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Hollywood races for DeLorean story

As if America's motor industry needed a reminder of its myriad failures, cinema audiences may soon rake over the dodgy life and times of perhaps the most notorious figure in its recent history: the late carmaker John DeLorean.

Three separate production companies are competing to develop Hollywood biopics of the entrepreneur, who achieved fame creating an eponymous "gull-wing" sports car, before being tried and acquitted of organising a massive cocaine deal in an effort to save his ill-fated business empire.

The latest project, headlined by Time Inc Studios, the owners of Time, will draw on dozens of the magazine's investigations into DeLorean, pictured right, together with an unpublished autobiography detailing, in 500 pages, the career and private life that saw him romance Tina Sinatra and Ursula Andress, and rattle through four wives.

"It's almost like an updated Citizen Kane story of the great American entrepreneurial hero, and how it all went wrong," one of the producers, Nick Spicer, told Variety, adding that he had secured the co-operation of DeLorean's son and executor, Zachary.

DeLorean, who died in 2005 aged 80, was a star at General Motors in the 1960s and resigned in 1973 to set up the engineering firm which created the famous DMC-12, a steel sports car that starred in the Back to the Future blockbuster films.

Famous for his playboy lifestyle – he stood six foot four, had matinee idol looks (embellished, it is said, by a chin implant) and a personal fleet of 22 cars and motorbikes – DeLorean's efforts to reinvent the auto industry nonetheless ended in failure: his firm went bankrupt in 1982, after producing just 9,000 cars. Later that year, he was arrested for importing almost $15m-worth of cocaine into the US.

However despite video evidence of him taking delivery of a suitcase of the class-A drug, DeLorean managed to convince a jury that he'd been the victim of entrapment by the FBI.

The rest of DeLorean's life was spent dodging creditors, rebranding himself as a born-again Christian, and attempting to set up exotic business ventures, mostly using other people's money. In 1999, he was declared bankrupt again, when an enterprise to build a plastic sports car collapsed.

Films about his colourful life will have a special poignancy for British audiences, who may recall that Margaret Thatcher ploughed millions in taxpayers' money into a manufacturing plant he built in Northern Ireland, only for it to shut down in 1982, with the loss of almost 3,000 jobs.