Alexei Sayle: At least DeLorean proved something...

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The tale of John DeLorean, who died last week at the age of 80, and the rise and fall of his DMC-12 sports car, built briefly at Dunmurry, Northern Ireland during the late 70s and early 80s, is irrefutable proof that politicians are idiots who easily fool themselves into believing what they want to believe, despite powerful evidence to the contrary.

I was 26 when I first saw DeLorean in August 1978 speaking on TV alongside the Labour minister Roy Mason, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, about the revolutionary car he was going to build. And, like those non-existent weapons of mass destruction, I knew right away that there was something decidedly dodgy about the whole thing. You only had to look at the walnut-brown, silvery-haired DeLorean to know he was a vain popinjay.

Seeing sketches of the proposed car itself in the motor magazines confirmed my suspicions. It was a banal-looking two-seater with ugly wheels that appeared too big for the arches. Soon there were tales in the newspapers and on the radio of gull-wing doors - which meant that even if you managed to get them open, you still couldn't extricate yourself from your vehicle if it was parked in a garage - and unpainted stainless-steel bodywork, which was covered in irremovable fingerprints within seconds.

When the first cars appeared from the factory, which employed even numbers of Protestants and Catholics, it was clear that religious equality had been achieved, at least in that both communities were equally capable of manufacturing an appalling car.

I recall that even on the tiny TV I had at the time, looking at footage of silver DeLorean DMC 12s being proudly loaded on to ships ready to be sent to non-existent customers, it was clear that the car had panel gaps in the bodywork that you could drive an elephant through.

It was also somehow apparent from the few yards it drove that underneath the wonky panels, the mechanical components of the vehicle were not particularly good, but were off-the-shelf bits and bobs from a variety of other motors. Despite all this, the Labour government, then the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher, continued to pour tens of millions of pounds into the doomed project, ignoring numerous warning signs.

On 20 October 1982, in what US Justice Department officials claimed was a last-minute effort to raise the money needed to save his bankrupt company, DeLorean was arrested in a Los Angeles airport hotel. He was charged by the FBI with taking part in a plot to smuggle 100kg of cocaine that could have been re-sold on American streets for as much as $50m. The DeLorean Car Company collapsed within minutes of the news appearing.

This story of a man who, it was later discovered, had passed millions of pounds from both the UK government and private investors such as Sammy Davis and Johnny Carson through Swiss bank accounts, backwards and forwards to shell companies, via numerous transfers, to end up in his own pocket also illustrated graphically how politicians protect the culture of politicians.

This, despite the taxpayer being defrauded of gargantuan amounts of money, and with fewer than 9,000 cars rolling off the production lines before its closure in 1982 (despite promises of firm orders for 30,000).

And, because both Tories and Labour had been drawn into the con, they refused to criticise each other or admit that they had in any way made mistakes, so that in the end nobody paid any kind of price for this massive failure of governance. (Does this sound familiar?)

I suppose you could at least argue that John DeLorean, in becoming a coke dealer to save his failing business, was at least proving that he was prepared to go that extra mile to prop up his company.

Maybe other powerful business figures could follow his example. For example, perhaps the board of troubled Rover MG group could shoot over to Calais in a Rover 75 estate, stuff it full of fags and booze and then go down the Holloway Road selling all their swag alongside the Kosovans and Albanians.

Or the chairman of Morrisons supermarkets, a firm that has recently announced disappointing figures, could go and hawk his booty down Kings Cross to help out the shareholders.

And if they ever made "Back to the Future 4" then a Renault Avantine would make the ideal car to replace the DMC 12.

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