti EB110

  9. I showed my Delorean in the Hillsboro concours d elegance, next to a ferrari testarosa, and a lamborghinni countach, people ignoned the farrari, and the crowd was almost equal for the Delorean and the Lambo,sounds stupid but it was true. Just a door for a Ferrari costs more than the whole Delorean did, a beefier suspension on the DMC and a Ford indy engine, with a supercharger would have made it a success in spite of JZD………..why is this all so obvious to me??????

  10. just look at the cars you’re comparing it with, where’s the lotus esprit, Jaguar XKE, both still more expensive than the ill fated Delorean, comparing it to a Bugatti, you could have bought all 7500 Deloreans for about the price of a Bugatti.

    1. The article does not compare the DMC-12 with Bugatti. The commentator was just pointing out the space where one of the gold cars is on display; the Bugatti Veyron and Mercedes SLR next to which the Petersen has parked it were not even conceived when the DMC-12 was launched.

      The article makes the comparison with the Corvette, the Porsche 911SC, and the Lotus Esprit. The 911SC was a little more expensive than the DeLorean, the Esprit a lot more expensive. The Jaguar E-Type was long gone by then, but the XJ-S (which was roughly $5,000 more than the DMC-12) is not an unreasonable comparison. The XJ-S was not pitched as a sports car, of course, although it was faster than the DeLorean, and would probably have appealed to a similar clientele.

  11. I’ve driven more than 50 Deloreans, I drove 15 brand new ones at the dealer in Palo Alto,CA to pick the best one, to buy, each one drove slightly different, thank Collin Chapman, and unskilled Irish labor, and a guy with too much ego to properly take care of business…….The automatics were crap……

  12. It was an early 1020 HARLEY EARL hand pounded aluminum design, from Don Lee Cadillac in movie center, LA. I also hand the original cancelled check from a woman buyer in Oakland CA, for $7,100. in 1920, it even had roll up windows, try to find another 1920 car with roll up windows, this was one of two remaining Harley Earl designs, in the world. Cadillac hired Harley Earl from Don Lee in 1926. Harley was the design guru at GM, thru the fins of the 50’s,up through the sting ray corvette…….

  13. In the book Corvette From The Inside by Dave McLellan he mentions a supercomputer crash simulation of the Delorean prototype. The results show the first design was extremely bad. I saw an interview somewhere with I think Bricklin where he said something about Delorean poaching his engineers and design for the original Delorean prototype. Funny how it all ties together.

  14. Little or nothing is mentioned of the six Alpine A310’s ordered by DeLorean to evaluate the rear-mounted PRV V6. My car was fitted (by DeLorean engineers) with the 2849cc Volvo-derived version of the engine, along with its fuel injection. The car is very quick as there is no emissions equipment on it and so all of its almost 190hp is available to exploit.

    Whilst I appreciate that my car holds no real interest for DeLorean owners, it is however part of the DeLorean history. This summer the car will be for sale, along with its comprehensive history file and authentication of Northern Ireland registration by the DVLNI (Northern Ireland). Take a look at the car on my website (it’s the blue car) at: http://www.a310alpine.com

  15. [quote=pcintex]I saw an interview somewhere with I think Bricklin where he said something about Delorean poaching his engineers and design for the original Delorean prototype. Funny how it all ties together.[/quote]

    Bricklin’s assertion was made in an interview that is excerpted here: In the 2008 DMCTalk interview/chat cited in the sources for this article, Bill Collins said he didn’t know one way or the other if DeLorean had had any business dealings with Bricklin, but he strenuously denied Bricklin’s claim that the DMC-12 prototype was copied from the SV-1.

  16. The Bricklin SV-1(safety vehicle) has a Hatch with the cabled release right next to the Drivers hand..it also has MANUAL roll down windows..and a Truck like heavy duty Birdcage style Roll cage…also the Mercedes 300SL and the bricklin SV-1 NEEDED the gullwing doors as the Bricklin Has a Massive Square tubing Frame..running along the side of the car,giving it a rather high belt-line..with No room to put regular Doors..ie: if a conventional door were put on a bricklin..unless you are under four feet tall,you just could not get into a Bricklin.

  17. The PRV V6 was a great sportscar engine when fitted in a proper sportscar, viz the Alpine A310, Alpine GTA(in NA or turbo format) the Alpine A610, and the Venturi. It was a successful engine in family cars for all three of the collaborators in the European market: maybe the federalized version gained a bad reputation but I don’t know

    1. Its reputation here is really quite dismal, both in terms of repair records and in terms of power and general demeanor. It didn’t cover itself in glory in the Volvo 260 series, certainly.

  18. I can attest to the engines dismal reliability. The shop I worked at in the 1980’s was called upon to fix timing chains, worn camshafts, bad head gaskets, and other maladies on Volvo, Renault and Peugeot cars with this engine. Most often we gave a quote and the owners scrapped the car…..

    Roger.

  19. 9,080 DeLoreans were built in total. I say that as the longest serving employeemail of DeLorean Motor Cars Limited.

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