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The De Lorean Motor Company (DMC) was a short-lived automobile manufacturer formed by automobile industry executive John De Lorean in 1975. It is remembered for the one distinctive model it produced – the stainless steel De Lorean DMC-12 sports car featuring gull-wing doors – and for its brief and turbulent history, ending in receivership and bankruptcy in 1982. Near the end, in a desperate attempt to raise the funds his company needed to survive, John De Lorean was filmed appearing to accept money to take part in drug trafficking, but was subsequently acquitted, on the basis of entrapment, of charges brought against him.
The De Lorean DMC-12 shot to worldwide fame in the Back to the Future movie trilogy as the car transformed into a time machine by eccentric scientist Doctor Emmett L. Brown, although the company had ceased to exist before the first movie was made.
John De Lorean founded the De Lorean Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan on October 24, 1975. He was already well known in the automobile industry as a first-rate engineer, maverick business innovator, jetsetter and youngest person to become a General Motors executive. Investment capital came primarily in the form of business loans from the Bank of America and from the formation of various partnerships and private investment from select parties, including The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson. Money was also gained later through a dealer investment program in which those dealerships offering De Lorean's cars for sale were made shareholders in the company.
De Lorean also sought lucrative incentives from various government and economic organizations to pay for constructing the company's automobile manufacturing facilities. To gain these, he looked to build his first factory in a country or area where unemployment was particularly high. One candidate was the Republic of Ireland, although the country's then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Des O'Malley, decided not to support the project. A deal in Puerto Rico was about to be agreed when De Lorean took up a last-minute offer from the Northern Ireland's Industrial Development Board (IDB). As part of this offer, De Lorean was apparently under the impression that the British government would provide his company with Export Credit financing. This would provide a loan of 80% of the wholesale cost of the vehicles (US$20,000) upon completion and delivery for shipping.
In October 1978, construction of the 6-building, 660,000 square foot (61,000 m²) manufacturing plant began in Northern Ireland and was completed in 16 months by Farrans McLaughlin & Harvey. Officially known as DMCL (De Lorean Motor Company, Ltd.), the facility was located in Dunmurry, a suburb of Belfast. It was situated on an interface between two communities with differing religious predominations; Twinbrook (Catholic), and Dunmurry (Protestant). <ref>http://www.home.no/delorean/dmcltd.htm</ref> The facility had separate entrances for each side, but this was more of a geographic convenience than it was for religious segregation.
Unit production was scheduled to begin in 1979, but engineering delays and budget overruns caused the assembly lines to start in early 1981. Workers at the factory were generally inexperienced; many never had jobs before joining DMC. This may have contributed to the reported quality issues attributed to the early production vehicles and the subsequent establishment of Quality Assurance Centers (QAC) located at various delivery locations. QACs were set up in California, Delaware and Michigan where some of the quality issues were to be addressed and resolved before delivery to dealerships. Some of the issues related to the fitting of body panels, higher-output alternators, and gullwing door adjustments.
The combined efforts of quality assurance improvements at the factory and the post-production quality assurance done at the QACs were generally successful, although workmanship complaints would still occasionally arise; the 1981 De Loreans were delivered with a 12 month, 12,000 mile warranty. Though by 1982, improvements in components and the more experienced workforce meant that production quality was vastly improved. Disputes between dealerships and customers arose later because many dealerships refused to do more warranty work because they were not reimbursed.
Reception by the car buying public and automotive magazines was mixed. Although the early vehicles had impressive waiting lists of anxious consumers, the MSRP sticker price of $25,000 was cost-prohibitive for the majority of the market - especially for what many considered to be an under-powered and impractical plaything. "It's not a barn burner," observed Road & Track, "(with) a 0-60 mph time of 10.5 seconds. Frankly, that's not quick for a sports/GT car in this price category." The stainless steel body panels were an attractive design concept and impervious to corrosion, but in practice the sheen surface tended to show fingerprints. It also meant that the car could not be easily painted; every factory original De Lorean looked virtually identical. Some dealerships painted their cars on delivery to help make theirs more distinctive. De Lorean Motor Company was testing the use of translucent paint to help provide different color options on the cars while also allowing the stainless steel grain to show through, but no cars were sold with factory painted body panels. The only factory option initially available was an automatic transmission. A grey interior was offered later in 1981 as an alternative to the standard black interior. Several accessories including pinstriping and luggage racks helped provide further individuality. <ref>http://www.babbtechnology.com/thecar/misc.htm</ref>
During 1981, it was reported there were plans to have made a 4-door version of the car (perhaps on a longer wheelbase) for 1983. It was to have been of stainless steel, and with gullwing doors.
It would seem that the eventual lack of demand, unforseen cost overruns, and unfavorable exchange rates began to take their toll on DMC's cash flow in late 1981. The company had estimated their break-even point to be between 10,000 and 12,000 units, but the limiting demand factors precipitated a falloff in sales to somewhere around 6,000. In response to the income shortfall De Lorean was experiencing, a restructuring plan was devised where a new "DeLorean Motors Holding Company" would be formed, which in turn would have become corporate parent to DeLorean Motor Company and each of its subsidiaries: DeLorean Motor Cars Limited (manufacturer), DeLorean Motor Cars of America (distributor in the U.S.) and DeLorean Research Partnership (a research and development company). In January 1982, due to SEC questions about the company's viability, the company was forced to cancel the stock issue for the holding company that DeLorean had hoped would raise about $27 million.
John De Lorean then lobbied the British government for aid, but was refused unless he was able to find a matching amount from other investors. What followed is a matter of debate between the British government, the FBI, the DEA, De Lorean, his investors, and the US court system. At some point in 1982, John De Lorean became the target of an FBI sting operation designed to arrest drug trafficking criminals. He was arrested in October 1982 and charged with conspiring to smuggle $24 million worth of cocaine into the US. The key element of evidence for the prosecution was a videotape showing DeLorean discussing the drugs deal with undercover FBI agents Benedict (Ben) Tisa and West, although De Lorean's attorney Howard Weitzman successfully demonstrated to the court that he was coerced into participation in the deal by the agents who initially approached him as legitimate investors. He was acquitted of all charges, but his reputation was forever tarnished. After his trial and subsequent acquittal, De Lorean quipped, "Would you buy a used car from me?"
In the end, sufficient funds were never raised to keep the company alive. The De Lorean Motor Company went bust in 1982, taking with it 2,500 jobs and over $100 million in investments. The British government attempted to revive some useable remnants of the manufacturing facility without success, and the Dunmurry factory was closed. De Lorean himself retired in New Jersey, and the dream with which he had mesmerised Britain's Labour government, of industry rising out of the ashes of Ulster's sectarian conflict, was shattered. He claimed that the DMCL was deliberately closed for political reasons, and at the time of closing was a solidly viable company with millions of dollars in the bank and two years of dealer orders on the books.
Approximately 9,000 cars were made between January 1981 and December 1982, although actual production figures are unclear and estimates differ. Some of the cars manufactured in 1982, but not shipped to the states, as the US arm of the DeLorean Motor Company had no money to 'buy' the cars from the factory in Northern Ireland, with 15XXX and 16XXX Vehicle Identification Numbers are actually 1982 models that were given later, 1983 VIN's by Consolidated International (now known as Big Lots), a company that had a buyback program with DMC and had bought out the remaining unsold cars and inventory of unused parts left in the factory after the bankruptcy.
The vehicle has also garnered worldwide attention and celluloid fame as the basis for the time machine in 1985 in the Back to the Future trilogy.
A very large number of the original cars are still on the road after over 25 years; most estimates put it at 6,000 cars surviving out of just over 9,000 built. There is a very active enthusiast community around the cars, with strong owners' clubs. A number of commercial enterprises set up after the demise of the De Lorean Motor Company to provide parts and service, and most of those are still in existence. In particular, DeLorean Motor Company of Texas <ref>http://www.delorean.com/</ref> (entirely new ownership which acquired the original company's name and logo, as the trademark registration for them had lapsed) now owns the large remaining original parts stock from the factory, US stock and original suppliers.
Many aftermarket improvements have been offered over time to address some of the flaws in the original production cars, and to improve performance. A common opinion of the car is that in stock form it is somewhat underpowered, and a variety of solutions have been implemented, from complete engine swaps (either to a larger PRV engine, or to completely different engines such as the Cadillac Northstar engine), turbocharger kits (single or twin-turbo), down to simpler solutions such as improved exhausts and other normal engine tuning work.
As of 2006, one can buy DeLorean built from the ground up using a combination of new, original and reproduction parts for US$42,500, while unrestored but good condition vehicles run from about US$20,000 upwards.
Despite being cleared of all drug trafficking charges, DeLorean still had to battle many legal cases (stemming from the company's bankruptcy) well into the 90's. He personally declared bankruptcy in September 1999 and was evicted from his 434-acre estate in New Jersey in March of 2000. He passed away on March 19th 2005 of stroke complications. He was 80 years old.
Delorean, DeLorean, or De Lorean?
De Lorean is more often seen spelled without the space: DeLorean. Typewritten company documents universally use the space, however; so this appears to have been the company's chosen form. In typeset documents, a half space, not a full space, appears between the two portions, and the same is visible in more stylistic representations, as on the automobiles themselves. This use of a half space probably influenced many people to see no space there.
The company's founder originally spelled his name as John Delorean. At some point in his life he began using the more Dutch-looking De Lorean instead. During the period the DeLorean Motor Company was operating, he used a space exclusively when spelling his name in the course of business.
The spelling of the name with an intercap L is a form of compromise between the two forms. Some people capitalize the L and leave the D uncapitalized, spelling the name 'deLorean' and some even add the space while leaving the D uncapitalized to form the name as 'de Lorean', following French usage.
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- John Z. De Lorean, Ted Schwarz, Delorean, Zondervan (September, 1985), ISBN 0-310-37940-7
- Ivan Fallon, James Srodes, Dream Maker: The Rise and Fall of John Z Delorean (November, 1985), ISBN 0-399-12821-2
- William Haddad, Hard Driving : My Years with John DeLorean (August 12 1985), ISBN 0-394-53410-7
- J Lamm, DeLorean Stainless Steel Illusion, 2nd edition (2003), ISBN 0-9744141-0-7
- R. M. Clarke, Delorean 1977-1995 Gold Portfolio (December 28 1995), ISBN 1-85520-331-6
- DeloreanWeb Delorean Fan Site.
- The DeLorean Owners Association The largest international DeLorean group.
- The Quintessential DeLorean Website The ultimate source for all things DeLorean
- Open Directory Project: DeLorean
- DeLorean Frequently Asked Questions
- DMC News: The DeLorean Mailing List
- Tamir's DeLorean Site
- DeLorean Motor Company is unaffiliated with the original DeLorean Motor Company.
- delorean.co.uk The DeLorean resource for the UK, including service and parts.
- History of DeLorean Motor Company (DMC) gives a very detailed history of the company.
- DMC80 brochure
- Satellite image of factory (Belfast)
- DMC News
- DMCTalk.com Largest DeLorean Forum.