Originally, John DeLorean planned to produce a limited run of one hundred gold plated DeLorean DMC-12 cars as a promotional campaign for American Express. The idea was that the 304 grade stainless steel body panels of the car would be custom plated with 24 karat gold, and the standard grey / black interior upholstery would be replaced with a ‘saddle brown’ tanned upholstery, in keeping with the car’s golden theme.
The promotion was first launched in December 1979, through the American Express Christmas catalogue. The idea was unprecedented, and generated a great deal of excitement and debate. Nobody had ever tried to gold plate a car before – at least not with such a high profile. The John DeLorean vision had again came up trumps.
However, with a price tag of $85,000, there were few that could afford to indulge in such a high cost luxury item. Insurance companies at the time tentatively quoted figures of around £1,000 to $1,500 per month for insurance – although nobody truly believed that these cars would ever be used on the road!
Despite the public interest, only two cars were commissioned through the campaign, and were hand built at the Dunmurry plant in Northern Ireland.
A segregated working area was set up for the gold car construction and an external security firm was employed to guard the facility around the clock. Construction of the two cars took around two to three weeks to complete, in addition to the time taken to have the various components plated and custom made. Each of the stainless steel panels, gull wing doors, alloy wheels and even the ‘DMC’ lettering pieces was sent away for plating. In all, enough panels were plated to cover the two cars on order, with enough to cover one further car – these being intended as spare panels in case something went wrong.
The construction effort was an extremely tricky task, as unlike raw stainless steel, even a single scratch on the gold plating would be disastrous. Unlike stainless steel, you cannot take sandpaper to the plated gold finish – so even a slight accidental scratch would mean a replacement panel would be needed – each cost more than $10,000!
One ex-DeLorean worker involved in the construction of the gold cars told us that only the most competent workers were selected for this project – most were senior staff, or trainers who knew the car inside out.
“Each of us had to remove our watches and rings and had to wear protective gloves.”
The gloves were to protect the car – not the workers! The work area was kept extremely clear of obstructions, and only a minimum set of required tools were permitted near the development area – through fear of accidental damage.
In parallel to the panel plating, a new interior upholstery was also being produced nearby in Belfast. This was a tanned colour – in keeping with the car’s golden theme. Again, the tanned upholstery was produced for the two cars on order, with a limited amount of emergency spares.
The 24-karat gold plated panels and wheels, along with the new tanned upholstery were then fitted to two DMC-12 vehicles, VIN 4300 and VIN 4301.
Another consideration for the construction of the gold cars was that they weren’t expected to be used – but they had to be fully working cars, otherwise the gimmick was pointless. Eventually it was decided that unlike any of the production use DMC-12’s, the gold cars would be produced with no fluids within them, as this would eventually corrode the cars if they sit unused as they were expected to.
Another problem was – if you can’t drive the cars out of the factory (no oil, fuel, brake fluid, etc) and you can’t push the car, through fear of damaging the $10,000+ gold panels – how do you get the cars from A to B? The only answer possible was – with great care!
Of the two cars, VIN 4301 was purchased by Roger Mize, the president of Snyder National Bank. Mize saw the opportunity to acquire something that he knew could only increase in value through its rarity, and knew that the publicity that would be generated from such a purchase would be great for his business. In true Texas style, Mize purchased the car outright, all $85,000, on his American Express card.
When delivered, the doors were removed from the bank and the car was rolled into a protective display case, where it was displayed in the banks lobby area. The car was later loaned to the Petersen Automotive museum in Los Angeles.
Peterson Automotive Museum
6060 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
The other gold car – VIN 4300 - ended up on display at the National Automotive museum in Reno, Nevada. Details can be found at the following link:
The National Automobile Museum
10 Lake Street South
Reno, NV 89501
A further gold plated DeLorean DMC-12 car was produced by the factory, although this was not part of the original American Express campaign.
As production at the Dunmurry plant came to a close in 1983, it was decided to encapsulate the DeLorean dream by using the remaining gold plated panels on the last ever DMC-12 car produced.
The last car of the line was VIN 20105. This car was fitted with all of the remaining gold panels from the earlier two American Express orders. However, the factory was short of the required parts by one gull wing door. So, another door was gold plated and placed on the car, although as this was done at a later date and using a later door, it was impossible to match the exact colour and grain of the original panels.
In addition, the company used a saddle brown interior trim for this car – something that John DeLorean was considering as a dealer option just before the company went bust.