The story behind the DMC-12 is a scandalous tale of over-reaching ambition and ultimate ruination. Its production was surrounded by a murky aura of shady deals and sleaze, which involved Lotus Cars and the British government and ended in the arrest and trial of ex-Pontiac engineer, John Z DeLorean on charges of cocaine smuggling. In the 1970s, DeLorean fell out with General Motors and trawled for high-profile backers to finance the setting up of his own company.
His stated aim was to make an ‘ethical’ car. He commissioned Giugiaro, no less, to design a gullwinged-door body and sought technical inspiration from former GM engineer Bill Collins, who had a radical vision of using new materials technology to create a simple, super-safe high performance car. But DeLorean abruptly sidelined Collins and talked Colin Chapman of Lotus into getting involved. The entire direction of the car changed. The DMC-12 ended up being built on the Esprit platform with a hotch-potch of proprietary parts and complicated electrics.
Even though the car was targeted at the US market, De Lorean persuaded the British government into bank-rolling a purpose-built factory in Northern Ireland and after endless delays the DMC-12 finally started to roll off the production line. The unpainted stainless steel body and gullwing doors looked slick enough but the rear-mounted 2.8 litre PRV (Peugeot-Renault-Volvo) V6 engine could only produce 130 bhp, the drivetrain was nothing to write home about and the retail price of $28,000 was more than twice as much as had been anticipated.
The DMC-12 was underpowered and overpriced. Sales never matched expectations, and there were serious quality problems. DeLorean’s reputation finally hit rock bottom when he was arrested by the FBI for cocaine smuggling. He was eventually found not guilty but by then his company was bankrupt and his name mud.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: UK (Northern Ireland)
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1981 (until 1982)
ENGINE: 2,849 cc V6
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 110 mph (177 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 10.5 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: Into customised gold-plated versions of the DMC-12 were produced and a DMC-12 features as the time machine in the Back to the Future series of films. Around 9,000 DMC 12s were built, some of which were sent out of the factory in 1983, after DeLorean had gone bust, in a hopeless attempt to recoup some of the British taxpayers’ losses.