After close to 30 hours of deliberation, a jury of six men and six women unanimously acquits the former automaker John Z. DeLorean of eight counts of drug trafficking in Los Angeles, California, on this day in 1984.
A Detroit native and the son of an autoworker, DeLorean began working for the Packard Motor Company as an engineer in 1952. He rose quickly at Packard and later at General Motors (GM), where he moved in 1956. At GM, he managed both the Pontiac and Chevrolet divisions before becoming a vice president in 1972. DeLorean’s flashy style and self-promotional ability distinguished him in the staid culture of the auto industry, while his ambition and appetite for innovation seemed never to be satisfied: He claimed to hold more than 200 patents and was credited with such developments as the lane-change turn signal, overhead cam-engine and racing stripes.
In 1975, DeLorean left GM to found the DeLorean Motor Company and follow his dream of building a high-performance and futuristic but still economical sports car. With funds from the British government, DeLorean opened his car plant near Belfast in Northern Ireland in 1978 to manufacture his eponymous dream car: Officially the DMC-12 but often called simply the DeLorean, it had an angular stainless-steel body, a rear-mounted engine and distinctive “gull-wing” doors that opened upward. After skyrocketing production costs caused the DMC-12’s price tag to top $25,000 (at a time when the average car cost just $10,000) sales were insufficient to keep the company afloat. Following an investigation into suspected financial irregularities, the British government announced the closing of the DeLorean Motor Company on October 19, 1982. That same day, John DeLorean was arrested and charged with conspiring to obtain and distribute $24 million worth of cocaine.
The prosecution’s seemingly airtight case centered on a videotaped conversation about the drug deal between DeLorean and undercover FBI agents. If convicted, DeLorean faced up to 60 years in prison. DeLorean’s defense team argued that he had been entrapped, or lured into a situation that made it look like he had committed a crime. On August 6, 1984, the jury issued its surprising acquittal verdict. Over the next 15 years, DeLorean saw his dream car shoot to Hollywood stardom (in the “Back to the Future”film trilogy) even as he battled nearly 40 legal cases relating to his failed auto company. He declared bankruptcy in 1999 and died in 2005, at the age of 80.