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 its alleged 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.
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.
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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!