US automobile executive and engineer, who left a successful career at General Motors in 1973 to build a futuristic sports car. An innovative and controversial figure in the US industry, three years later his company went bust and he was arrested for drug-trafficking, although he was later acquitted.
During DeLorean's career in the Pontiac and Chevrolet divisions of General Motors (GM; 1956–73), he introduced the Tempest, Firebird, and Vega, and was influential in shifting US manufacturers to smaller cars in the 1960s. He founded the DeLorean Motor Company in 1975, but the company went into receivership in 1982.
DeLorean was born in Detroit, Michigan, where his father worked at a local Ford plant. He won a scholarship to the Lawrence Institute of Technology and went on to take a master's in automotive engineering at the Chrysler Institute. He then worked as an insurance salesman before joining GM in the 1950s where, as chief engineer at Pontiac, he developed the GTO, a small but powerful car appealing to a younger market. Promoted to general manager of Chevrolet in 1969, he introduced quality designs and improvements, including noise reduction, into the cars. He was vice-president of GM's car and truck division and tipped for the presidency when he announced his resignation in 1973, following years of disagreements with the GM management.
He founded the DeLorean Motor Company in 1975 to design and build a gull-winged sports car, the DMC-12, for the US market. Unable to get backing in the USA, he set up a car plant in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland, in 1978 with an investment package from the British government – in return for the creation of 2,000 jobs in an area of high unemployment. He brought Lotus into the design team and started production in 1981. However, De Lorean increased the car production level to far more than the sports car market could hold. When sales declined he struggled to find financial backers until the UK government put the company into receivership in 1979. According to the DeLorean Owners Association, over 8,000 cars had been produced when the company went into receivership. While DeLorean was seeking financial support, he was arrested for cocaine dealing in Los Angeles and later retired to a farm in New Jersey.