Barrie Wills, a former purchasing executive at the failed DeLorean car plant in southwest Belfast, has issued an appeal for surviving employees of the company to come together for a 35th anniversary reunion next year.
English man Mr Wills, who said the best years of his 50-year career in the motor industry were spent at DeLorean, has joined with the doomed company's former financial controller, David Adams, in organising the three-day event in Belfast next May.
“There are very few survivors from the company’s management left, and I’m sure it is the same for the shop floor staff, and we want to have this event before we all pop off,” said Mr Wills, who is now in his 70s.
Aside from American company owner, the “mercurial” John Z DeLorean, Mr Wills was the longest-serving executive, spending 4½ years at DeLorean in Belfast “from the day the bulldozers moved on to the site in 1978 to the day the keys were handed over to the receiver in 1983”.
In all, 9,000 of the gull-winged DeLorean car which famously featured in the Back to the Future films were manufactured at the Dunmurry plant in southwest Belfast. At its height, DeLorean employed 2,400 people from both sections of the community in an employment blackspot and during one of the bleakest periods of the Troubles that included the 1981 hunger strikes, recalled Mr Wills.
The company received major British Labour government financial assistance which was continued on by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government. Mr Wills, however, said that despite support from the Tory Northern secretary James Prior, Thatcher never really believed in the development.
“DeLorean failed for a combination of reasons: John DeLorean’s ego, the recession of the early 1980s and a British government who never really wanted it to succeed,” said Mr Wills. “James Prior wanted it to work but Margaret Thatcher’s heart was never really in the project.”
Over-ambition by DeLorean, who died aged 80 in 2005, plus his alleged involvement in a multi-million dollar cocaine deal to help keep the company afloat, did not assist the chances of the car plant succeeding. DeLorean got off on the cocaine dealing charges on the basis of illegal entrapment.
“The DeLorean plant should still be there today, I am convinced,” said Mr Wills. “It’s a cliché I know, but John was a charismatic and inspirational leader and his great idea could have worked.”
Of the 9,500 DeLoreans made, there are still 6,500 on the roads throughout the world, with more than 100 of them owned by enthusiasts in Ireland.
Mr Wills has urged anyone interested in attending the reunion to contact him at email@example.com.