John DeLorean was at the top, at the helm of General Motors. He had been born in a poor neighborhood in Detroit 47 years ago, and now he was the king of the world. However, everything that goes up must come down, and the goddess fortune was about to be infatuated with his success.
He would fall from grace, as low as he had risen before. Of course, before sinking, it would try to compete with the Detroit Big Three by manufacturing the mythical two-seater DMC-12, the car of the film saga 'Return to the future'.
The DMC-12 was largely the work of Colin Chapman, Lotus founder guru, and designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. In addition, it occurred in Belfast during the Northern Irish conflict, driving 2500 people away from violence. He is an icon and his story is fascinating.
Towards the DeLorean DMC-12: Living to the fullest
John Z. DeLorean did not like the management environment; in fact, he had always been a rebel. Be that as it may, by the mid-XNUMXs he had been married for ten years, and his behavior was still consistent with the unwritten code of conduct for General Motors executives.
Reserved, dressed in classic three-piece suits, short hair, he gradually gained weight. And suddenly he suffered the crisis of the forties, that moment in which it is said that you wonder if you have really squeezed the juice of the orange that is said to be life. John concluded that no, and that it was time to push a little harder.
He grew his hair long, with prominent sideburns. He traded in his clothes for the new fashions of buttonless shirts and big collars. He went through the plastic surgeon's workshop and divorced his wife to marry a young rising Hollywood star twenty-four years his junior. Three years later he separated again to, in 1972, marry the supermodel Christina Ferrare, the girl you see in the image below.
He had been prowling around the mecca of cinema for a long time, where thanks to his extraordinary people skills he became one more celebrity. His usual company was the cream of the stars of the moment: Johnny Carson, Sammy Davis Jr. or Steve McQueen, among others. And, more intimately, Ursula Andress, Raquel Welch or Candice Bergen.
To the rest of the executives on the fourteenth floor of General Motors headquarters it seemed like a kind of hippie. More so, a heretic, from the moment he started driving a Meserati instead of a Chevy or a Cadillac. The truth is that the world was at his feet.
Going back to his professional career, in 1969 Chevrolet was in trouble. They largely had to do with the latest book published by Ralph Nader, "Unsafe at any speed", in which he was "dispatched at ease" against the Yankee automobile industry and, especially, against Chevrolet. Ed Cole, then president of GM, asked DeLorean to personally address the crisis.
His plan would basically try to reduce costs on the assembly line and, above all, to improve the quality and safety of cars, whose perception by the public Nader had seriously damaged. Golden boy, -the golden boy, as he was known until his fall from grace-, succeeded once more. And not only that: in 1970 Chevrolet became the first brand to sell more than three million cars and trucks. In addition, during DeLorean's time at the helm of the brand, successful models such as the Nova, the Camaro or the third generation of the Corvette were designed.
Two years later he had to neutralize the effects of a strike called by the workers due to a massive dismissal. The conflict measures adopted included sabotaging the new quality standards by firing the inspectors in charge of ensuring their compliance. Also, work calmly avoiding installing certain components in the cars and assembling others wrong, which would force them to rebuild once they are finished.
DeLorean weathered the storm again, and this time it earned him promotion to vice president of General Motors. The youngest who ever lived, with only 47 years. Getting to the top, to the presidency, was only a matter of time.
In 1973 he resigned and left to build what he called the 'ethical car'. The wheel of fortune had just stopped spinning and good old Johnny wouldn't notice it until much later.
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Everything that goes up must come down
It's funny how pride can take over a person without hardly being aware of it. Even when you are doing something worthwhile. DeLorean left General Motors because, having a natural instinct for business, he realized that very soon the American automobile industry was going to begin to decline.
Publicly, he stated roughly the following:
Our cars are too big and inefficient. They are unsafe and harmful to the environment. In addition, we no longer innovate in anything ... Soon, consumers will turn their backs on us. "
The Golden boy I wanted to pilot the change to the new American car, starting with a two-seater sports car. With its production, it would inaugurate the DeLorean Motor Company (DMC) which, in time, would be in a position to compete with General Motors, Ford or Chrysler.
DeLorean believed he was a new Walter Chrysler, who like him in the XNUMXs could stand up to the Big Three. And he was about to get it, because he had the gift; however, even being one in a million, he risked too much and fell. Although his intention was good, he made the tremendous mistake of believing himself infallible.
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A factory in a war zone? Why not…
In 1973 and as DeLorean himself stated, "fired GM." He walked away with a few ideas outlined on a sheet of paper that, over the next seven years, would take shape in the iconic DMC-12 sports two-seater. This one was destined to become the new Corvette, a performance car and moderately affordable.
The strategy chosen to win was aimed high: In terms of quality, John and his collaborators - as good engineers and dream merchants as he - wanted to found a new BMW, impressed as they were by the magnificent CS coupe of the Bavarian brand.
They decided that the design of the new car would be carried out by Giorgetto Giugiaro, who had to respect a series of basic characteristics, namely: gull-wing doors, central engine, exposed headlights, space for tall drivers and a body of stainless steel! Therefore, the DMC-12 would dress (and dress) in Italian with some of the good eccentricities demanded in America.
Bill Collins, co-author with DeLorean of the Pontiac GTO, the father of the muscle car, designed the first rack. At first he thought of animating it by means of a Wankel rotary mechanic, but there were too many doubts about the quality of supply that the European and Japanese suppliers, Citröen and Mazda, could offer. Later, he considered mounting the engine of the Ford Cologne or, also, the two-liter of the Citröen CX, to finally opt for the Douvrin V6 developed jointly between Peugeot, Renault and Volvo.
A very bad choice which, in addition, forced the engine to pass behind the rear axle, compromising the initial central position scheme.
Meanwhile the team was looking for the place where the DeLorean Motor Company would be built. The truth is that DeLorean and his family wanted to be pioneers in the then new industrial relocation, so they began to negotiate with Ireland and Puerto Rico. The first would end up rejecting the investment but ...
During the closing of the deal with the Caribbean island in 1978, John DeLorean received a call offering him better conditions from none other than Belfast, Northern Ireland. This region was at that time a powder keg that, possibly, lived in the prelude to a civil war. The British government was desperate to reduce unemployment by 30% -50% in Catholic areas - and thus prevent the unemployed from joining the pro-independence militias.
No one in their right mind would ever have thought to undertake a car production project there. DeLorean preferred to see it as a unique opportunity, as the UK would put up the majority of the capital and provide employment subsidies. In addition, incalculable social work would be carried out by putting the two opposing factions of society to work side by side.
Indeed, when the Dunmurry factory was built in 1980, it was impressive to see how the workers, of religious sensibilities engaged in combat, parked their differences at the door to produce the machines that we love so much. Regarding these workers, they were not at all qualified and had to be taught how to make cars in an abandoned carpet complex adjacent to the DMC.
They received the Yankee businessman euphoric, like a savior, tremendously excited to be able to build a new Titanic. After the disaster, one of the 2.500 men and women he employed would say:
«He brought a dream, made us feel part of it and then it was ours. Looking back I think it was one of the best times of my life. "
Then when the company went bankrupt they blamed him, scared. Because it is true, he was wrong, since he had set out to build a utopia for which he had the right capital. Any unforeseen event could end it and, in fact, it did.
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Excerpt from the magnificent 2004 documentary Car crash. The DeLorean Story, from the BBC
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DeLorean DMC-12: A Stardust Utopia
But let's not anticipate events. In 1978 DeLorean and his crew turned to guru Colin Chapman, who redesigned Collins' initial project. For Chapman, the DMC commission was like a manna from heaven, destined to end Lotus's financial troubles. Therefore, he was deeply involved and transformed the DMC-12 into a cheap Esprit; both models share, among other things, chassis, suspensions and steering. So it is not surprising that it goes really well.
Instead, the brakes are those of a Cortina and the dashboard that of a Volkswagen. The DMC-12 became a kind of kit-car by the requirement of the British government to develop the new two-seater in just 18 months.
If, for example, Ford took five years to develop each new product, the reader can imagine how things turned out.
In the first place, it was impossible to avoid delays and the first 12 left the workshops in January 1981, eight months later than agreed. Also, production costs skyrocketed. The model number refers to the initial theoretical sale price of the car, $ 12.000, and what was being presented changed hands for 25.000, 8000 turkeys above the Corvette with which it was supposedly wanted to race. Therefore, from the outset, DeLorean and his team had gone on to play in another league.
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A league they weren't prepared for. The main vice of the car was in the engine: the V6 2.8 PRV Douvrin, limited by the anti-pollution equipment to 130 hp, was not the ideal engine for a sports car. An acceleration from 0-100 in 9 sec. It was not and is not what is expected of a car of this conception.
Even so, there were slaps in the US market for selling the 30.000 annual units planned for when the DMC was working at full throttle. That was until the first shipments reached the Long Beach port of Los Angeles and it was discovered that sporty eccentrics had more serious problems than a lazy engine. Chief among these was the "dislocation" of the gull wings due to the doors becoming dislodged and no longer fitting the bodywork.
In a sense it was logical: the brand's workers, novices, were in their baptism of fire. But that didn't save the DeLorean from rushing in. in the select group of cursed cars.
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Nor did he have time to redeem himself. The winter of that year in the United States was atrocious, leaving many cities engulfed by snow. A freezing season that, in the context of the global economic crisis of the early eighties, also froze the car market. Many people had to tighten their belts and the stocks of the brands could not be sold.
All this led to the fact that at the end of 1981 the DMC had only sold 3.000 of the 12.000 two-seaters calculated. Meanwhile, at Dunmurry and dealerships, 7.000 units were piling up.
This is when DeLorean lost the bet. Everything had been gambled for everything to build a stardust utopia that could be erased with a single stroke of the pen. The company's financial structure was tremendously fragile, and not even an injection of government aid and its IPO could save it from flirting with bankruptcy.
John Z. DeLorean and his crew then tried to do the impossible and sell the DMC-12 in Europe but, as early as January 1982, they suspended payments. Thatcher's English executive, who did not believe in them, then sent Sir Kenneth Cork alias 'The Gravedigger' business to liquidate the problem.
It took forty million dollars to get by, and DeLorean searched for it under the rocks. Sooner or later he got his fingers caught trying to get twenty-four in the then young and buoyant drug trafficking business.
James Hoffman, a former neighbor of hers, was the one who proposed. What he did not say is that he had already been arrested and that to avoid jail he had become an FBI informant. DeLorean would be the excuse to catch another dealer and his transport.
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The prince took the bait and was arrested on October 19 at a Los Angeles hotel. In front of a briefcase full of cocaine and just before being arrested, the federal police recorded him pronouncing, between nervous laughter, the following words:
"This is better than gold!"
That was his end and that of his dream factory.