The true story of John DeLorean

The extraordinary life of controversial car maker John DeLorean (whose iconic car design became famous in The Back To The Future films) has been turned into an exhilarating film, Driven, starring Lee Pace as the man whose incredible plan to revolutionise the automobile industry ends in a disaster involving cocaine smuggling, FBI informants and the IRA. Here’s a look at the fast rise, and devastating fall, of a man who had it all, but saw his dream swerve into the ditch.

A talent raring to go

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After getting an engineering degree, John DeLorean went to work in Detroit, known as ‘Motor City’ after it became the centre of car mass production in the 20th century. Starting at Chrysler, the highly talented and innovative engineer, moved to Packard, then General Motors, where he came up with the first ever ‘muscle car’, the Pontiac GTO. At the age of 40, became the youngest ever division head at the company.

Firing on all cylinders

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At General Motors, DeLorean was making a tonne of money, living a jet-set lifestyle and hanging out with Hollywood stars. But the maverick executive constantly clashed with his corporate paymasters, and, tired of the endless politics and infighting, he left the company in 1973, to follow his dream of running his own company.

Going solo

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The visionary car-maker set up the DeLorean Motor Company, and set about developing a two seat sports car, made of stainless steel with distinctive gull-wing doors. He built a huge manufacturing plant in Northern Ireland, with the British Government pumping nearly £100m into the venture, and the ground-breaking car started to roll off the assembly line.

A car is born

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The new car – called the DMC – hit the market in 1981. It had taken a decade for DeLorean to unveil it to the public. Unfortunately, it was too little too late – a slump in car buying, combined with lukewarm reviews, (and better comparable cars on the market from the likes of Chevrolet), meant the car was a flop.

All out of cash

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With half his cars left unsold, and the company in debt to the tune of $175 million, DeLorean was in trouble. That’s when his neighbour, James Timothy Hoffman (played in Driven by Jason Sudeikis), appeared on the scene. Hoffman offered the beleaguered car maker the chance to make some serious money, fast – by importing Columbian cocaine into the US. Little did DeLorean know that his friendly neighbour was an FBI informant who was setting him up for a high-profile bust.

All out of gas

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In 1982 DeLorean was arrested and charged with trafficking cocaine, and faced up to 67 years in jail. Among other things, an incriminating tape revealed DeLorean boasting of having a tight relationship with the IRA, and the British authorities believed he had paid the terrorist organisation protection money. His lawyers argued in court that he had been unfairly targeted by the duplicitous Hoffman and the FBI, who knew DeLorean was desperate for cash to keep his company afloat.

End of the road

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Although DeLorean was found not guilty of the charges, his reputation was ruined, and his company was bankrupt. Divorced from his wife, his career in the automobile industry over, DeLorean ended up selling watches online, but still dreamed of producing another car.

Going down in history

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In its own way, DeLorean’s car did become iconic – it was immortalised a few years later in the smash hit Back to The Future, starring Michael J Fox, with the car converted by Doc Brown into a time machine. The Back to the Future trilogy grossed close to one billion dollars at the box office, and the DMC became world famous. Existing models of the DMC are now collector’s items. DeLorean died in 2005, and the headstone on his grave features the car with its doors open.

DRIVEN is released in cinemas and on digital 8th November from Vertigo Releasing.
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