Great Financial Disasters of Our Time: The DeLorean Fiasco - Back to the future

Each year, a small band of car enthusiasts meet to celebrate - and mourn - the demise of what has passed into history as one of the most heroic failures in the history of motor manufacturing.

The DeLorean gull-wing car, a revolutionary example of motor engineering, attracts upwards of 2,000 fans at its annual conventions, most of them from the US.

DeLorean's downfall, in 1982, came after barely 8,500 models had been manufactured. The firm collapsed in a welter of recriminations, lawsuits and the trial of its founder on drug charges.

That such an experiment should have happened at all was a miracle, born out of the unshakeable conviction of one man, John DeLorean. His dream coincided with the near-desperate need for Labour, in government during the late Seventies, to prove that it could regenerate the Northern Irish economy - helping to solve the Six Counties' sectarian stalemate at the same time.

Back then, John DeLorean had a major advantage: credibility - despite sniggers after revelations that he had plastic surgery to extend his chin and appear more lantern-jawed. DeLorean's reputation was built as general manager of Pontiac, part of the General Motors empire, where he set production records still to be surpassed.

He sensationally resigned in the mid-Seventies and almost immediately announced plans for a new Dream Car, using unleaded fuel and a catalytic converter. No need for welding or resprays - just clip on a new panel; the underbody would be non-rusting lightweight fibreglass; and, with gull- wing doors and a stainless steel body it would look like nothing else on the road.

Governments around the world fought bitterly with each other to offer DeLorean grants to build on their patch. Finally, the search for a virgin site led to Northern Ireland, with Puerto Rico narrowly pipped at the post.

Within four years, first Labour, then Mrs Thatcher's Government - poured pounds 85m into a factory, supposed to employ more than 2,500 people in impoverished West Belfast.

The DMC 12 seemed to justify the extravagant hopes placed in it. Then the carping started: it was not powerful enough, every time one touched the body work, it reflected their handprints.

More importantly, the company lurched from one cash crisis to another, dependent on handouts doled out with increasing reluctance by Tory ministers. Endless demands for cash were accompanied by evasion as to how the previous tranche had been spent.

The end came in 1981, when DeLorean was arrested in California for cocaine trafficking (he was subsequently acquitted on grounds of entrapment).

Meanwhile, millions of pounds meant to pay Lotus, the car's design consultants, vanished without trace into a Swiss bank account. A later investigation suggested DeLorean, who had promised to pour his personal fortune into the venture, had just half a million dollars invested in it.

Since his drug trial, John DeLorean, now 72 years old, has faced one financial crisis after another. He still has his dreams. Only 12 months ago, he announced plans for another car venture, this time in the US.

He needn't bother. A remarkable 8,000 Delorean cars are still about. Ironically, what was planned as a mass-production model is now a coveted limited-edition classic car, with mint DeLoreans fetching up to pounds 35,000.

Their futuristic design means they appear regularly in sci-fi films, most notably Back to the Future. Except that, as some erstwhile DeLorean workers are fond of pointing out, every time Michael J Fox gets out of the time machine, its doors sag slightly - a common production problem at the time.

A failure then, but on a heroic scale.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Meeter-Greeter - Automotive

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading Motor Re...

    Recruitment Genius: Course Manager

    £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Course Manager is required to join a m...

    Recruitment Genius: Financial Trading Training Advisor - OTE £30,000

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's leading CV writing com...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

    £20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an intermediate help de...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen