Car: Delorean DMC-12, 1979

In 1974, US engineer and automotive executive John DeLorean set out to create an “ethical” sports car, shunning the cynical practices of General Motors, where he’d enjoyed a glittering career.

DeLorean chose Northern Ireland as the manufacturing base for this new enterprise, lured by nearly £40 million in British government regeneration funding.

1981 Delorean DMC-12
Italdesign’s early styling prototype; the car would later gain huge fame in the Back To The Future movies.

The DeLorean DMC-12 itself was a very weird vehicle. Part of DeLorean’s ethics was that, like the Porsche 911, pure engineering principles would prevail. It was to be a rearengined two-seater with a plastic chassis. He gave the car “gullwing” doors and body panels in stainless steel. These couldn’t rust and made a paintshop unnecessary. A Citroën rotary engine was proposed.

But in 1979, the DeLorean engineering development was assigned to Lotus, and the concept was watered down, losing the rotary engine and plastic frame. Under its shiny steel panels, the car became little more than a Lotus Esprit with a V6 Renault engine.

1981 Delorean DMC-12
1981 Delorean DMC-12

Production began in December 1980. In the US, its sole market, the hype was immense but the reality was dire. The car was underpowered, unexciting to drive, expensive at $25,000, and poorly built. Still, no one was prepared for DeLorean’s insolvency in January 1982.

The venture eventually lost £77 million of British taxpayers’ money. Later, it emerged that the disgraced DeLorean had conspired with Lotus executives to defraud the business of millions of pounds.

“The five early cars we hammered about Northern Ireland were abysmally short of any commercial standard of acceptability.”

John Delorean In Car And Driver Magazine, 1981

Video: model of the car Delorean DMC-12

Specification: model of the car Delorean DMC-12

PLACE OF ORIGIN: Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: V6-cylinder, 174ci (2,849cc)
LAYOUT: rear-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: two-door, two-seater coupé
TOP SPEED: 121mph (195kph)