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For the DeLorean, it’s back to the present

The iconic gull-winged sports car is once again hot, and there are
plans afoot to place it back in production.
By Martin Zimmerman, Times Staff Writer
July 28, 2007

Danny Botkin’s love affair with the DeLorean got off to an unpromising

It was the early ’80s and a teen-age Botkin was tagging along while
his father shopped for a new car. A Ford dealer had a rear-engined,
gull-winged DeLorean on display, and the flash of stainless steel
automotive skin caught Danny’s eye.

“I was smitten,” Botkin, now 40, recalls. “I said, ‘Hey Dad, let’s get

“He got a Bronco instead.”

Botkin had to grow up and buy his dream car himself. He drives a
restored DeLorean modeled after the one that served as a time machine
in the 1980s blockbuster “Back to the Future.”

He also manages a repair and refurbishing shop in Garden Grove that’s
affiliated with DeLorean Motor Co. (Texas), a suburban Houston company
that rebuilds DeLoreans and is laying plans to bring the car back into
limited production.

The last DeLorean rolled off the assembly line in Northern Ireland in
1982. But like Duran Duran, the Rubik’s Cube and other Reagan-era
icons, the car retains a following.

Of the 9,000 built in 1981 and 1982, about 6,500 are still on the
road, according to James Espey, vice president of DeLorean Motor.
Enthusiasts gather at clubs from Cleveland to Norway. An event next
week at Universal Studios Hollywood theme park is expected to attract
more than a hundred DeLoreans.

“People of all ages are interested in this car,” says Espey, a San
Diego native. “Kids who can’t tell you what a Camaro is come through
here on tours because they’ve seen ‘Back to the Future.’ ”

From the start, the DeLorean seemed destined for cult status. Its gull-
wing doors and rakish lines stood out in an auto market that was still
living down the AMC Pacer. And the stainless steel exterior looked
like it belonged on a jet fighter.

Then there was the man himself. John DeLorean had been a rising star
at General Motors Corp. in the 1960s – he’s credited with conceiving
the GTO and the Firebird – when he decided to chuck it all and start
his own car company. (He’d already shed the button-down GM lifestyle,
opting for flashy clothes, styled hair and celebutante girlfriends.)

Despite his attention-grabbing persona and product, DeLorean couldn’t
sell enough of the $25,000 cars to stay afloat. By 1982, his company
was in receivership. He hit rock bottom that year when he was busted
on charges of cocaine trafficking. He was acquitted, but the ordeal in
effect ended his business career. He died in March 2005.

DeLorean’s car would live on, thanks primarily to “Back to the
Future,” the top-grossing film of 1985. Ditching their original idea
of using an old refrigerator as a time machine, the scriptwriters
opted for a modified DeLorean because of its futuristic look,
particularly the doors, according to co-writer Bob Gale.

The movie made Michael J. Fox a star – and launched the DeLorean pop

“John DeLorean wrote us a fan letter after the movie came out: ‘Thank
you for keeping my dream alive,’ ” Gale recalls. “Probably half of the
people who own DeLoreans today own them because they saw ‘Back to the
Future.’ ”

The enduring appeal of the car keeps Espey’s Texas shop and its
affiliates busy.

Espey’s company acquired the parts and engines that were left over
after DeLorean’s company went belly up; it also owns the trademarks
and many of the engineering drawings.

Espey’s 20-person operation handles a dozen or so rebuilds a year and
has an eight-month waiting list. (Buying and restoring a used DeLorean
will cost you about $25,000; they’ll strip one to the frame and
completely rebuild it for a base price of $42,500.)

At DeLorean Motor Co. (California) in Garden Grove, there are 15 cars
in for service or refurbishing at any given time, Botkin says.

With 200 of the original 2.8-liter V-6 engines still in stock and
facing a dwindling supply of cars suitable for rebuilding, Espey
figures that within a year or so they’ll start making the cars from

Their manufacturing plans are modest – maybe 20 or so cars a year. But
it would be quite a comeback for a car that was given up for dead more
than a quarter of a century ago.

And based on the reaction Botkin gets when he takes his “BTTF”
DeLorean out for a spin, there’s a market out there.

“I can’t park it without attracting a pile of people,” he says. “We
like to cruise up and down PCH just to get people’s reactions.

“It’s a smile maker.”

martin [dot] zimmerman [at] latimes [dot] com


The former American car maker John DeLorean has died aged 80.
21 March, 2005

DeLorean, whose car company at Dunmurry near Belfast collapsed in
1982, died in New Jersey on Saturday of complications after a recent

The government had backed his factory with £80m of public money, in
the hope that it would create 2,000 jobs.

He was acquitted of conspiring to sell over £12.5m of cocaine to save
the firm in Los Angeles in 1982 but died still wanted on fraud charges
in the UK.

DeLorean, whose namesake car was turned into a time machine in the
Back to the Future films, had been a rising executive at General
Motors before starting his own company.

Manufacture of the DeLorean DMC-12 car began at the Dunmurry plant in
1981, with fewer than 9,000 cars rolling off the production lines
before its closure in 1982.

Despite the firm’s failure the car, with its unpainted stainless steel
skin and gull-wing doors, gained a cult following.

BBC Northern Ireland’s business editor James Kerr said DeLorean was a
“talented maverick”.

“The problem was he did not have the money to back his big idea for a
very different type of sports car,” he said.

“The car was launched in the midst of a recession. The market
collapsed as did the company when the government refused to bail him

“This happened at the same time as an arrest for drug dealing and
fraud and although there was no conviction the financial scandal of
his company’s collapse dogged the rest of DeLorean’s life.”

In 1999 he was declared bankrupt.

Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, permanent secretary at the Department of
Commerce in Northern Ireland when the company closed, said DeLorean
was an extraordinary individual.

“On the one hand, he was a very striking, charismatic, like a motor
industry executive acted by somebody in Hollywood,” he said.

“If he wanted to, he could turn on the charm offensive, but at other
times he could be very abrasive and unpleasant.”

Dick Mulholland, a former worker at DeLorean’s factory in Dunmurry,
said he inspired the workforce when he first brought the company to
the province.

“He was a guy who brought a dream, we all lived that dream, we all
felt part of that dream, it was our dream,” he said.

“But when you found out what had really gone on, you had to say to
yourself that a lot of the blame (for the company’s failure) must lie
with John DeLorean.”

John Z. DeLorean, Father of Glamour Car, Dies at 80

Published: March 21, 2005

NURSING DeLOREANS Rob Grady cares for the bruised progeny of the once
fabulous, now defunct DeLorean Motor Company in his West Sayville

John Z. DeLorean, the flamboyant automobile industrialist whose dream
of running his own car company dissolved into bankruptcy, died
Saturday evening at Overlook Hospital in Summit, N.J. He was 80 years
old and lived in Bedminster, N.J.

The cause was complications after a stroke, his family said.

Mr. DeLorean, a Detroit native, was once thought to be a contender for
the presidency of General Motors but left the world’s largest
automaker in 1973 and went on to start his own company, DeLorean Motor
Company, with the backing of investors like Johnny Carson and Sammy
Davis Jr.

DeLorean Motor produced only one model, the DMC-12, but it made a
lasting impression. In the early 1980’s, with increasingly dull cars
coming from Detroit, the unpainted, stainless steel-bodied sports car
had doors that opened upward like a gull’s wings and was featured in
the “Back to the Future” movies starring Michael J. Fox.

Although the car remains a collector’s item, the life of Mr.
DeLorean’s company was brief, with about 9,000 cars produced at a
factory in Northern Ireland before the company went bankrupt in 1982.
Soon after came charges by authorities in the United States that Mr.
DeLorean was selling cocaine to prop up its finances. Mr. DeLorean was
acquitted in 1984 after a highly publicized trial.

Although he was never able to rekindle his automotive dream-for a time
he started a wristwatch company called DeLorean Time -he never let it
go. His fourth wife, Sally, said in a brief interview yesterday that
he had designed a sports car and hoped to start another automaker.

“He’s been working on it for the last couple years,” she said.

John Zachary DeLorean was born in Detroit on Jan. 6, 1925, the oldest
of four sons of a Ford Motor Company foundry worker. Growing up in a
working-class neighborhood, he graduated from the Lawrence Institute
of Technology and went on to earn master’s degrees in engineering and

He joined the small Packard Motor Car Company as an engineer in 1952.
With ambition, insight and an eye for the unconventional, he became a
rising star, first at Packard, and starting in 1956, within G.M., the
world’s largest automaker. At 40, he became the youngest general
manager of G.M.’s Pontiac division, and four years later the youngest
manager of Chevrolet. In 1972, at 48, he became a G.M. vice president.

He was an anomaly in an industry then dominated by buttoned-down
executives. He dyed his hair jet black, wore shirts open to the navel,
married a teenage starlet and subsequently a supermodel, and became a
wonder at self-promotion. He wore long sideburns that violated the
company’s unwritten dress code, and even had the president of Ford act
as best man at his second wedding. He also owned, for a time, an
interest in the San Diego Chargers and played the jazz saxophone.

“He once told me that he placed enjoying life very high in his list of
priorities, and he felt that contrasted with many other executives,”
said J. Patrick Wright, who collaborated with Mr. DeLorean on a book
called “On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors.”

His flair extended to business. He led the team that created Detroit’s
first muscle car, the Pontiac GTO, beginning a wave of such vehicles.
Many in the industry thought he would one day be G.M.’s president, but
he left G.M. in 1973, citing opposition to his unorthodox business
style; others said he was dismissed. He told a reporter at the time,
“There’s no forward response at General Motors to what the public
wants today.”

Mr. DeLorean became intent on creating a corporation in his image.

“If we were super, super lucky and did everything right, we might some
day have another BMW,” Mr. DeLorean said in 1977.

He opened a factory in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland, in early 1981,
which was to produce his $25,000 sports car, at a time when the
average vehicle cost about $10,000. The British government sank $120
million into the $200 million project.

But with the DeLorean plagued by quality problems, the company fell
into financial trouble and was the subject of a British government
investigation into financial irregularities. The inquiry found no
evidence of criminal conduct, but on Oct. 19, 1982, the British
government announced the factory would be closed.

On the same day, in Los Angeles, Mr. DeLorean was arrested and charged
with conspiring to obtain and distribute 55 pounds of cocaine. He was
videotaped in an F.B.I. sting, overheard declaring “it’s better than
gold” when presented with a case of cocaine by people he thought were
investors but who turned out to be law officers.

In his trial, Mr. DeLorean contended that he had been lured into a
setup. A jury in Los Angeles acquitted him in August 1984.

Shortly thereafter, he faced another trial, in Detroit, on fraud
charges after a grand jury accused him of siphoning off about $9
million that investors had put into his auto company. He was acquitted
in that trial as well. He and his third wife, Cristina Ferrare, the
model and actress, were divorced in 1985.

Legal troubles drained Mr. DeLorean’s resources over the years. By
2000, he sold off his estate in Bedminster, which is now part of a
golf course operated by Donald Trump.

In addition to his wife, Mr. DeLorean is survived by two daughters,
Kathryn Ann DeLorean and Sheila Baldwin DeLorean; a son, Zachary Tavio
DeLorean; three brothers: Charles (Chuck) DeLorean, Jack DeLorean and
George DeLorean; and two grandchildren.

Although Mr. DeLorean’s company long ago stopped producing cars, it
survives today as a company in Texas that bought all of the remaining
DeLorean parts, and repairs and refurbishes cars for collectors.

“You can’t discount the value of the ‘Back to the Future’ movies,”
James Espey, the vice president of DeLorean Motor, said yesterday.
“People who saw the cars in the movies in their teens, these are
people in their early, mid 30’s, well established, and they now can
get the car they wanted when they were a kid.”

Although Mr. DeLorean was not involved with the company, Mr. Espey
said he spoke to Mr. DeLorean once a month, including a talk Thursday
shortly before the stroke. Mr. Espey said Mr. DeLorean was concerned
about financial troubles of G.M.

“He had said that there were too many bean counters and not enough
engineers in the management,” said Mr. Espey.

Mark DeLorean, a nephew of Mr. DeLorean’s, said Mr. DeLorean was
concerned that automakers were relying too much on rebates to sell
cars that were not much to look at. “John’s attitude was always, ‘I
want people’s eyes to light up when they walk through the showroom,’ ”
Mark DeLorean said.

{Micheline Maynard and Jeremy Peters contributed reporting for this

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