The Man, the Car, the Legend: Inside the History of the DeLorean

When we see the DeLorean, we can’t help but notice that we have a special spot for it in our hearts and our culture. Its smooth silver body brings up all sorts of 1980s vibes. Its sleek design might ignite the need for speed for some, and for others, it may conjure up all sorts of Back to the Future nostalgia. In any case, this beauty is special.

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Image: TIME

One of the reasons that make this car so special is its unique history, and the interesting history of its maker: John DeLorean. In this article we go way back, starting in the 1920s, and we take you for a joyride through the story of one of the most iconic automobiles on the American landscape.

John DeLorean: the Intrepid Mastermind Behind the Wheel

John Zachary DeLorean was born in 1925 in Detroit, Michigan. Spoiler alert: Detroit is the home of the “Big Three”, so it seems like John was certainly born in the right place. While attending a technical University in Southfield, Michigan, he found employment at Chrysler. After graduating with a B.Sc. in engineering, he was hired by Packard Motor Company.

His talent and genius were soon noticed by his superiors when he made some technical suggestions on how to improve transmissions. A few years later, he switched companies again and moved to GM. There he excelled further and would soon go on to form his own company: DeLorean Motor Company.

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Image: On The Record

No article will do this story justice if it doesn’t at least touch on a bit of Mr. DeLorean’s controversy. The man was a real non-conformist. When everyone in the 1950s showed up to work clean-cut, he would show up with sideburns, open shirts and a spirit of unconventionality. Ok cool, but no too crazy so far. In 1982 DeLorean was charged with trafficking illegal substances after he was arrested by federal agents who got him in a sting operation.

But because of some technical issues with evidence, DeLorean was found not guilty for trafficking. In 1985, he was put on trial for fraud charges. He was again found not guilty and acquitted. His maverick personality, his ingenious ideas and entrepreneurship, and his friction with the law all come together to make John DeLorean a legend with a sort of bandit status.

Product of a Maverick Mind: the DMC DeLorean

Interestingly, the iconic DMC DeLorean was only on the American market for two years. Still, the car has crept its way into our culture and even until today is easily identifiable by its rising doors, its lack of paint (that’s right, the DeLorean is one of the only cars ever to be sold without a paint job!), and its slick aerodynamic shape. If you look at car reviews from the 1980s, you’ll notice that the feedback is luke-warm at best.

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Image: The Sun

Lots of critics complained that the DeLorean’s power and speed did not live up to the expectations created by its sporty-looking design. Indeed, the car “only” reaches around 88mph pedal to the metal. There were also complaints that the price tag didn’t match the performance. Nonetheless, there was something special about the car, so much so that it became an icon, and it even caught the attention of Hollywood.

DMC DeLorean and Back to the Future

Performance and pricing complaints notwithstanding, makers of the fabled Back to the Future films fell in love with the DMC DeLorean. There was just something about the car that made the producers of the trilogy jump on it and never look back. Throughout the production of the films, they went through six cars.

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Image: Amazon.com

Not all of them survived though. A couple of them were scrapped because they were heavily damaged during the moviemaking. One was destroyed at the end of the third film. And Universal Studios owns the remaining cars, occasionally putting them on display. Also, a number of DeLorean after-market models were created and sold to fervid collectors of Hollywood memorabilia.

John DeLorean passed away at 80 in 2005, but his legacy is still going strong. His story, and that of his baby, the DeLorean DMC, are somewhat steeped in controversy, but they both go down in cultural history, and probably will not be forgotten any time soon.