Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happy John Delorean Day

It's 10/21/2015, and if you don't know why that's significant, your dial-up modem probably crashed. If you've been on Facebook over the course of the past twelve hours, you've probably seen a lot of hover-boards, self-lacing Nike hi-tops, and of course, DeLorean Time Machines. 

Today's the day Marty McFly traveled to 1989's then-future in Back to the Future II, and people are going bat-scat nuts. The sequel to the iconic 1985 movie Back to the Future wasn't well received at the time, and still really isn't a critic-favorite. It weighed too heavily on gimmick-laden future fashion, flying cars, and now-poorly rendered holograms. But in 1989, that's what made the movie so fun. 

Fans have been waiting for this day for a long, long time, and the internet has been abuzz with what the movie got right about 2015, and what it got wrong. 

But love it or hate it, there's a masterpiece hiding beneath the trilogy, one which, like the futurism of the sequel, overshadowed a work of art. If the trilogy had to be reduced to one word, that word would undoubtedly be "DeLorean," and the story behind the DeLorean is as interesting, if not more interesting than any of the films. 

Even under the skin of its Time Machine, the DeLorean is instantly recognizable. Other famous movie cars are summed up by their personas: Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters, Knight Rider's K.I.T.T., and the General Lee are mortal cars without their Hollywood branding. But the DeLorean Time Machine is a DeLorean first, and because of its iconic placement in Back to the Future shortly after the car company's premature demise, most fans know very little about the actual car, the DMC-12. 

Quick example: When Doc Brown tells Marty he's about to see some "serious shit" when he gets his time machine up to 88 miles per hour, it wasn't an arbitrary number. Despite the DMC-12's sleek appearance, it was sluggishly underpowered with, some will say, a top speed of 88 miles per hour. The car was the butt of the movie's joke.

Because of its stainless steel body, limited production, and sleek styling, DeLoreans are often paired with exotics like Ferraris and Lamborghinis. But owners will tell you they're poorly made, and enthusiasts who've finally found an opportunity to drive one often say, "never meet your hero." While many of the less than 9000 production models are still on the road, that's largely due to preservation, upgrades, and the fact that most owners don't use them as daily-drivers. 

As a work of art, though, the Delorean DMC-12 is in a category all its own. Other exotics of the late '70s and early '80s, while still sexy, and definitely dated. The DeLorean is something else. It isn't a creation born from '80s era science fiction, a car that those in 1981 might think we'd see in a not-so-distant future, only to be scoffed at from 2015. Instead, it's an artifact from an alternate future that never happened. One that, although it looks strange, is also timeless and still holds our interest more than three decades later.

So much more than "the car from Back to the Future," the story behind the DeLorean Motor Company could, should, and probably will be a movie of its own. Its creator, John Delorean was a man as unique as his car and a legend in the automotive industry.

Born and raised in Detroit, John Delorean was destined to be an automotive legend. And were it not for the scandal that destroyed his car company, he would have an honored place along side Henry Ford, Gottleib Daimler, and Lee Iacocca. 

Delorean did much more than design and produce the DeLorean DMC-12, and much the way Back to the Future overshadowed his crowning achievement, his crowning achievement overshadowed a resume that changed the American auto industry forever.

To auto enthusiasts, John Delorean is the father of the American muscle car. In the late '50s and early '60s, there was a considerable shortage of fast cars. When Delorean went to work for General Motors, the car company had placed a ban on "race cars," In order to qualify this regulation, GM essentially required that its cars be extremely heavy, the theory being heavy cars would be slow and safe. 

This made it difficult for Detroit to compete with the light and speedy Alfa Romeos and Fiats coming over from Italy in the 1960s, but John Delorean found a loophole: drop an extremely powerful V8 into an extremely heavy Pontiac LeMans.

The result was a car, one built long before oil crises and emissions standards, that could overpower its Italian rivals, and did it with the loud growl of American muscle. Ford, Chrysler, and the American Motor Company quickly followed suit giving rise to what would be dubbed in the '70s: Muscle Cars. 

But by the mid-'70s, the oil crisis killed the Muscle Car and dealt the first blow to the entire American auto industry. Glamorous land yachts were replaced with econoboxes and our steroid-infused muscle turned to flab. 

The Big Three didn't just lose its hold on the automotive industry, they also lost John Delorean. In 1973, Delorean - a man then as iconic as any soap opera star, or his soon to be realized DMC-12 - left GM to start his own car company, the DeLorean Motor Company. DMC only built one model, the gull-winged DMC-12, but if today is any testament to his company, one model was enough to secure a legacy. 

With loans from Bank of America, Johnny Carson, Roy Clark, and Sammy Davis, Jr., Delorean built a factory in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland and assembled his cars in the United States. His facility was built on the border of Catholic Twinbrook and Protestant Dunmurry, with separate entrances on each side, often confused with religious segregation. In fact at the time, Delorean was praised for employing a religiously diverse workforce in a religiously volatile part of the world. 

It's hard to say if Delorean's DMC would have weathered the DMC-12's poor reviews and cost overruns. It's easy to assume a man as savvy and inventive as John Delorean would have been able to resolve the DMC-12's low performance and poor quality issues. But the world will never know. In 1982, John Delorean was caught trafficking 100 kilos of blow, and although he was acquitted due to entrapment, the trial bankrupted DMC. 

In the end, we've largely forgotten John Delorean's true contribution to automotive history, his GTO, leaving us with a quirky Hollywood prop and the legacy of a man who showcased the assumed invincibility of wealth and the desperation of risk.

Whether you remember John Delorean for his Time Machine and a car you knew nothing about, or for his ambition and motivation, his rags to riches to rags story has proven John Delorean, his Pontiac GTO, and his DMC-12 truly immortal.

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