DeLorean, the car-maker who took Thatcher for a ride, dies

John DeLorean, the American car mogul who walked away with millions after failing to make true his promise to create thousands of jobs in Northern Ireland during the height of the Troubles, has died, aged 80.

Mr DeLorean died in hospital in New Jersey, from complications following a recent stroke.

With his mane of silver hair and penchant for marrying much younger women after divorcing his wife of 15 years, he cut a striking figure in the 1980s, his flashy style perfectly in tune with a time marked by conspicuous consumption and widespread recreational drug use.

At the height of his success, he owned two estates, a 20-room apartment on New York's Fifth Avenue, had a personal fleet of 22 trucks, cars and motorcycles, and dropped in on his favourite golf course by helicopter.

He also underwent cosmetic surgery and was a perpetual dieter.

But he was best known for abandoning a promising career in Detroit, that had begun at 24 as a Chrysler engineer, to create his own sports car company in 1973. It surprised no one when he named the car after himself.

A maverick known for technical innovations and risk-taking, he switched to General Motors and developed top-selling models for its Pontiac division. By the age of 44, he was the head of General Motors' giant Chevrolet division. Analysts predicted that he would become the next GM chief.

But his next venture was his downfall. He was awarded £85m during the late 1970s and 1980s by successive governments to set up a plant to produce a revolutionary, gull-winged, stainless steel sports car in Northern Ireland.

The Labour government, under Jim Callaghan, was convinced that the plant would provide a boost to Northern Ireland, ravaged by unemployment, and help suppress support for the IRA ,and awarded him £55m to set up the plant. The Thatcher government later gave him a further £35m. But although the plant was built, it only ever produced 8,900 cars and closed after just 21 months.

Receivers were appointed and all but a handful of 2,700 workers were sent home and back to the dole. The rest soon followed. The car model, though, had greater success - it featured in Back to the Future films as inventor Doc Brown's creation which he used to send Michael J Fox's on travels through time.

The British Government had fought off competition to win the plant deal from other countries. When it all went wrong, there were allegations of money being siphoned off into a numbered Swiss bank account, fraud and drug dealing.

Mr DeLorean was accused of conspiring to sell £12.5m of cocaine to salvage his car venture after being arrested in an FBI sting operation. He used an entrapment defence to win acquittal on the drug charges in 1984, despite a videotape in which he called a suitcase full of cocaine "good as gold".

The former General Motors director was later cleared of defrauding his investors, but continuing legal entanglements kept him from returning to the business. Even after he was declared bankrupt in 1999, he said he wanted to produce a speedy plastic sports car selling for less than $20,000.

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