20 Jun 19
The Scottish Sun
BACK to the Future made the DeLorean a cult phenomenon – but the true story behind the famous car is also the stuff of Hollywood.
So it’s no wonder A-lister Alec Baldwin is starring in a new documentary about the controversial magnate behind the Belfast-made motor.
John DeLorean at the DeLorean car plant with the first of the DMC 12 sports cars in Dunmurry, Belfast
John DeLorean with his family in February 1981 in Los Angeles
Alec Baldwin is starring in a new documentary about the controversial car magnate
“It’s got cocaine, hot chicks, sports cars, bombed-out buildings, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, FBI agents, and hard-core drug dealers.”
That’s how the son of John DeLorean — who created his own car company, DeLorean Motor Company, or DMC — describes the story of his father’s downfall and the end of his car dreams.
And the plot of his life certainly rivals any of the cinematic tales involving his iconic motor.
The re-enactment-heavy film, Framing John DeLorean, is one of two productions bringing the flamboyant businessman’s story to the big screen in the coming weeks.
Born into a working-class family in Detroit, DeLorean trained as an engineer and joined General Motors where he helped develop many top cars including the Pontiac GTO and the Chevrolet Cosworth Vega.
Quickly rising through the ranks, he became the youngest division head in the company’s history at the age of 40.
For a man like DeLorean, who had the looks and panache of a movie star, the attention that came with such success was very welcome.
He used his large salary to invest in baseball teams and cultivated a gang of A-list friends including Sammy Davis Junior.
As Baldwin put it: “John was a legendary automotive designer who had great success at GM.
“John made his name in the business, and that business was like a movie.
“You release something and if it’s a hit, you’re the king for the time being.”
Success came at a price, however, and his workaholism resulted in the collapse of his marriage – to his secretary – in 1969.
He quickly moved on, and by the age of 44 he was again saying “I do”, this time to 20-year-old model and actress Kelly Harmon.
Whatever about his fondness for romance, he was clearly in love with himself, to the extent that he had plastic surgery to enhance his jaw.
It may have been a dramatic measure in the late 1960s, but Baldwin reckons he was simply ahead of his time, saying: “The beginning of his problems is narcissism that’s grounded in a couple things.
“One is plastic surgery — a level of manipulating your public persona that we identify with the Kardashians.
“John DeLorean was ahead of the curve doing that then, in order to make people believe about him what he needed them to believe.”
His second marriage was short-lived but DeLorean found comfort in a slew of Hollywood beauties, including Bond girl Ursula Andress, Joey Heatherton and Tina Sinatra.
He also adopted a son, whom he named Zachary.
When he spotted model Cristina Ferrare in an edition of Vogue, he quickly pursued her.
Weeks after their first date in December 1972 they were living together, and two months after that she issued him with an ultimatum: “either we get married or drop dead”.
He chose the former, and the couple later welcomed a daughter, Kathryn.
DeLorean was being groomed for the presidency of General Motors, but one month before his wedding he gave it all up, saying he wanted more time for his social life.
He certainly had no shortage of locations in which to enjoy it, as he had amassed a string of homes including a luxury duplex in Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, a sprawling estate in New Jersey and a ranch in California.
His real plan, however, was further automotive glory, but this time he wanted it in his own name.
The industry was certainly wowed when he unveiled his design for the $25,000 DMC-12, the gull-winged brushed stainless steel sports car that looked every inch the future of motor.
Having set up the DeLorean Motor Company, he agreed a six-figure deal with the British government to manufacture the cars in Belfast.
It was a massive coup for a Northern Ireland stricken by unemployment and ravaged by the Troubles, so the Government was keen to do everything in its power to protect the promised 2,600 jobs.
DeLorean and his wife were seen as a dazzling addition to the Irish social scene.
They purchased a home near the factory in Dunmurry, but apparently never stayed in it amid fears they could be targeted by IRA kidnappers.
Very quickly, a catalogue of problems unfolded, with delays and overspends ensuring that production of the car didn’t begin until 1981.
BEGINNING OF THE END
When it did, the real problems started, as it became apparent that DeLorean hadn’t delivered on his promise.
Punters had been promised a supercar, but the DMC-12 was essentially a fancy looking mid-range saloon with a vastly inflated price tag.
Baldwin explained: “When he goes to run his own company and doesn’t want to answer to anybody else, John didn’t have that skill.
“John didn’t have the skill to run the finances of the company and the marketing of the company. John was a designer.
“When John wouldn’t admit what he didn’t know, that was the beginning of the end because the company couldn’t survive.”
Desperate to salvage the company, he went looking for investors, repeatedly claiming that he had 30,000 orders in the US, but Thatcher’s government eventually put an end to subsidies and refused to bail out the struggling company.
The dream was over almost as soon as it began, and the wheels came off the venture when it went into administration on February 19, 1982.
Production ceased the following year, after a total of 9,000 cars had rolled off the line.
Yet, that was just the start of DeLorean’s nightmare.
In his efforts to save the company by raising $17m, he had been lured into a cocaine smuggling operation, believing that a few smart deals could help get his car business back on track.
What he didn’t realise was that the man who suggested the deal, James Hoffman, had shopped him to the FBI.
The authorities then caught DeLorean red-handed with a briefcase full of drugs in a Los Angeles hotel in autumn 1982.
He was arrested and charged with conspiring to sell drugs, beginning a two-year saga that culminated in a high profile trial.
His lawyers successfully argued that he had been the victim of entrapment, as Hoffman had targeted him in the hopes of getting a reduced sentence for another drug charge on which he was awaiting trial.
Yet his acquittal was a bittersweet victory, as by then his empire had collapsed and his marriage to Ferrare was in tatters.
She moved out of their luxury penthouse, taking the kids to her parents’ house where they slept on mattresses on the floor.
The following year, the gullwing finally earned the glory DeLorean felt it deserved, when it featured as Marty McFly’s time machine in Back to the Future.
It could have signalled a reversal of fortunes for its maker, who went on to earn millions in licensing fees thanks to the success of the franchise.
Yet he would spend the next 15 years embroiled in a series of legal cases, resulting in him filing for bankruptcy in 1999.
He also married a fourth time, and remained with Sally Baldwin until his death in 2005.
His gravestone in Michigan depicts a DeLorean with its doors open.
Now his incredible rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags-again tale is getting the same big screen treatment as his famous car.
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Framing John Delorean features re-enactments with Alec Baldwin, as well as contributions from his children Kathryn and Zachary.
And while the car bearing their father’s name is still revered as a part of movie history, unsurprisingly they don’t have much affection for the model that destroyed their family.
As Zachary puts it: “It’s f*****g weird what that f*****g car did to our family.”
DeLorean cars arriving at a screening of Framing John DeLorean during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival at SVA Theater on April 30 last in New York
Actor Michael J Fox with a DeLorean in Back To The Future 2
Alec and Hilaria Baldwin attend a screening of Framing John DeLorean in New York in April
Alec Baldwin in Framing John DeLorean
John DeLorean and his wife Cristina Ferrare with the famous DeLorean car
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