On this day in 2005, John DeLorean, an innovative auto industry executive and founder of the DeLorean Motor Company, dies at the age of 80 in New Jersey. In the early 1980s, the DeLorean Motor Company produced just one model, the DMC-12, a sleek sports car with gull-wing doors that opened upward, before going bankrupt. John DeLorean was charged with drug trafficking in an effort to raise funds for his struggling company. Approximately 9,000 DMC-12s in total were produced. The car later became a collector’s item and received a big publicity boost when it was featured as a time-travel machine in the “Back to the Future” movies starring Michael J. Fox.
DeLorean was born on January 6, 1925, and grew up in Detroit. He worked as an engineer for the Packard Motor Company and later moved to General Motors, where he was credited with developing the Pontiac GTO, the first “muscle car,” which launched in 1964. DeLorean quickly rose through the 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 and was also known for his flashy, jet-set lifestyle.
In 1973, DeLorean resigned from GM and eventually formed his eponymous company. With investments from the British government, as well as celebrities including Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr., DeLorean opened a factory in Dunmurry, Ireland, that in 1981 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, due in part to slow sales in the United States. 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 earn enough money to save DeLorean’s company. During the highly publicized trial that followed, DeLorean maintained he had been set up by the government. A jury acquitted him in August 1984.