Delorean, John Z(achary) 1925–2005

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DELOREAN, John Z(achary) 1925–2005

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born January 6, 1925, in Detroit, MI; died of complications from a stroke March 19, 2005, in Summit, NJ. Businessperson and author. Considered a "wonder boy" innovator at General Motors, automobile executive DeLorean created the popular Pontiac GTO but later failed to succeed with his own car company and the expensive sports car that bears his name. Born in the auto capital of the world, he endured a childhood marked by poverty after his father abandoned the family. He turned the one advantage he had, music lessons, into a scholarship that allowed him to attend college after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. After graduating from the Lawrence Institute of Technology in 1948, he received an M.S. in mechanical engineering from the Chrysler Institute of Engineering in 1952, while also working for Chrysler as an engineer. During the early 1950s he was an engineer and then chief of research and development for Packard Motor Co., where he developed the "ultramatic," a new form of automatic transmission. This success led to his joining General Motors (GM) in 1956 as director of advanced engineering. It was at GM that DeLorean became a famous idea man, creating a string of innovative car models that included the GTO, Firebird, and Grand Prix, and new designs of the Bonneville and Catalina models. A savvy marketer who understood what American drivers wanted, DeLorean not only developed stylish, powerful muscle cars, but also fuel-efficient, smaller models for more conservative drivers, such as the Pinto and the Gremlin. In addition, he held dozens of patents on various instruments and improvements he invented for cars. Rising to the position of vice president and general manager at GM in 1969, and group executive for the company's North American car and truck operations in 1972, DeLorean grew tired of the bureaucratic and sluggish thinking at GM and left the company in 1973. After a year working as president of the National Alliance of Businessmen, he formed the DeLorean Motor Company in 1974 and set up a manufacturing plant in Ireland. There, after considerable problems with its design, he finally released the DeLorean DMC-12, a stainless-steel sports car with gull-winged doors, a V-6 engine, and a 25,000 dollar price tag that was out of reach for most car buyers of the mid-1970s. Because it took seven years to develop and the results were less than popular (although the car gained fame when it was used as a time machine in the movie Back to the Future), DeLorean only produced nine thousand cars before the factory closed in 1982. The car maker blamed lack of support from the British government, accusing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of sabotaging his fund raising-efforts because the government suspected his employees were sympathetic to the Irish Republican Army. Whatever the reason, DeLorean's company soon went out of business. But this was just the beginning of his troubles. In 1982, DeLorean was arrested in Los Angeles and found himself accused of dealing in cocaine as a way to raise money for his company. His defense lawyers managed to have him acquitted in 1984, by accusing the FBI of setting DeLorean up and establishing doubt concerning a police informer's statements. Nevertheless, DeLorean spent the next year in court, defending himself against dozens of law suits, including fraud. Financially ruined and with an equally befouled reputation, he struggled for many years, declaring bankruptcy in 1999 before beginning a new venture selling watches on the Internet. A small business in Texas also survived the aftermath by servicing and providing parts for the DeLorean car. At the time of his death, the automaker, who declared himself a born-again Christian, was planning a comeback. He wrote about his experiences in automotive design in the autobiography DeLorean (1985).



DeLorean, John Z., and Ted Schwarz, DeLorean, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI), 1985.


Chicago Tribune, March 21, 2005, section 4, p. 11.

New York Times, March 21, 2005, p. A16.

Times (London, England), March 22, 2005, p. 61.

Washington Post, March 21, 2005, p. B5.

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Delorean, John Z(achary) 1925–2005

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