Failure, Cocaine and Marty McFly

Lego DeLorean DMC-12With all the excitement following LEGO’s release of the Cuusoo Winning 21103 Back To The Future DeLorean Time Machine set, here at The Lego Car Blog we thought it was time the real car, the one without a flux capacitor, got some press too.

The true story of DeLorean, one of conned celebrities, entrapment, cocaine smuggling and bankruptcy, is even more remarkable than the film…

John DeLorean, a talented automotive engineer at General Motors, decided in the late 1970s to design and build his own car. Called the DMC-12 it was everything an ’80s supercar should be, mid-engined, wild doors, wedge design and fantastically exclusive.

He needed serious funding to put it into production, and so – much like a modern Kickstarter project – he contacted his wealthy celebrity friends to secure investment, and then presented his idea to governments in need of a glamorous employer to solve their unemployment issues. Northern Ireland, then in an unemployment crisis, was selected on the basis of a massive government grant and a new factory was built, despite the area having zero car manufacturing experience.

The progress on the car was less positive. DeLorean took it to Lotus for further development, who were staggered at how bad it was (and this was at a time when Lotus themselves weren’t making anything much good either). Lotus extensively redesigned the car and it was fitted with a V6 Renault engine, which – in US emission specification – made… 130bhp, well short of the 200bhp expected.

Two years late the car was pressed into production anyway, right in the middle of the largest automotive slump since the Great Depression. Requiring urgent funds John DeLorean decided to take one hell of a risk, and was subsequently arrested for drug trafficking. The DeLorean Motor Company went bankrupt, losing the UK government $100m, and John’s celebrity friends their investments too. A few years later the DMC-12 ironically featured in the cult trilogy Back To The Future, but sadly for the Northern Irish factory workers, it was too late to save their jobs.

Without the fame and status brought by the film, the DeLorean DMC-12 would have been another AMC Gremlin or Ford Pinto; an embarrassing failure pushed under the automotive carpet. Marty McFly’s shocked line of ‘You built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?’ may have secured the car’s cult status, but he was as surprised as the rest of us.

The excellent Lego model in this feature is the work of Razvy_cluj_ro, and you can see more on Flickr.

8 thoughts on “Failure, Cocaine and Marty McFly

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