Ask most fans of Movie Cars - specifically those from 80s blockbusters - what their favourite set of wheels is, and the DMC DeLorean probably features highly up the rankings. Its use as the time machine of Doc and Marty McFly in the Back to the Future series of films, with its distinctive gull wing doors, means it is globally recognised today.
However, a new documentary, which aired last night (27th January) on BBC Two, titled DeLorean: Back from the Future, has uncovered the full story of how one of the most promising sports car projects of the early 80s quickly unravelled to become one of its most catastrophic failures.
Named after John DeLorean, the DeLorean Motor Company was founded as his vision in his native Detroit, Michigan, in October 1975, with investment capital being generated from numerous private parties and partnerships. Prior to this, he was a well respected and known engineer in the automotive industry, and was the youngest ever person to become an executive at General Motors.
He wanted to take on and become a credible contender to the giants of the US car industry at that time. But coming from a poorer background himself, he also wanted to innovate, and establish the production plant for his new firm in an area of particularly high unemployment. Thus he accepted an offer from the Industrial Development Board of Northern Ireland, after receiving seed funding from the UK Government, who were keen to create jobs in an area of the country that was still greatly affected by the Troubles.
Construction of the plant began in Dunmurry, a suburb of Belfast, in the autumn of 1978, with the first run of DMC DeLoreans scheduled to begin production the following year in 1979. However, this is where problems started to arise that would eventually lead to DeLorean’s downfall. The DMC model was beset by engineering delays that meant production only got under way in 1981. Furthermore, many of its engineers were lacking in experience, which flagged up major quality control issues.
Production quality was to generally improve over the course of that year, but by the time it had, the DMC - which, compared to other sports cars of the time, was lacking somewhat in the power and performance of its rivals - was in dire straits. Initial sales projections in order to break even had been around 10,000 - 12,000 units. But it performed poorly, with only 9,000 ever being made and only 6,000 of these being sold.
John DeLorean himself lobbied the UK Government for further financial support in 1982, but was refused unless he could find matching support from other investors. It was most unfortunate that what happened next, when he was entrapped in a videotaped sting operation where he appeared to agree to bankroll drug trafficking - which he was eventually acquitted of on all charges - killed off his reputation in the motoring world stone cold dead, leading to the closure of the DeLorean production plant in Dunmurry and the dissolution of the firm altogether in December of that year.
The documentary is certainly a fascinating watch; although it doesn’t necessarily portray Mr DeLorean in the most sympathetic light. Although the DMC DeLorean that we know today went on to find a following amongst car enthusiasts of a whole generation in a way he probably couldn’t have foreseen, it is sad in many ways that his original vision and good intentions were undermined almost from the get go.
DeLorean: Back from the Future is available to watch again now on BBC iPlayer. To browse and book from our selection of driving experiences in cars made famous in films, head to TrackDays’ Famous Movie Cars page today.