- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — John Z. DeLorean, the innovative automaker who left a promising career in Detroit to develop the gull-winged sports cars featured in the film “Back to the Future,” has died. He was 80.

Mr. DeLorean died late Saturday at Overlook Hospital in Summit, N.J., of complications from a recent stroke, said Paul Connell, an owner of A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Directors in Royal Oak, Mich., which was handling arrangements.

Mr. DeLorean was among just a handful of American entrepreneurs who dared to start a car company in the past 75 years. Nearly all faded away, but his crashed spectacularly amid federal drug charges.

“Obviously, we’re deeply saddened by the passing of an incredible, talented car person and loving family member,” said Mr. DeLorean’s nephew, Mark DeLorean.

Mr. DeLorean was a Detroit native who broke the mold of staid Midwestern auto executives by “going Hollywood,” auto historians say.

While at General Motors Corp., he created what some consider the first “muscle car” in 1964 by cramming a V-8 engine into a Pontiac Tempest and calling it the GTO, fondly dubbed the “Goat” by auto enthusiasts.

“John DeLorean was one of Detroit’s larger-than-life figures who secured a noteworthy place in our industry’s history,” GM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner said yesterday. “He made a name for himself through his talent, creativity, innovation and daring. At GM, he will always be remembered as the father of the Pontiac GTO, which really started the muscle-car craze of the ‘60s.”

Mr. DeLorean was a rising if unconventional executive at GM who many believe was destined for its presidency before he quit in 1973 to launch the DeLorean Motor Car Co. in Northern Ireland. Eight years later, the DeLorean DMC-12 hit the streets.

Its unpainted stainless steel skin and angular design earned the car a following; it was a time-traveling vehicle for Michael J. Fox in the popular “Back to the Future” films of the late 1980s.

The factory produced only about 8,900 cars in three years, estimated John Truscott, membership director of the DeLorean Owners Association. Mr. DeLorean’s company collapsed in 1983, a year after he was arrested in Los Angeles and accused of conspiring to sell $24 million of cocaine to salvage his venture.

Mr. DeLorean used an entrapment defense to win acquittal on the drug charges in 1984, despite a videotape in which he called a suitcase full of cocaine “good as gold.” He was cleared later of defrauding investors, but continuing legal entanglements kept him on the sidelines of the automotive world.

John Zachary DeLorean was born as the first of four sons to a foundry worker for Ford Motor Co. After his parents divorced, he grew up there and in Los Angeles. He played saxophone in a jazz band and won a music scholarship to the Lawrence Institute of Technology in Detroit. He shifted to engineering, and after graduating in 1948 was hired by Chrysler.

He joined GM in 1956 as an engineering director for Pontiac. His patents included the recessed windshield wiper and the overhead cam engine.

Mr. DeLorean led Pontiac by age 40, and four years later became the youngest head of GM’s giant Chevrolet division. Mr. DeLorean was a GM vice president in charge of all North American car and truck operations when he quit in 1973.

After the DeLorean car venture failed, he was involved in about 40 legal cases, including his 1985 divorce from model and talk show personality Cristina Ferrare — his third wife — after a 12-year marriage.

“I believe I deserve what happened to me,” Mr. DeLorean said after the divorce, which followed his drug trial.

“The deadliest sin is pride,” he said, proclaiming his faith as a born-again Christian. “I was an arrogant egomaniac. I needed this, as difficult as it was, to get my perspective back.”

Mr. DeLorean is survived by his wife, Sally DeLorean; son, Zachary Tavio DeLorean; daughters, Kathryn Ann DeLorean and Sheila Baldwin DeLorean; three brothers; several nieces and nephews; and two grandchildren.

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