Semaphore – DeLorean DMC12

With only around 30 DeLorean’s in the country, seeing one on the road is always going to be a rare occurrence. So why the interest in a sports car that’s not really all that good? Well, there’s the obvious starring role in the Back To The Future trilogy, but for me the story behind the car is far more compelling.

Cars that are the personal project of great visionaries are always interesting, and the DMC12 was the personal project of John Z DeLorean. The child of immigrant parents (his mother worked factory jobs to support the family due to his father’s alcoholism), DeLorean excelled in public schools so highly that he earned a scholarship to study Industrial Engineering (whilst also studying his MBA after hours). He began his career with General Motors as an engineer for Packard and worked his way up the ladder until he was division chief of Pontiac, the youngest ever division chief at age 40. At Pontiac he developed the idea for the GTO, and is widely credited for inventing the muscle car.

In 1969 he was promoted as chief of the prestigious Chevrolet brand (earning around $600,000 in 1969) and was responsible for turning Chevrolet from a loss making, inefficient division into a success story. His success at Chevrolet saw his promotion to vice president of car and truck production for the entire GM, and he was widely tipped to become the president of GM. He jet-setted all over the world, partied with A-list celebrities and counted the likes of Sammy Davis Jnr and Johnny Carson as friends.

Despite this success DeLorean was never much of a ‘company man’, and quit GM in 1973 in a shock move, telling reporters “I want to do things in the social area. I have to do them, and unfortunately the nature of our business just didn’t permit me to do as much as I wanted.” He formed the DeLorean Motor Company and showed his first concept in 1976, designed by Giorgetto Guigiaro of Italdesign. He then famously signed an agreement with the United Kingdom to produce the DMC12 in Northern Ireland, in a bid to aid their huge unemployment problems as a result of the war. The factory was due to be completed in 1978 and production was scheduled to begin in 1979, but problems with the project meant that production didn’t begun until 1981.

The chassis of the DMC12 was engineered by Lotus, and featured a rear mounted Renault 6 cylinder engine. A fibreglass tub was mounted to a backbone chassis (similar to Lotus’ own Esprit) and the famous stainless steel body panels were bonded on. The unpainted stainless steel body is probably the DMC12’s most distinguishing feature, but in reality is not very practical. Stainless is very hard to work with which makes repairing a damaged panel almost impossible, leaving replacement as the only option.

The cars weren’t really that great, either. The Renault engine had 50hp less than the Ford Cologne engine first planned, and US versions had 20hp less than that after the emissions control devices were added. With just 130hp, the cars were breathless and lethargic. For some reason the suspension was raised from what Lotus first designed which made the handling abysmal, and the cockpits were stuffy with poor ventilation. And on top of all that, quality was terrible due to an unskilled but highly paid workforce who were accustomed rioting and fighting rather than building sports cars.

Production ended in 1982 when the United Kingdom deemed the venture unsuccessful and demanded their £100,000 investment back. This plunged the company into deep financial troubles, and it went bankrupt when John DeLorean was arrested on drug trafficking charges in late 1982. He was so desperate to save his company that he was resorting to any possible option, and he had several meetings with a dealer about moving cocaine. He had decided not to get involved, but was forced to when death threats were made to his daughter if he didn’t. He was arrested before actually trafficking the drugs, and it came out in court that he was setup by an FBI informant and that the threats were made by the US Government. In 1984 he was found not guilty because of entrapment, but by then it was too late. The DeLorean Motor Company was gone.

These days you can buy all the parts you need to ‘fix’ your DeLorean, and turn it into the car John Z imagined. And I think it’s worth it in a weird kind of way. Just look at this one sitting in Semaphore. There’s nothing else like it, and if you want to be noticed then this is the car.

In 1997, a company in Texas bought the DeLorean and DMC name, and the huge inventory of NOS parts and spares. They sell service and restoration parts, and are also manufacturing continuation DMC12’s. These ‘new’ DMC12’s have DMC chassis numbers, and are built using around 80% New Old Stock parts. Check out their website, it’s a fascinating read.

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1 Comment

  1. Tom Gilbert October 24, 2012 Reply

    Very cool. Our mate Adam has a mint example and I am actually very suprised at how progressive it was once I had a good look in and around it.

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