Now here’s a machine with ripeness oozing out of every loose seal and ill-fitting gasket. Like many successful business ventures before it, the DeLorean Motor Company was the brainchild of a hotshot executive with something to prove. John DeLorean made a name for himself at General Motors with the Pontiac GTO of the early 1960s, and became the youngest-ever division head at GM. It wasn’t long before he began to feel stifled by the corporate tentacles which surrounded him, routinely undervaluing his forward-thinking and innovative design concepts:
The DeLorean Motor Company answered the prayers of business school professors far and wide. It became an enduring case study for the simultaneous mismanagement of the design & engineering functions, the supply chain, and thing loosely referred to as business ethics.
Initially slated to begin production in sunny Puerto Rico, John DeLorean threw a last-minute curveball and moved all his plans to the little hamlet of Dunmurry, Ireland, best known as the birthplace of Seamus O’Doyle (of “O’Doyle rules!” fame). DeLorean surrounded himself with engineers from England’s Lotus, with little experience producing passenger cars for the mass market. And once the assembly lines started, John DeLorean became curiously hard-to-find.
There’s a heartwarming story behind the “12″ in DMC-12, which is the model that spawned and ultimately crushed the entire franchise. With an intended retail price of $12,000 in 1981, this car had every intention of being a low-cost bolt of lightning for the entire sports car institution. Alas, something funny happened on the container ships en route to the US — DeLorean turned into a gold-digger overnight, and decided to one-up its own marketing team with an edgy new proposition: invalidator of your child’s college fund (see Price Equivalent below).
The marketing department, on the other hand, scored major wins in support of its strategy (and partnership with American Express) to position the DMC-12 as the gold-plated car for the “everyman”:
As it turns out, though, the entire country’s back was turned when the ads ran. The following Monday, some intern whispered in the CMO’s ear that gold-plated cars tended to only be driven by the richest of James Bond villains, and budgets were summarily slashed. Do over?
John DeLorean scored his big Rudy Ruettiger moment in the summer of 1982 when he was caught on tape transacting the sale of copious amounts of narcotics. The venture capital industry of those days, dominated by the likes of Pablo Escobar and Nino Brown, was intimately invested in the success of this little gull-wing beauty. Unfortunately, judges took a look at the kind of crack he was peddling and decided it was too low-grade to support the lofty ideals of the DeLorean… and the dream went up in smoke.
Ripe Car Name: DeLorean DMC-12
Years in production: 1981 to 1982*
Price: $25,000 in 1981 (approx. $69,308 today)
Price equivalent: 0.4 unmarked suitcases in a Miami hotel room
* Things that last longer than the DeLorean: goldfish, hunger strikes, sandwiches.
- Seriously: the BBC documentary, Car Crash: the DeLorean Story, is well worth a watch.