See the DeLorean: The 80s car that never quite flew (and couldn’t even time travel)

DeLorean DMC-12 car

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.


Now best known for their iconic appearance in the Back to the Future movies, 1980s DeLorean cars had an unusual origin story — and ended in a spectacular flameout.

Back in time: The DeLorean – A $70 million dream car (1976)

Article from Newsweek (January 26, 1976)

It will average 30 miles per gallon on the highway, streak from 0 to 60 mph in eight seconds, and protect its passengers in head-on crashes at 80 to 100 mph.

That, at least, is the dream car planned by John Z DeLorean, 50, the maverick auto man who forfeited an almost certain shot at the presidency of General Motors when he abruptly resigned his $500,000-a-year post in 1973.

Now sole proprietor of DeLorean Motor Co in suburban Detroit, DeLorean is busy trying to raise more than $70 million to develop and market the plastic-bodied, 2,200 pound DMC-12 by 1978. Projected price: $10,500.

About the DeLorean, the '80s dream car

“A fair number of people think I’m out of my mind for starting a new auto company this year,” DeLorean conceded. But with a car aimed to compete with the Mercedes 450SL and Corvette, he thinks he can succeed where other newcomers — from Preston Tucker and Henry J Kaiser to Powell Crosley and Malcolm Bricklin — have failed.

DeLorean plans to hold down tooling costs by buying components from other manufacturers, then assembling the cars in his own highly-automated plant.

DeLorean claims he has already invested “about $4 million” worth of time and money in the venture, and in a recent prospectus, he offered 35 auto dealers limited partnerships at $100,000 apiece. Using that money to design the cars, DeLorean hopes to raise $70 million or so more by lining up from 40,000 firm orders and using them as collateral for loans.

“Gentlemen,” he told a group of potential investors. “This is how I plan to spend the rest of my life. This is the reason I left GM.”

A vintage 80s Delorean car, seen from the front and the back

DeLorean DMC-12 carDeLorean DMC-12 car

The DeLorean. Live the dream. (ad from 1981)

Your eyes skim the sleek, sensuous stainless steel body, and all your senses tell you, “I’ve got to have it!”

The counterbalanced gull-wing doors rise effortlessly, beckoning you inside.

The soft leather seat in the cockpit fits you like it was made for your body.

You turn the key. The light alloy V-6 comes to life instantly.

'82 Delorean - Live the dream - from 1981

The DeLorean. Surely one of the most awaited automobiles in automotive history.

It all began with one man’s vision of the perfect personal luxury car. Built for long life, it employs the latest space-age materials.

Of course, everyone stares as you drive by. Sure, they’re a little envious. That’s expected. After all, you’re the one Living The Dream. Start living it today at a dealer near you.

A dealer commitment as unique as the car itself. There are 345 DeLorean dealers located throughout the United States. Each one is a stockholder in the DeLorean Motor Company. This commitment results in a unique relationship which will provide DeLorean owners with a superb standard of service.

Back to the Future I, II & III: About these classic time travel movies, plus see the original trailers

Delorean - Live the dream vintage ad from 1981

Super sports car: The waiting list is long for those longing for a new DeLorean (1981)

By D Sator, Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) September 9, 1981

The first copies of the long-awaited DeLorean sports car have arrived in Dayton, but you’re already too late to buy one of them.

If you want one of those stainless-steel baubles — advertised in Playboy and whiskey ads and produced in Northern Ireland by former General Motors dissident John J. DeLorean — you’ll have to put down a $3,000 deposit. The waiting list at Tom Harrigan Datsun Oldsmobile DeLorean, 5190 Salem Ave., the exclusive area dealer, already has 17 names on it.

Harrigan expects to receive only about four cars a month for the time being, but to be able to make immediate deliveries next February or March.

The first shipment to Harrigan consists of three vehicles, the first of which has been turned over to its physician owner. The second waits beneath a slipcover to be picked up by a businessman buyer, and the third is displayed behind red velvet ropes. That one is promised, too, so don’t ask to drive it.

1981 DeLorean ad - Cutty Sark leaders

Harrigan said the type of person who is prepared to pay $25,950 for a DeLorean “isn’t used to waiting for things. I had one customer ask where he could find another DeLorean dealer because he was going to buy 10 Oldsmobiles from the guy who’d give him immediate delivery on a DeLorean.

I’ve had money offered to me under the table, over the table — you name it.” The one thing that Harrigan promises is that people who put down a deposit on one of the cars will not have to pay more than sticker price.

John DeLorean is the former GM vice president who wrote “On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors,” a scathing attack on GM management. He had been mentioned prominently as a candidate to head the giant auto-making company before he quit eight years ago to build his car.

Back to the Future I, II & III: About these classic time travel movies, plus see the original trailers

The DeLorean, built near Belfast with the British government’s backing, doesn’t come in blue, yellow, red or even black. Its body is molded from brushed stainless steel, a low-carbon variety that does not turn dark with age. A special DeLorean polish is available, although at Harrigan’s, Windex is used to keep the car clean. The car comes with a 25-year rust warranty.

The DeLorean has a distinctive sports car line that is a little like the Corvette’s. It has counter-balanced gull-winged doors that spring open at a touch of a button, and which the driver closes by pulling on a leather strap.

The car is only about 45 inches high, and when the driver steps down into its leather-surrounded two-seat cockpit-like interior, his feet are only about 8 inches above the ground.

De Lorean Motor Company - Original car accessories brochure

The rear-engine DeLorean, designated the DMC-12, has only one option, an automatic transmission that costs an additional $650.

As originally conceived, the DeLorean was to be lightweight (2,200 pounds), was to get more than 30 miles per gallon on the highway and 20 in city driving and to sell for $15,000. As it turns out, it weighs 2,700 pounds, is rated at 19 miles per gallon under average driving conditions, and sells for $11,000 more than planned.

All DeLoreans come with a Renault light-alloy V-6 engine with overhead camshafts, air conditioning, AM-FM stereo, power windows and side-view mirrors, central door-locking system and tilt and telescoping steering column. Salesman Bill Powell at Harrigan’s said that so far about “75 percent like them, and the rest hate them.”

Some of those who like DeLoreans have been waiting 21/2 years for a chance to own one. If an owner ever becomes bored with his DeLorean he can always get it gold-plated. American Express offers to do the job for $85,000.

DeLorean car - Craig stereo 1978

DeLorean indicted on drug charges

Excerpted from an article published in the Kingsport Times-News (Kingsport, Tennessee) October 20, 1982

A federal grand jury yesterday indicted automaker John DeLorean on charges he financed a $24 million cocaine deal, and hours later he was freed on $10 million bail after spending 11 days in prison.

The indictment indicated that DeLorean, a former General Motors vice president, may have given away his Northern Ireland-based auto company to an undercover federal agent who posed as a drug dealer. Prosecutors refused to elaborate.

Cocaine-laced Coca-Cola introduced (1886)

DeLorean, who allegedly agreed to finance a $24 million cocaine deal in a futile attempt to save the collapsing sports car company, spent 11 days at Terminal Island federal prison.

Criminal attorney Joseph Ball said he did not know what DeLorean would do when he is freed on bail or where he would live. Asked if the increased bail presented special problems, Ball said, “Ten million dollars or $100 million, I don’t give a damn as long as it gets him out. He’s not going to run, he’s going to be here and get all the property back.”

Rows of Delorean cars - Dealerships closed in 1982

Attorney Bernard Minsky said DeLorean, who was described by a fellow inmate as “relaxed,” had been reading the Bible while in prison and attending religion classes. Walsh said the terms of the bail were expanded to permit DeLorean to travel to New Jersey.

The indictment charged that DeLorean on Sept. 29 “sent stock certificates representing 100 percent of the stock of DeLorean Motor Company, Inc., to an undercover agent using the name James Benedict in San Carlos, Calif.” The indictment did not elaborate.

Federal prosecutors, asked whether that meant the U.S. government now possesses all stock and in effect actually owns the auto firm, would only smile and say “No comment.”

The firm’s factory collapsed under the weight of more than $60 million in debts the same day DeLorean was arrested, bringing on an angry debate in the British government, which had granted it $30 million in support. The nine counts brought against DeLorean by the grand jury carry a maximum prison term of 72 years and a $195,000 fine.

The Kodak Disc camera debuted in 1982, but couldn't live up to its promise. Here's the story.

PS: If you liked this article, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest. Thanks for visiting and for supporting a small business! 🤩 


You might also like...

The fun never ends:

Comments on this story

One Response

  1. I remember going to a local mall in the early 80s and seeing a DeLorean on display. It was causing a minor sensation, with people waiting in line to sit in the driver’s seat. After that, I would see one on the road occasionally, but that was pretty much it.

Leave a comment here!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.