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The Back to the Future DeLorean is an iconic car from the blockbuster film of the 1980s. Yet even being one of the most famous cars of all time could save the DeLorean from failure. And when DeLorean founder John Z. DeLorean realized that his company was struggling financially, he did everything he could to try to save it. According to authorities, he even tried to sell cocaine to keep things afloat. Though DeLorean was tried for cocaine distribution, he was acquitted. Unfortunately, the DeLorean still met its demise. 

The back of a DeLorean DMC-12 from Back to the Future.
DeLorean DMC-12 | DeLorean

John Z. DeLorean left General Motors to start his own company

Although the DeLorean first came about in 1981, its origin began six years before that. John Z. DeLorean was an employee of General Motors. Before the DeLorean, he was most famous for coming up with the Pontiac GTO. Then he left General Motors to start his own car company, the DeLorean Motor Company. 

The DeLorean Motor Company operated out of Northern Ireland. It made the first DMC-12, the car from Back to the Future, in 1981. Yet it only made 9,000 before DeLorean was no more. 

The DeLorean DMC-12 was iconic but expensive

In 1982 the average cost of a car was $10,000, according to The New York Times. A high-end car like the Chevy Corvette was $18,000. And the DeLorean DMC-12? It cost $25,000. This high cost is partly responsible for the DeLorean’s ultimate failure. 

What made the DMC-12 so expensive? It had a stainless steel body, a 130-hp Peugeot-Renault-Volvo V-6 engine, and its doors – well, everyone remembers its doors. It was cool, it was unique, and it was prohibitively expensive. 

DeLorean’s founder tried to save the company, but ended up arrested

The DeLorean factory in Northern Ireland was riddled with accusations of circumspect business practices. The FBI got involved when rumors began that they were also dealing in drug trafficking. The FBI organized a sting operation to try to catch John Z. DeLorean for drug trafficking. According to, DeLorean was “arrested and charged with conspiracy to obtain and distribute 55 pounds of cocaine.” 

Although DeLorean was acquitted, his troubles were far from over. DeLorean then faced charges of fraud. He owed millions of dollars to people and lawyers. 

If there’s a silver lining to the DeLorean saga, it’s that the DeLorean DMC-12 is forever a part of our movie history. Originally space-time transport in the Back to the Future movies was supposed to be done via a refrigerator. While the movie was in preproduction, there was concern that kids may be inspired to climb into refrigerators, and that idea was scrapped. In part due to the notoriety of the DeLorean DMC-12, it was chosen as the literal vehicle for space-time movement, and the rest is history. 

The DeLorean DMC-12 is so famous that it’s included in the National Historic Vehicle Register. The National Historic Vehicle Register keeps track of the most memorable and important cars. It’s only the 29th car ever to be added. And, iff you’re in London and want to see a DeLorean on stage, you can do that now at the Adelphi Theatre.


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