Oh what a lovely car… or was it? In fact, the DeLorean DMC-12 was an innovative sports car with gull-wing doors and stainless-steel body panels. The problems were all commercial. Savvy entrepreneur John Zachary DeLorean had honed his engineering and management skills in the cut-throat world of American auto manufacture, notably when developing the iconic Pontiac Firebird muscle car. Keen to repeat the trick on his own behalf, he founded the DeLorean Motor Company (DMC) in 1975 and developed the futuristic DMC-12 for the US market.
In an early move towards the manufacturing outsourcing that would later become commonplace, DeLorean shopped around for the best start-up deal. He was about to sign with Puerto Rico when a better offer landed on DMC’s table – from a British government desperate to stimulate the stagnating economy of Northern Ireland to help reduce rising sectarian tension. A huge manufacturing plant was built near Lisburn and the first DMC-12 rolled off the line early in 1981.
But the workforce was inexperienced, resulting in quality-control issues. The car looked good but was underpowered and overpriced compared with its competition. The DMC-12’s revolutionary stainless-steel exterior showed every mark from a fingerprint upwards and was hard to paint successfully. So every car leaving the factory looked identical, displeasing image-conscious American consumers whose sporty purchase was supposed to underline their individuality.
Sales faltered and financial problems ensued as surely as night follows day. The British government refused to mount a rescue unless matching funds were forthcoming. John DeLorean failed to attract other investors and – despite proclaiming that it was a viable business with money in the bank and a healthy order book – his company went bust in 1982. And the DMC-12 itself? Over two thirds of the 9,000 produced survived to become popular cult classics in the USA.
Where: Dunmurry, Lisburn, Northern Ireland, UK
Toll: When DMC folded 2,500 jobs were lost together with over $100 million of investments… and so was John DeLorean’s reputation. After his acquittal on charges of illegal drug dealing, DeLorean joked: ‘Would you buy a used car from me?’.
You should know: It should have been the commercial coup of the century, leading to massive worldwide sales of the DMC-12 – for this was the car chosen to star in the blockbusting Back to the Future trilogy. Unfortunately, DMC had already gone bust and production of the car ended before the first movie was released.