The DeLorean car started life as a Fiat X1/9. This car was purchased by Bill Collins, and used in testing for prototyping parts and ideas. This car, which was in mint condition when purchased second hand, was used as the first mule in John DeLoreans dream. Regrettably this car was modified to suit development work - especially on the drive train, after testing had taken place.
The car was held in good favour considering the early stages of prototyping. Later an incident occurred where the driveline fell out from under the car and ended up in a million pieces as told by one test driver. The car was scheduled for more work, however, as events were moving along, the idea was dropped and the car scrapped.
Fabrication on the first recognisable DeLorean (prototype - P1) was started in October 1975. Kar Kraft was the company who played a large part in the fabrication exercise, with Bill Collins overseeing the project. In October 1976, the first prototype was a running car, however the Citroen engine/transmission did not meet the requirements, along with other criticisms - and work began on the second prototype.
The second prototype (prototype 2) was started after the completion of the first, and was due to be finished in July of 1977. When asked by a colleague, Collins commented that 10 additional prototypes would be used for durability and crash testing. This was to happen; however Collins role with the durability testing was to be limited once Lotus took over the project.
Prototype 2 was sent to Lotus for testing and deconstruction purposes. Unfortunately, this car was believed crushed in 1996, and was used as hard-core for one of the new plant buildings at Lotus HQ in Hethel. (We do not think that happened)
With time ticking away, the car was behind schedule and one of the major problems was certification of the cars. In September of 1980, an automatic and a manual DeLorean was sent to American Laboratories. In October, the Automatic passed the EPA tests, however the manual failed. A week later, the manual was re-presented and passed however the fuel economy was poor - the average was just 22mpg for the two cars. John DeLorean passed the job back to Lotus with later cars and in early February the two cars were tested by the EPG in Michigan and approved. The automatic hit 21 mpg and the manual 22.5mpg.
The first Production car was rolled out of Dunmurry on the 21st of January 1981 at three cars a day. Any new car production has many quality control problems, and the DeLorean was no exception, especially with a new work crew.
It has been recently discovered through a Lotus Employee that the very first DeLorean produced on the 21st of January developed Brake problems and was crashed into a wall by Mike Foxten after it left the DMC Building. Unfortunately for the DMC factory, a film crew was there ready to film the first car off the production line!
The film footage of the first car can be seen briefly from the Back To The Future documentary, produced by Robert Lamrock. To fix the situation, DMC quickly stored the damaged car, and paraded another car, which was later tagged as VIN 500. In actuality VIN 500 in the Crawford Auto Museum in Cleveland is really the second car off the line - VIN 501!, and Legend VIN 501 is actually VIN 502, and VIN 502 is actually VIN 503!
The next two months leading up to March were used by the work force to learn the workings and design of the DeLorean DMC-12 and how it was assembled. These cars are known today as Black cars (the name given as they have no stainless steel body panels) were repeatedly taken apart and put back together again. Some of these cars made it back into production as either 500 VIN cars, or later as right-hand drive cars for the European markets, as these were being scoped as another source of income for the company.
Its interesting to note that all the Legend DMCs come from this batch of cars. Not being able to sell theses cars directly to the public must have hurt DMC, sending them to Legend was at that time the best option. The cars would have surely been crushed or used in crash testing - indeed there is no record of a VIN after 502, until VIN 510 or VIN 513. It would appear that VIN 502 was saved by the skin of its teeth!
As production got underway, there were 865 employees working at Dunmurry, with recruits being hired and incorporated at 40 to 50 people at a time.
VIN 910 manual transmission unloads from the container, ready for the QAC centre to fine-tune the car.
On April 20, 1981 the first batch of almost 400 DeLorean cars set sail to Long beach, California. At this time the work force had climbed steadily in the preceding months at this time to approximately 1000 all working on the DeLorean DMC-12 car in Dunmurry
C. R Dick Brown had set up three Quality Assurance Centres. As quality control was the most pressing problems with the cars. The QACs were located in Bridgewater, New Jersey, Santa Ana in California, and one branch in Detroit, Michigan. The cars were delivered to either Wilmington, Delaware, or sailed through the Panama Canal to arrive at Long Beach. At one point the QACs were spending 140 hours repairing each car. Later that figure was reduced to 68 hours, but $600 per car was still an extra expense that the company could barely afford.
Once the car was available to the American public, the DMC-12 was in heavy demand. The dealer waiting lists were so excessive, people waiting in line found that to make a quick buck they could sell their waiting place on the list. There was even a reported case at this time of a second hand DeLorean that was at Ellis Motor company of Maplewood (a suburb of St Louis, Missouri) - its price of $33,900 was the highest recorded for a stock DeLorean in that era. The dealer suggested retail price was $25,000.
When the DeLoreans first arrived at the New Jersey port, it was difficult to distinguish between the manual and automatic transmissions. The only way this could be achieved was for the staff to lift the windshield wipers up on all of the automatic models!
By July John DeLorean made the decision to double the workforce and to double the amount of cars being produced, although Don Lander the Managing Director at that time was against this move as were many other DeLorean executives. Don Lander's criticism was that he was not convinced that quality control could be maintained, and neither could the new work force of that greater numbers be trained in the needed time for increased production. However after DeLoreans decision he agreed and set about carrying out DeLoreans wishes.
DeLoreans basis for this decision was on Dick Browns comments and forecasts that he could sell all the cars that the factory could produce. By August 13th 1981, the factory's output was up to 175 cars a week, and the factory employment was now standing at 1600 - in the space of just four months, 600 hundred new employees had been hired to increase production output of the car.
At the height of the factory's output, the company was producing 80 cars a day, and employing 2500 men and women. Only towards the end of the year, with the docks filling up with cars, production was forced to then cut back.
One of the famous myths about the DeLorean concerns Johnny Carson, the US TV celebrity and major investor in the DeLorean Motor Company. It's a general understanding that Johnny Carson's car broke down with alternator problems. However, our research indicates that Carson was actually given a replacement car - the other presumably sent away for repair and eventually resold. So, Carson actually had two different DeLorean's, albeit the first didn't last very long!
The DeLorean lasts forever in our hearts and minds, and even through it has been decades since its production, there are still dedicated people restoring them back to factory standards, or to custom projects.
In whatever form, the car will be around for many years to come.