Back when a 56 year-old entrepreneur named John Z. Delorean first introduced drivers to his avian-emulating automotive creation, the world was a different place. The year was 1981 and Coke was it. In the absence of YouTube and reality television, primitive audiences were thrilled by MTV and the sounds of Joey Scarbury singing the theme to the Greatest American Hero. The 1985 time travel masterpiece Back to the Future was a mere twinkle in the mind of a young Robert Zemeckis.
Though the Delorean had yet to achieve its legendary status (thanks to
its cinematic association with the Flux Capacitor), the gull-winged
stainless steel car was making waves in the automotive world. A small
army of the vehicles was steadily making its way from a factory on the
misty shores of Ireland, not far from where the Titanic was built, to the sunny California coast.
Here in Orange County
, the Delorean Motor Company
managed a corporate office in an Irvine
business park as well as a quality assurance factory in Santa Ana
. Phonebooks from 1981 also show a listing for Jack Z. Delorean on Aspen Tree Lane
near the UC Campus.
“There used to be two quality assurance centers in the U.S., one was right here” says Daniel Botkin, service manager for Delorean Motor Center in Garden Grove.
“All the Deloreans came into the country and went through fine tuning
and quality assurance, making sure everything lined up. I think they
even did smog testing.”
Botkin explains the original building, which once housed thousands of the iconic vehicles, has long since been demolished and replaced by a Home Depot (hard core gear heads will want to make a pilgrimage just east of South Harbor and MacArthur Boulevards). For those wondering why Delorean chose Santa Ana as one of its main distribution hubs, Botkin says it simply made practical business sense.
“The Hollywood money was here. This was where (Delorean) could promote the car better than anywhere else,” Botkin says. “The hot rod started here, the muscle car started here.”
In a 1991 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Don Eitleman, then a co-owner of the Garden Grove Delorean Center, talked about the old Santa Ana operation. He said many of the vehicles' components were out of shape because of the inexperienced Northern Ireland laborers. To get employees up to speed, the company shipped more than 50 workers to Santa Ana for further training. Many of these potato munchers were caught off-guard by the punishing California sun, which burned their pasty complexions. The company reportedly supplied the workers with hats and sunscreen.
But bigger problems loomed on the horizon.
Faced with money issues and desperate to keep his financing going, the enterprising Delorean became entangled in an undercover drug sting. In October of 1982, Federal agents videotaped him in a Los Angeles hotel room handling a big bag of blow stating “It's better than gold.”
That same month, the British government shut Delorean's factory down. Less than 9,000 of the cars were made.
In 1984 Delorean was acquitted, though some jurors felt he was morally culpable for his actions. In the end, questions of entrapment and swishy tactics used by federal agents blocked prosecutors from winning a conviction. Delorean died of a stroke in 2005.
But the dream didn't die with the man. Word on the street is the company
, now headed by a former mechanic named Stephen Wynne
, is in the process of developing a new, all-electric version of the car that made Michael J. Fox
a household name. But don't get too excited, the sticker price will likely set you back six figures. For those of more humble means, vintage cars can be purchased for as low as $25,000–another indicator of the public's fascination with this unique piece of automotive history.
Botkin, whose service center will custom make prop parts from Back to the Future (including the Flux Capacitor) attributes the continued interest largely to the movies. He notes many young people who saw the film's in the 80s have grown up and have their own money to spend.
“(The Cars) would still be iconic to the '80s, but because of Back to the Future, that sent them over the top.”