Why Cars and Cocaine Don’t Mix: How One Automaker Lost Everything

It just so happens that over time, not all stories survive. While a handful of people remember, society goes on, forgetting, and eventually, never knowing. That is the case for the demise of John Z. DeLorean.

If you are looking at that name and wondering why it looks so familiar, that is because it should. John DeLorean was an engineer and a car designer, you may know him from his most famous car, the DeLorean. What you probably don’t remember is how John DeLorean ruined the DeLorean Motor Company with his cocaine addiction.

It’s the 1970s and John DeLorean has left his established position with General Motors, where he is credited for managing several keynote cars like the GTO and Firebird before climbing the corporate ladder to Vice President. There is no wonder to us why a businessman and engineer wouldn’t want the autonomy to design and control his own cars, so it doesn’t seem unnatural that Mr. DeLorean would inevitably branch off and begin his own vested interests.

North Ireland became home to the new DeLorean Motor Company where John DeLorean would design a very unique and all-together strange car: the DMC-12. Because it was the only car every truly produced by the company, the DMC-12 is more commonly referred to as simply the DeLorean.

A DeLorean, known from the ‘Back to the Future’ movie franchise, is on display at the booth of the company Phoenix Contact at the Hannover Messe industrial technology trade fair in Hanover, Germany, 25 April 2016. The USA is this year’s partner country at the trade fair. | Ole Spata/picture alliance via Getty Images

It was a space-ship looking ride that had a raw stainless-steel body and sadly underpowered motor. It’s unique design and features like gull-wing doors did little to outshine the cost and lack of performance. Selling into the early 1980s for close to $25,000 the car did little to compete with cheaper, more popular muscle cars like the Corvette.

In October of 1982, John DeLorean was arrested by US police and accused of trafficking cocaine. DMC was hemorrhaging money and the cars weren’t selling, and a desperate John DeLorean was about to lose everything.

In the meantime, Steven Spielberg chose the car to star in his 1980s movie, Back to the Future, which would later become a cult classic and make the DMC-12 a favorite among collectors. The car’s popularity picked up too little, too late, and wasn’t enough to rescue a drowning DMC.

***EXCLUSIVE VIDEO AVAILABLE*** LIMBURG, NETHERLANDS – JUNE 16 Picture of the exterior of Bjorn Harms’ remote controlled DeLorean. | Faik Geci/ Barcroft Media / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

DeLorean’s lawyers were able to defend him successfully and the drug trafficking charges were thrown out, but for DMC, it was all too late. The failing company had fallen into bankruptcy, and even though DeLorean was found not guilty, his reputation had been tarnished forever, making it hard to find any more investors to save the failed DeLorean Motor Company.