John DeLorean, an innovative car maker who left a promising career in Detroit to develop the short-lived gull-winged sports cars featured in the “Back to the Future” films, has died. He was 80.
DeLorean died on Saturday at Overlook Hospital in Summit, New Jersey, of complications from a recent stroke, said Paul Connell, an owner of A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Directors in Royal Oak, Michigan, which was handling arrangements.
DeLorean was among just a handful of US entrepreneurs who dared start a car company in the last 75 years. Nearly all faded away, but his crashed spectacularly amid drug charges.
A Detroit native, DeLorean “broke the mould” of staid Midwestern car executives by “going Hollywood,” and pushed General Motors Corp. to offer smaller models, car historians said.
While at GM, he created what some consider the first ”muscle car” in 1964 by cramming a V-8 engine into a Pontiac Tempest and calling it the GTO, fondly dubbed the ”Goat” by enthusiasts.
DeLorean was a rising, if unconventional executive at GM, who many believe was destined for its presidency before he quit in 1973 to launch the DeLorean Motor Car Co. in Northern Ireland. Eight years later, the DeLorean DMC-12 hit the streets.
Its hallmarks, such as an unpainted stainless steel skin and the gull-wing doors, have been ignored by mainstream car makers. The angular design, however, earned it a cult following, and the car was a time-travelling vehicle for Michael J. Fox in the popular “Back to the Future” films of the late 1980s.
Bu the factory produced only about 8,900 cars in three years, estimated John Truscott, membership director of the DeLorean Owners Association.
DeLorean’s company collapsed in 1983, a year after he was arrested in Los Angeles, accused in a sting of conspiring to sell 24 million dollars (£12.5m) of cocaine to salvage his venture.
DeLorean used an entrapment defence to win acquittal on the drug charges in 1984, despite a videotape in which he called a suitcase full of cocaine “good as gold”.
He was later cleared of defrauding his investors, but continuing legal entanglements kept him on the sidelines of the car world, although his passion for cars did not abate. After declaring bankruptcy in 1999, he said he wanted to produce a speedy plastic sports car selling for only 20,000 dollars (£10,000).