Car maker John DeLorean dies in US, aged 80

 

John DeLorean the iconic car maker who left a promising career in Detroit to develop a stainless steel-skinned, gull-winged sports car in Northern Ireland - and was later acquitted of attempts to sell $24 million worth of cocaine to support the venture - has died at the age of 80.

At its height in the winter of 1981 the DeLorean factory at Dunmurry in west Belfast employed more than 2,600 people in an era of severe unemployment.

Renault was contracted to build the factory and make the engine, while Lotus designed the chassis and bodywork details.

The style was designed by Italian Giorgetto Giugiaro and the car became one of the industry's instant style icons. DeLorean famously remarked that it was aimed at the "rich, horny bachelor".

While the fast-talking DeLorean's marketing skills were undoubted - the Belfast Production facility was supported by £100 million from the British government - he was cursed by bad luck and of all things the weather.

Having taken an extra 1,000 staff in the initial euphoria of high sales a big freeze in the US caused sales to fall off dramatically. Also the car was pretty much in a class of its own when first proposed in the mid-1970s, and a special edition $85,000 gold-plated car was produced in the US in 1979.

But by the early 1980s Porsche, Mazda and Datsun had competitor cars in the mainstream market. Equally, the cost had originally been envisaged as $12,000, but the car was listed at $26,000 in 1981 - this was some $11,000 more than the Corvette, with which DeLorean had intended to compete. As engineering difficulties became apparent DeLorean sought additional finance on both sides of the Atlantic but Northern secretary James Prior put the factory into receivership in February 1982.

It turned out under 10,000 cars over 21 months before it closed in November 1982.

The same year he was arrested in the US in a "sting operation" in connection with attempts to sell cocaine worth $24 million after an accountants report said the company could be saved for $20 million. He pleaded entrapment and was acquitted.

In 1985 an auction of the remaining parts as "kits" was held in Dunmurry.

DeLorean whose namesake car was turned into a time machine in the Back to the Future movies, was among just a handful of US entrepreneurs who dared start a car company in the last 75 years.

Although he was a rising if unconventional executive at GM, and was believed by many to be destined for its presidency, he quit in 1973 to launch the DeLorean Motor Car Co, ultimately in Northern Ireland.

He died on Saturday in Overlook Hospital, Summit, New Jersey, of complications after a recent stroke.