The Fascinating Story Behind the DeLorean

The DeLorean Motor Company was founded by John DeLorean, the man who designed the Pontiac GTO. DeLorean was an executive at General Motors, but, according to Vettoretti, despite making a fortune at GM, he wanted to create an “ethical” car.

By Thomas Hall Wheels.ca

Sep 1, 2015 5 min. read

Article was updated 8 years ago

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It was a Back to the Future lovers dream: eight DeLorean’s parked in a row, gullwing doors open, stainless steel bodies polished and gleaming in the Saturday evening sun.

It was the first gathering of the Ottawa DeLorean Club, a new branch of the “Official DeLorean Owners Canada”. Organizers Stephane Van and Eric Vettoretti were hoping for 12 DeLoreans, but eight, plus four Bricklins — a 1970s gullwinged beauty that often gets mistaken for the more famous DeLorean — was still a rare sight.

For the owner’s showing off their cars in the parking lot of Monkey Joe’s bar in Ottawa, the dream of owning a DeLorean began in 1985 when “Doc” showed up in his stainless steel time machine in the film Back to the Future, the first of the trilogy.

“It’s been a lifelong dream,” Vettoretti says. “My dad brought me to the movie in 1985 and since I was nine I knew I wanted the car.” He began saving about 15 years ago and bought his dream car last summer.
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The thing with DeLorean’s is that everybody knows of them, but few know them, and those that do know the rare cars well are obsessed with the minutia of the car’s history. It took less than a minute of meeting Vettoretti until he began talking about some of the lore that surrounds DeLoreans.

“All of these here are U.S. models,” Vettoretti says. “There’s a rare Canadian version. The last, essentially, 100 off the line in Ireland, were destined for Canada, and they have the metric dash as opposed to the miles-per-hour.”

8 DeLoreans lined up in a row

And this is just one example of the out-there-somewhere, could-have-been and would-have-beens that DeLorean experts love to fetishize. Without the Back to the Future films DeLoreans probably would have been a footnote rather than a pop culture icon. After all, with a two year production run from 1981-83 that saw only 9200 roll out of the plant in a suburb of Belfast, Northern Ireland, the car was largely a flop.

The DeLorean Motor Company was founded by John DeLorean, the man who designed the Pontiac GTO. DeLorean was an executive at General Motors, but, according to Vettoretti, despite making a fortune at GM, he wanted to create an “ethical” car.

“He wanted a car that would last years, rather than just five years, which the big three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) were doing at the time,” Vettoretti says. “He wanted the stainless steel, the fiberglass, things that would last forever. He would charge a little more, but you’d have the car for 10-15 years.

DeLorean rear view

“He called it the DMC-12 because DeLorean wanted to sell it for $12,000 to compete with the Corvette that was selling at about that point,” Vettoretti says. “But by the time he actually started, it was more like $25,000 which is around $75,000 in today’s dollars.”

But apart from price DeLorean had other problems. He had created enemies at the “big three”, and so sourced his parts from Europe so they couldn’t shut him down. He opened a plant in Belfast with generous help from the government of Northern Ireland and had backers such as Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr., but still quickly ran over budget. Eventually, the car, after extensive re-engineering rolled of the line a few years late in 1981.
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“Unfortunately the first cars that were delivered were not that powerful because they had a pretty standard Volvo V-6,” says Vettoretti. ”It was a last minute thing to keep the cost down. Unfortunately it only has around 130 horsepower. We like to say ‘all show no go’.

DeLorean engine

“That was no good for investors like Johnny Carson,” says Vettoretti. “They took first delivery and wanted to blaze down the strip but really it was a let down. So inventory started building up and not enough sales, and it went down from there.”

DeLoreans rear lined up

And by late 1982 the DeLorean Motor Company was in receivership and John DeLorean was on trial for trafficking cocaine as part of a scheme to raise $17 million to help save the floundering DeLorean Motor Company. He was found not guilty when it became clear he was a victim of entrapment, but the damage was done and he was out of the car business.

The car, underpowered and overpriced, was seemingly doomed to obscurity, an odd footnote in car history, but instead it became a time machine.

“I would say 60 per cent of the owners bought them because of the movies,” Vettoretti says. “The other 40 per cent are original owners who, as my shirt says, wanted to ‘live the dream’ which was the original tag in the commercial.”

Vettoretti stand beside his DeLorean

Like any good collectors item, the earlier the DeLorean the rarer and better. For example, most of the DeLorean’s at Monkey Joe’s were from 1981. The tell is the distinctive groove in the hood. But only one of those is of an early enough vintage to have the gas flap on the hood. It belongs to Stephane Van, who, with Vettoretti, organized the gathering.

“It’s an early VIN, 2450, so it’s got the grooved hood and the gas flap,” Van says. “Back in 1985 when I saw the movie is when I first got interested, but I didn’t realize they were a real car back then. In 1987 I saw one in town and realized they were real. In 1988 I bought one after saving and saving and saving. I’ve owned it for 27 (years) and it’s my pride and joy. I like the way it drives and how it handles. I like the way it looks. Now that I’ve owned it for so long I’m not really into the back to the future thing but more into the car itself and the history behind it.”

Front view of a green DeLorean with the door open
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