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John De Lorean

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De Lorean with a prototype of his namesake car, the De Lorean DMC-12

John Zachary De Lorean (January 6, 1925March 19, 2005) was an American personality, engineer, and executive in the U.S. automobile industry, and founder of the De Lorean Motor Company. He was most well known for developing the Pontiac GTO muscle car, and the De Lorean DMC-12 sports car, which was later featured in the movie Back to the Future.

De Lorean was also well known for his high profile 1982 arrest on charges of drug trafficking, which preceded the demise of his automobile manufacturing company. He successfully defended these charges, showing that his involvement was a result of entrapment by federal agents. He died at Overlook Hospital in Summit, New Jersey on March 19, 2005 from a stroke.

Contents

Childhood

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John De Lorean's Detroit home
John Zachary DeLorean was born on January 6, 1925 in Detroit, Michigan, the eldest of four sons of Zachary and Kathryn Pribak DeLorean. The DeLoreans lived in a small house at 17199 Marx, near the corner of Six Mile Road and Dequindre in Detroitís Near East Side. It was a three bedroom abode in a tough, lower-middle-class neighborhood.

A millwright by trade, Zachary DeLorean was an immigrant (from either Bucharest, Romania or the Alsace-Lorraine region of France - reports differ). Born youngest of thirteen boys, he came to America when he was fourteen, spending time in Montana and Gary, Indiana before moving to Michigan. When John was born, he had employment with the Ford Motor Company foundry in nearby Highland Park. His limited command of the English language, combined with his almost total lack of education relegated him to toil at menial and low paying appointments at the factory. When no work was to be found at Ford, he occasionally took jobs as a carpenter around town. At 6'1", 220 pounds, he was a formidable man, and was known around the neighborhood as something of a drinker and a brawler, and for common bouts of familial abuse. Despite his propensity for drunken violence, John enjoyed spending time with his father working on the Model A in the yard, and simple woodworking projects that Zachary would undertake.

John's mother Kathryn was also an immigrant, one of Austrian descent, and was employed mainly at the Carboloy Products Division of General Electric through much of John's early life. She would also take work wherever it could be found to subsidize the family's meager income. She generally tolerated her husbandís erratic behavior, but during several of the worst times of Zachary's violent tendencies, she would take her sons to live with her sister in Los Angeles, California and would stay there for a year or so at a time.

The DeLoreans certainly did not live in opulence, but in depression-era terms, things undoubtedly could have been much worse. There was never a lack of food or clothing around the house, and the family was able to afford a few small luxuries like the music lessons that helped John earn scholarships to the better schools in Detroit.

In 1942, Zachary and Kathryn were divorced, and John subsequently saw little of his father, who moved in to a boarding house only to become a solitary and estranged full-blown alcoholic. Several years after the divorce, John went to visit him, and found his father so impaired by drink that he could barely communicate.

Education

John attended Detroit's public grade schools, and was then accepted into Cass Tech, a technical High School for Detroit's honor students. There he signed up for the electrical curriculum. The young DeLorean found the Cass experience to be exhilarating, and excelled at his studies. His chemistry teacher was Evangeline Lodge Land, mother of eminent pilot Charles Lindbergh.

DeLoreanís excellent academic record combined with his talents in music netted him a scholarship at Lawrence Institute of Technology (now known as Lawrence Technological University), a small but illustrious Detroit college that was alma mater of some of the area's best draftsmen and designers. There again he excelled in the study of industrial engineering, and was elected to the school's Honor Society. WWII was to interrupt his academics.

In 1943, DeLorean was drafted for military service and served three years in the U.S. Army before being honorably discharged, when he returned to Detroit to find his mother and siblings in economic difficulty due to the strains of Kathrynís single income. John went to work for the Public Lighting Commission for a year and a half in order to put his family on firmer financial ground before resuming at Lawrence to finish his degree.

His 1947 return to college saw his candidacy for Student Council President end in defeat, but he was quick to print a witty self-deprecating concession in the school paper, for which he was a popular contributor. These final years at Lawrence were also DeLorean's prologue to his contributions in the automotive world, when he worked part-time at Chrysler and a local body shop. In 1948, DeLorean graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering.

Instead of entering the engineering workforce after earning his degree, DeLorean worked a stint as a salesman of life insurance, and for the Factory Equipment Corporation. Both of these endeavors proved a success financially, but Johnís maternal uncle Earl Pribak, a foreman at Chrysler's engineering garage, recommended that he attend the Chrysler Institute, and John concurred. The car manufacturer ran a post-graduate facility that would allow him to advance his degree while concurrently being allowed exposure to real-world engineering in action.

In 1952, DeLorean graduated the institute with a masters degree in automotive engineering, and signed on to Chrysler's engineering team. During this time, John also took on night classes at the University of Michigan to earn credits toward his MBA.

Professional life

Packard Motor Company

John's time in the employ of Chrysler lasted less than a year, when he was offered a $14,000 per year position at Packard Motor Company under supervision of noted engineer Forest McFarland. DeLorean quickly drew attention at his new employer with his development of an improvement to the company's Ultramatic automatic transmission, giving it a much improved torque converter and dual drive ranges; it was launched as the "Twin-Ultramatic". However, Packard was in serious financial trouble when DeLorean joined, due to a shifting paradigm in the automobile consumer market. While brands like Ford, General Motors and American Motors had begun producing affordable mainstream products, brands like Packard, Ewing, and Marquette clung to their pre-WWII era notions of high end, precisely engineered luxury cars. This exclusive philosophy was to take its toll on profitability; however it proved to have a positive effect on DeLorean's attention to engineering detail, and after four years at Packard he would become McFarland?s successor as head of Research and Development.

While still a profitable company, Packard suffered alongside other independents by their inabilty to compete as Ford and General Motors engaged in a price war. Seeing little to no hope, James Nance, President of Packard, merged with the Studebaker Corporation. A subsequent merger involving the equally new Nash-Hudson conglomeration American Motors never emerged past the discussion phase. DeLorean was considering the offer of keeping his job and moving to Studebaker headquarters in South Bend, Indiana when he received a call from Oliver K. Kelley, vice president of engineering at General Motors, and a man whom DeLorean greatly admired. Kelley called to offer John his choice of jobs in five divisions of GM.

General Motors

Pontiac

DeLorean accepted the $16,000 per year offer (plus a bonus program that normally took engineers several years to participate in), by choosing to work at the Pontiac Division under general manager Semon Emil "Bunkie" Knudsen. Knudsen was the son of the former president of General Motors, William Knudsen Ė who was called away from his post to head up the war mobilization production effort at the request of President Roosevelt. Bunkie was also an MIT engineering graduate, and at 42 he was the youngest man to head a division of GM. DeLorean and Knudsen were to quickly become close friends, and John would eventually cite Bunkie as a major influence and mentor.

DeLorean's years of engineering at Pontiac were highly successful and produced dozens of patented innovations for the company, and in 1961 was promoted to the position of division chief engineer. He is credited with the invention of recessed and articulated windshield-wipers, the lane-change turn signal, the elastomeric bumper, and a variety of other cosmetic and structural design elements. DeLoreanís greatest contribution to Pontiac would be more conceptual than technical: The practical 1959 model Tempest, which he would later evolve into the LeMans, and ultimately become the sports car of the 1960s, the GTO.

A black 1965 Pontiac GTO
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A black 1965 Pontiac GTO
The Pontiac GTO (Gran Turisimo Omologato, named after the Ferrari coupe) is credited for saving Pontiac from their dated stigma as producer of the "old lady's car" by creating a design that symbolized a generation of new, younger, more affluent drivers with a need for speed and style. First introduced in model year 1964, sales of the car exceeded the projected 5000 units by 500%, and popularity continued to grow dramatically in the following years. DeLorean received almost total credit for the success of the "first muscle car", which is probably due in large part to his talent for self-promotion. As with any new vehicle development, scores of individuals are involved with the conceptualizing, engineering, and marketing Ė but John DeLorean became the singular golden boy of Pontiac, and was rewarded with his 1965 promotion to head the entire Pontiac division.

John DeLorean was no longer a professional engineer. At 40 years old, he had broken the record for youngest division head at GM. A pessimist might have cited the "Peter Principle" at work in the offices of General Motors, but DeLorean was determined to continue his string of success. Adapting to the frustrations that he perceived in the executive offices was, however, a difficult transition for him. DeLorean believed there was an undue amount of infighting at GM between divisional heads, and several of Pontiacís advertising campaign themes met with internal resistance.

During his time at Pontiac, DeLorean had begun to enjoy the freedom and celebrity that came with his position, and spent a good deal of his time traveling to locations around the world to support promotional events. His frequent public appearances helped to solidify his image as a "rebel" corporate businessman with his trendy dress style and casual banter.

It was also in 1965 that Ralph Nader's book, Unsafe at Any Speed, criticized a number of Detroit automobiles as poorly designed for safety concerns, including the Chevrolet Corvair model. Even as General Motors would experience revenue declines, Pontiac remained highly profitable under DeLorean, and despite his growing reputation as a corporate maverick, on February 4, 1969 he was again promoted. This time it was to head up the prestigious Chevrolet division, General Motors' flagship brand.

Chevrolet

By this time, DeLorean was commanding an annual salary of $200,000, with yearly bonuses of up to $400,000. He had made sizeable investments in the San Diego Chargers and the New York Yankees sports teams, and was becoming ever more ubiquitous in the popular culture.

As DeLorean continued his jet-setting lifestyle, and was often seen hanging in business and entertainment celebrity circles. He became friends with James T. Aubrey, president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and was introduced to some of fame's biggest names such as financier Kirk Kerkorian, Chris-Craft chairman Herb Siegel, entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., and The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson.

The executive offices of General Motors headquarters continued to clash with DeLorean's non-conformity, and he was still not able to fit the traditional mold of conservatism that was usually expected of someone of his stature. When John was appointed, Chevrolet was having financial and organizational troubles, and GM president Ed Cole needed a first class manager in that position to sort things out Ė company man or not. The new model Nova was due out for the 1970 model year, and it was rapidly falling behind schedule. Redesigns for the Corvette and Camaro were also delayed, and unit sales had still not recovered from the past 4 years of turmoil. DeLorean responded to the production problems by delaying the release of the Nova, and simplifying the modifications to the Corvette and Camaro. He used the extra time to streamline Chevrolet's production overhead and reduce assembly costs. By 1971, Chevrolet was experiencing record sales in excess of 3 million vehicles, and his division alone was nearly matching that of the entire Ford Motor Company. Another promotion was imminent.

In 1972, DeLorean was appointed to the position of vice president of car and truck production for the entire General Motors line, and his eventual rise to president seemed inevitable. Instead, John DeLorean unexpectedly resigned from General Motors on April 2, 1973 at age 48, telling the confused press that "I want to do things in the social area. I have to do them, and unfortunately the nature of our business just didn't permit me to do as much as I wanted." GM gave him a Florida Cadillac franchise as a retirement gift, and DeLorean did in fact take over the presidency of The National Alliance of Businessmen, a charitable organization with the mission of employing Americans in need, founded by Lyndon Johnson and Henry Ford. GM were major contributors to the group, and agreed to continue his salary while he remained president of NAB.

Patrick Wright, author and former Business Week reporter, approached DeLorean with the idea of writing a book based on his experiences at General Motors. DeLorean agreed to dictate his recollections for Wright who would author the book. The final product, published in 1979, On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors, sold to the tune of some $1.6 million, but disagreements over the content led to a conflict between the collaborators and a libel suit against DeLorean. DeLorean claimed to have never received his share of the revenues.

De Lorean Motor Company

DeLorean went on to found the De Lorean Motor Company (DMC), showing a two-seater sports car prototype in the mid-1970s called the De Lorean Safety Vehicle (DSV), with its bodyshell designed by ItalDesign's Giorgetto Giugiaro. The car entered into production as the DMC-12, but generally known simply as the De Lorean. The De Lorean was skinned in stainless steel and featured gull-wing doors. The production model was powered by the "Douvrin" V6 engine developed by Peugeot, Renault and Volvo.

The factory to build this car was set up in Northern Ireland at Dunmurry, with substantial financial incentives from the Northern Ireland Development Agency (around £100 million) Ė this despite a report from a management consultancy firm that gave the project only a 1 in 10 chance of success. Renault was contracted to build the factory, which employed 2,600 workers at its peak production. The engine was made by Renault, while Lotus designed the chassis and bodywork details. The factory started manufacturing cars in early 1981, but was in receivership by February 1982. It turned out fewer than 10,000 cars over 21 months before the British government ordered it closed down in November 1982.

On October 19, 1982, DeLorean was charged with the crime of selling cocaine to undercover police (at the Los Angeles International Airport); DeLorean successfully defended himself with a procedural defense, arguing that the police had asked him to sell them the cocaine (and threatened him as a form of coercion); he was found "not guilty" due to entrapment on August 16, 1984. His attorney stated in Time (March 19, 1984), "This [was] a fictitious crime. Without the Government, there would be no crime."

Delorean, DeLorean or De Lorean?

De Lorean's name is most often seen spelled without the space, as DeLorean. Typewritten documents of the De Lorean Motor Company universally used the space, however, and this appears to have been the company's chosen form. In typeset documents, a half space, not a full space, appears between the two portions, and the same is visible in more stylistic representations, as on the automobiles themselves. This use of a half space probably influenced many people to see no space there.

The company's founder originally spelled his name as John Delorean. At some point in his life he began using the more European-looking De Lorean instead. During the period the De Lorean Motor Company was operating, he used a space exclusively when spelling his name in the course of business.

He was married three times, among his wives was the model Christina Ferrare.

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