On this day in 1925, John DeLorean, a maverick auto industry executive and founder of the DeLorean Motor Company, is born in Detroit, Michigan. The DeLorean Motor Company produced just one model, the DMC-12, a sports car with gull-wing doors that opened upward, in the early 1980s before going bankrupt. In 1982, John DeLorean was charged with drug trafficking; prosecutors argued that he was attempting to raise money for his struggling company. In total, approximately 9,000 DMC-12s were produced. The car became a collector’s item and got a big publicity boost when it was featured as a time-travel machine in the “Back to the Future” movies starring Michael J. Fox.
Starting in the 1950s, DeLorean worked as an engineer for the Packard Motor Company and later moved to General Motors (GM), where he was credited with developing the Pontiac GTO, the first “muscle car.” DeLorean quickly rose through the corporate ranks at GM, becoming the youngest general manager of the Pontiac division and then, several years later, the youngest head of Chevrolet. He earned a reputation for corporate innovation as well as his flashy, jet-set lifestyle.
In 1973, DeLorean resigned from GM and eventually formed his eponymous company. With a major investment from the British government, as well as celebrities including Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr., DeLorean opened a factory in Dunmurry, Ireland. In 1981, he began producing his dream sports car, the DMC-12, which carried a then-hefty price tag of $25,000. However, the company soon ran into financial trouble and on October 19, 1982, the British government announced the plant would be shuttered. That same day, DeLorean was arrested on drug trafficking charges in Los Angeles. Several months earlier, DeLorean had been approached by a former drug smuggler turned federal informant and the two men engaged in a series of discussions about a deal involving cocaine smuggling and money laundering that would potentially save DeLorean’s business. During the highly publicized trial that followed, DeLorean maintained he had been set up by the government. A jury acquitted him in August 1984.
DeLorean died at age 80 from a stroke on March 19, 2005.