Sports car legend DeLorean dead
Monday, March 21, 2005 Posted: 7:18 AM EST (1218 GMT)
NEWARK, New Jersey (AP) -- John Z. DeLorean, an automotive innovator who left General Motors to develop a radically futuristic sports car only to see that venture crash spectacularly as he fought federal drug charges, has died at age 80.
DeLorean was among just a handful of U.S. entrepreneurs who dared start a car company in the last 75 years.
While apt to be remembered popularly as the man behind the car modified for time travel in the "Back to the Future" movies, DeLorean left a powerful imprint in auto making built on unique, souped-up cars.
DeLorean died late Saturday at Overlook Hospital in Summit, New Jersey, of complications from a recent stroke, said Paul Connell, an owner of A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Directors in Royal Oak, Michigan, which was handling arrangements.
A Detroit native, DeLorean broke the mold of staid Midwestern auto executives by "going Hollywood," and pushed GM to offer smaller models, auto historians said.
While at GM, he created what some consider the first "muscle car" in 1964 by cramming a V-8 engine into a Pontiac Tempest and calling it the GTO, fondly dubbed the "Goat" by auto enthusiasts.
"John DeLorean was one of Detroit's larger-than-life figures who secured a noteworthy place in our industry's history," GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said Sunday in a statement. "He made a name for himself through his talent, creativity, innovation and daring. At GM, he will always be remembered as the father of the Pontiac GTO, which really started the muscle-car craze of the '60s."
DeLorean was a rising if unconventional executive at GM who many believe was destined for its presidency before he quit in 1973 to launch the DeLorean Motor Car Co. in Northern Ireland. Eight years later, the DeLorean DMC-12 hit the streets.
Its hallmarks, such as an unpainted stainless steel skin and the gull-wing doors, have been ignored by mainstream automakers. The angular design, however, earned it a cult following, and the car was a time-traveling vehicle for Michael J. Fox in the popular "Back to the Future" films of the late 1980s.
But the factory produced only about 8,900 cars in three years, estimated John Truscott, membership director of the DeLorean Owners Association. That figure is dwarfed by the major automakers, who sell more than a million vehicles a month.
DeLorean's company collapsed in 1983, a year after he was arrested in Los Angeles and accused of conspiring to sell $24 million of cocaine to salvage his venture.
DeLorean used an entrapment defense 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 British government lost the equivalent of $94 million over its heavy subsidies for the plant in West Belfast, granted with the hope that the venture's 2,000 jobs would weaken support for the Irish Republican Army, which was then fighting to end British rule in Northern Ireland.
DeLorean was later cleared of defrauding investors, but continuing legal entanglements kept him on the sidelines of the automotive world, although his passion for cars did not abate. After declaring bankruptcy in 1999, he said he wanted to produce a speedy plastic sports car selling for only $20,000.
"We are striving to bring the performance of a million dollar Ferrari, McLaren or Mercedes to younger people of modest means," DeLorean said.
That latest dream spoke of a life that revolved around cars.
John Zachary DeLorean was born as the first of four sons to a foundry worker for Ford Motor Co. After his parents divorced, he grew up there and in Los Angeles. He played saxophone in a jazz band and won a music scholarship to the Lawrence Institute of Technology in Detroit. He shifted to engineering, and after graduating in 1948 was hired by Chrysler. DeLorean later earned advanced degrees in engineering and business administration.
He joined GM in 1956 as an engineering director for Pontiac. His patents included the recessed windshield wiper and the overhead cam engine.
DeLorean led Pontiac by age 40, and four years later became the youngest head of GM's giant Chevrolet division.
He helped shift Detroit toward smaller, more efficient autos, such as the Vega 2300 in 1970.
DeLorean was a GM vice president in charge of all North American car and truck operations when he quit in 1973.
Car still modern today
The namesake car he created in the early '80s featured a rear-mounted, aluminum 2.8-liter V-6 fuel-injected engine that produced 130 horsepower and went 0-60 mph in less than 8 seconds. Independent four-wheel suspension, a broad 62-inch stance, and front wheels smaller than the rear set made for tight handling, aficionados said.
"Twenty years later, it's still just as modern as anything coming out of the factories now," Truscott said.
The two-seater originally sold for $33,000, and was available with either automatic or 5-speed manual transmissions. Some are now available for less than $20,000.
After the DeLorean car venture failed, he was involved in some 40 legal cases, including his 1985 divorce from model and talk show personality Cristina Ferrare -- his third wife -- after a 12-year marriage.
"I believe I deserve what happened to me," DeLorean told The Associated Press after the divorce, which followed his drug trial.
"The deadliest sin is pride," he said, proclaiming his faith as a born-again Christian. "I was an arrogant egomaniac. I needed this, as difficult as it was, to get my perspective back."
DeLorean is survived by his wife, Sally DeLorean; son, Zachary Tavio DeLorean; daughters, Kathryn Ann DeLorean and Sheila Baldwin DeLorean; three brothers; several nieces and nephews; and two grandchildren.
A public viewing was scheduled for Wednesday at the funeral home, with a private burial scheduled for Thursday at White Chapel Cemetery in the Detroit suburb of Troy.
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