The DeLorean Deception: When Northern Ireland Built Cars

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The DeLorean DMC-12 is arguably the most recognisable car of all time. People stop in their tracks when they see a DMC-12; they point fingers, they smile. The DeLorean is a car that even non-car people can gush about. The distinctive shape, gull wing doors, coupled with a starring role in the Back to the Future trilogy has ensured global fame. Not bad for a lacklustre  sports car that was hastily built in West Belfast, by people who had no automotive manufacturing experience.

The DMC-12 started out as the brainchild of one man – John DeLorean.  A whirlwind career in the US automobile industry saw him turn round the fortunes of struggling Pontiac. Successive promotions saw him take the helm at Chevrolet, the biggest and most important marque in the General Motors (GM) stable.  In 1973, at the zenith of his employment, he walked away from it all.

John DeLorean creator DMC-12

It’s hard to know if DeLorean had planned to set up his own car business. When he left GM, he was already set for life financially. He didn’t need to work, but his verve and thirst for all things automotive meant he immersed himself in a brand new project. By early 1974 DeLorean’s thoughts turned to developing a car of his own.

Finances for the project came from an unlikely source. The insurance giant Allstate provided funding, on the basis that the prototype was designed as a safety vehicle – a showcase for cutting edge automotive safety technology. But somewhere along the line Allstate lost interest, leaving DeLorean with the cash and free reign to do his own thing.

Freed from the need to comply with GM’s mass market mentality, DeLorean began to formulate plans to create a sports car. He had always been a man who liked finesse, flamboyance and European flair. His favourite car from his own collection was a Maserati Ghibli. Styled by Carrozzeria Ghia, the V8-powered Ghibli was penned by an emerging designer named Giorgetto Giugiaro. This would be the man who would pen the design for DeLorean’s dream machine.

DeLorean insisted on gull-wing doors, a mid-mounted engine and a cabin capable of holding two 6ft+ occupants comfortably; he also was interested in emerging composite technology and was keen to make the chassis using a process called Elastic Reservoir Moulding (ERM).  Soundings were made about the possibility of a Wankel rotary engine, but Guigaro’s final design was packaged around a humble 4 cylinder power plant, plucked from the Citroen CX.

1976_DeLorean_Safety_Vehicle_Mockup

In October 1976, the car was officially unveiled to the press. They couldn’t sit in, they couldn’t drive it and, in reality, it was little more than a life-size model; but they were captivated. In early 1977, an updated prototype was rolled out which journalists could touch and feel, but driving was still off limits as DeLorean insisted it wouldn’t be representative of the final production version. Despite this, the prestigious and influential Road and Track magazine succumbed to the allure of this futuristic stainless steel clad machine and car on the front cover.

“John Z. DeLorean digs cars” they proclaimed. Such was Road and Track’s faith in DeLorean, they felt that the prototype could go into production in around a year.  In a call to arms to their readership they stated “You can’t walk into a dealer and order a DeLorean sports car yet, but if you’re a prospective buyer, it’s probably not too early to be thinking about reserving space on a flight to Puerto Rico late in 1978 to watch America’s newest sports car actually roll down an assembly line.”

But it was clear that to move to full-scale production DeLorean needed more investment.

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About Author

Chris Andrews

Chris, known as Cess on the forums, is a long time RMS member. He is a fervent motorsports enthusiast and lover of all things automotive. He can be found on the ditches of most Irish rallies, at Mondello watching drifting or in front of the TV watching motorbike racing.

RMS Forum Comments

Cooper 10:43 | Fri 26 Aug, 2016 | Report
I'll chime in early and say this is fantastic. I knew about the drugs, but I didn't know the extent of the extortion of government and investment funds DeLorean and his cronies swallowed. Even still - they did it in Dunmurry. That's still an incredible thought.
David.S 10:53 | Fri 26 Aug, 2016 | Report
Good write up. I remember them at the Motor show in Belfast, all the excitement and anticipation (n)(n) I know someone who bought one new and it turned out to be junk. It leaked, broke down and the electrics were shiite.
cormac81 11:28 | Fri 26 Aug, 2016 | Report
Great write up, didn't know Allstate was involved in the early part of delorean.
Eager 12:59 | Fri 26 Aug, 2016 | Report
Easy read that. Good job.
coling2005 13:18 | Fri 26 Aug, 2016 | Report
Good read, read a book about it all a couple years ago. Something very intriguing about the whole car and stuff. Would love to own one one day. Picture from my wedding day - my wife arranged surprise transport to church. Cookstown to Ballymena was a nice run out in it! 123474
Cess 16:59 | Fri 26 Aug, 2016 | Report
Cheers folks, much appreciated. The DMC story is fascinating - so many twists and turns with too much to squeeze into even that article. I really think that Northern Ireland should do more to promote DMC-12 heritage. I think the fact that the Government lost so much money initially means it's an period of history that would rather be forgotten. Indeed, the final court action regarding recuperation of funds only concluded in 2005 ish.
David.S 17:01 | Fri 26 Aug, 2016 | Report
| Cheers folks, much appreciated. The DMC story is fascinating - so many twists and turns with too much to squeeze into even that article. I really think that Northern Ireland should do more to promote DMC-12 heritage. I think the fact that the Government lost so much money initially means it's an period of history that would rather be forgotten. Indeed, the final court action regarding recuperation of funds only concluded in 2005 ish.
If they can promote a ship that sunk, they should be able to promote a car company that went bust. :p
AlpineF30 19:10 | Fri 26 Aug, 2016 | Report
Great write up @Cess I have always be fascinated with the story behind it. This was a great documentary by the BBC I found on youtube which tells the story but also gave the view of the workforce and the British government, just spent an hour rewatching it again and would say its a great watch for anyone who is interested in it. uMUXZaROJKM
jimcupra 19:15 | Fri 26 Aug, 2016 | Report
Just imagine as a 10 year old seeing these for the first time. It was like something from outer space. This place was a complete toilet back then nothing but death and destruction. To see something so different being made here in the north of Ireland was big news. It brought jobs prosperity and above all something for people to say they had a hand in building. As a young child I loved watching them being driven on the roads. I used to ride my bmx down to the test route and wait for the cars. They didn't always come but when they did I always waved at the drivers, normally they waved back or a thumbs up. One driver stopped and gave me a key ring and a badge, it was like getting a million sweets lol. Sorry for boring you all with my childhood memories.
BarryPort 19:44 | Fri 26 Aug, 2016 | Report
One of my favourite topics. The Delorean Story is a good read also. Here's me and Mrs trespassing on St Patrick's Day 2014. 123503
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