The Future Was Uncertain, and the End Was Always Near: The History of the DeLorean

The Future Was Uncertain, and the End Was Always Near: The History of the DeLorean

Undoubtedly, when you hear the word “DeLorean,” your mind turns to the movie series that put the car on the map. If that were the DeLorean’s only claim to fame, it would have a rich past.

But its time on the big screen was only the tip of the iceberg for the short-lived automobile.

The history of the car is steeped in controversy and defeat though its potential, at one time, seemed limitless. Due to its maker’s antics, the DeLorean DMC-12 was doomed before hitting the road. Not even going back to the future could save it from the inevitable.

The Man Behind the Machine

John Z. DeLorean, the man responsible for designing and manufacturing the car retaining his namesake, is widely thought to be responsible for the car’s demise, as well.

Beginning his career in car manufacturing in the 50s at Pontiac, he quickly rose through the ranks thanks in part to his rebellious behavior. By the time he decided to leave the mainstream automotive industry around two decades later, he was an exec with General Motors.

DeLorean decided that he would break free of the confines of the big corporations and develop his own car and play by his own rules.

He also had celebrity backing, as Sammy Davis Jr. not only helped to bankroll the venture, he was also given the honor of owning the first DeLorean produced. Roy Clark was also a backer for the line.

While he was arguably successful at this venture, he ultimately crashed and burned and took the DMC-12 down with him.

Let’s Get it Started

In 1977, DeLorean released an initial timeline of when the first of his new sports cars would roll out. He estimated 1978 would be the year of the DeLorean DCM-12, but he undershot by three years.

The DeLorean took to the open road in January of 1981 but was only made for two years, producing around 9,000 units.

Silver or Gold?

John DeLorean decided that Ireland was the place to manufacture his new supercar. A few months before its official release, DeLorean decided to make a grand entrance with his new creation by offering a 24k gold plated DCM-12 option in the Christmas edition of the American Express catalog. While seven patrons placed a down payment on one of the outrageously priced cars ($80,000 at the time of release, which is approximately $270,000 today), only three completed their purchase.

The “regular” DeLorean did not come with any paint at all. Instead, it was delivered in brushed stainless steel silver. However, it was reported that one buyer had his own gold plating put on a silver model.

Part of the lack of sales for the special gold edition model might have been contributed to the speculation that if even the slightest body damage occurred, it would have to be returned to the manufacturer for repair. On the other hand, if the steel model received any scratches, the owner could simply take a piece of sandpaper and quickly repair the issue on their own.

Futuristic Look

The DeLorean’s defining look can be attributed to its gull-winged doors that opened upwards rather than outwards. Though this was not the first time these doors were seen on a car, it continues to be the most recognizable, without a doubt.

Other than having the appearance of being able to fly if the doors were open, the DeLorean’s wedge-like shape gave the car a look of super speed; however, even some DeLorean purists find her to be an ugly duckling.

Show Me What You’re Working With

Under the hood, the DeLorean did nothing to impress. It was fitted with a 2.8-liter V6 engine that delivered a disappointing 130 horsepower. It took upwards of 10 seconds to go from 0 to 60, and its top speed was less than 110 mph. All of these factors made other faster, less expensive sports cars more appealing options. And the DeLorean’s sales showed that those other options were taken.

The Lengths Some Will Go to

John DeLorean knew that the sales for his line were not going to live up to their expectations, but to its maker, allegedly, failure was not an option.

The car’s presales were deplorable. The DeLorean was doomed to fail despite the manufacturer’s multiple revisions. John Delorean’s reckless actions to save the line did nothing to help his pet project.

The company’s owner was charged with saving the business by selling an ungodly amount of cocaine. He was acquitted of those charges, but the damage was already done. The company closed its doors soon after.

DeLorean was later arrested for mishandling company funds, but he was also acquitted of those charges.

Back to the Future

Yes, you knew this was coming. The DeLorean is synonymous with its iconic role in the Back to the Future movies.

Initially, the movies’ director thought about using a refrigerator to transport Marty back in time. Yet, as perfectly stated in the film, McFly is told by Doc Brown, "if you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?"

After the movies, the films’ DeLorean took a leading role at Universal Studios Hollywood as a visitor attraction. It was also granted the honor of being the 29th car to be added to the National Historic Vehicle Register.

The Most Coveted Failure: The History of the DeLorean

Though it could have genuinely been the car of the future, many mistakes and an overzealous car maker doomed the DeLorean from the start.

While only a few of the flying machines are still around today, they are considered one of the most coveted cars around. Some celebrity DeLorean owners include Justin Beaber, Brett Michaels, Russell Brand, and the late Stan Lee.

Though she may be an ugly anomaly who disappointed under the hood, she continues to put out in ways that were probably never dreamed of.

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