1982 Delorean
1982 Delorean; photo by Richard Spiegelman. Click image to enlarge

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By Bill Vance

In 1973, John DeLorean resigned a $650,000 job that had brought the working class Detroit boy within sight of the General Motors’ presidency. He did it for what he called personal ethics, and he
became a folk hero.

DeLorean was a brilliant engineer, and he wanted to build his own “ethical car.” By 1975 he had organized the DeLorean Motor Company. His charisma and reputation attracted top talent, including chief engineer Bill Collins, who had downsized GM’s full-size 1977 cars, famed Italian stylist Giorgetto Giugiaro, and C.R. (Dick) Brown, architect of Mazda’s U.S. distribution system.

The first DeLorean prototype appeared in late 1976, and Brown used it to attract dealers who invested US$25,000 each, creating almost US$4 million in capital. DeLorean raised another million from other investors, including television personality Johnny Carson.

But $5 million wasn’t near the estimated $340 million required for a new car company. DeLorean was reluctant to risk his own money; in 1981 Automotive News, the industry journal, reported that his “only investment documented by public records, was $20,000.” He began courting governments anxious to reduce chronic unemployment.

He reached a verbal agreement with Puerto Rico by the summer of 1978, while also secretly negotiating with Britain for a plant in Northern Ireland, and with the Republic of Ireland for one in Limerick. When he began playing one against the other, Puerto Rico and the Republic of Ireland withdrew.

But Britain was desperate for employment in Northern Ireland, particularly Belfast. A new automobile plant with 2,500 jobs would promote it as a safe industrial haven. It was ideal for DeLorean.

While DeLorean negotiated, work progressed on the car. Lotus Cars was engaged in 1978 to help with design and testing, causing engineer Collins to depart in 1979.

Using existing Lotus technology, such as a double-Y “backbone” chassis similar to the Lotus Elan’s, Lotus had the DeLorean car production-ready in just 25 months.

In the rear Y was the transmission and the Renault-Volvo-Peugeot 2.8-litre aluminum, single overhead cam V6. An engine-behind-the-rear-axle layout in a car designed in the 1970s was highly unusual. It had fully independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, and a five-speed manual transmission.

Giugiaro’s low, crisply styled, wedge-shaped two-seater coupe was clad in brushed stainless steel. Its most distinguishing feature was gullwing doors.

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