Delorean - Topics of Interest ....

The following is an extract from British car magazine 'The Car' published in the mid-80s

After John DeLorean left General Motors he did one of two things. He either worked day and night against all the odds to produce the 'ethical' sports car ('you could drive it for twenty or twenty-five years and nothing should happen to it. It's not designed for early obsolescence') or he embarked on one of the most ambitious confidence tricks in the history of the motor industry.
    The truth is somewhere between those two extremes; it may have been closer to the first to begin with, but as time passed the vision of the car itself began to dim. With the usual benefits of hind-sight that is not surprising. Various investigations of DeLorean's business dealings prior to his setting-up his own car company proved that he was anything but a single-minded and dedicated car man; his capacity


to scheme was too well documented. Unfortunately for the British Government and many Irish workers, DeLorean had made sure that his very considerable achievements and his capacity for hard work were even better documented. As the legendary Smokey Yunick put it, '...you could see he had a hell of a mind. He knew the car. . . the whole car.  He was a hard working son of a bitch'. And that, coming from a down-to-earth

NASCAR folk hero, was high praise indeed. Given his talent and meteoric rise to fame at Pontiac and Chevrolet, it seemed that if anyone could launch his own car company and make it work, that man would be DeLorean. Certainly the factory and the car were created against all the odds, with time and circumstances against him from the beginning. The DeLorean Motor Company was founded in 1973, the time of the Arab oil embargo, but even that didn't worry him unduly - after all, his car was going to be extremely fuel-efficient as well as virtually immortal.
    One of DeLorean's first moves was to hire Bill Collins from GM. Collins had been one of the key engineers behind the famous Pontiac GTO and Firebird, and, like DeLorean himself, had been well on his way up the complex GM hierarchy. Collins must have been used to working with

restrictions at GM, which was just as well, for he had to comply with some rigid design parameters at the miniscule DeLorean Company, too.  From the earliest days, John DeLorean had decided that his car had to have gullwing doors, just like the '50s Mercedes 300SL, and a rust-proof stainless steel skin. In just those two decisions DeLorean revealed his strengths and weak-nesses. From the image-creating and marketing standpoints gull-wing doors and stainless steel were exactly right. Together they stood- out like a beacon, and even today
for most people they are the only things they can remember about the car, but from an engineering standpoint they were just wrong. They formed a production engineer's nightmare, particularly in a small company building its first car and hoping to mass-produce it at a competitive price. It was true that DeLorean had shown he could get things done and solve complicated technical problems, but he had done it with the virtually limitless resources of GM. While his choice of gullwing doors and stainless steel showed DeLorean's 
capacity for blind optimism and wishful thinking, his choice of designer showed the soundest sense - Giorgetto Giugiaro was precisely the man for the job, with cars like the De Tomaso Mangusta, Maserati Ghibli, Fiat Dino and Lotus Esprit to his name. Giugiaro was given a brief to design a mid-engined sports coupe with gullwing doors and stainless steel skin, and he was also given the car's vital dimensions, around which to design.    With Giugiaro taking care of the aesthetics there was

obviously nothing to worry about, but a more important problem was to find a suitable engine and drive train DeLorean was wise enough to know that building his own was way beyond his scope. He wanted to emulate the best of the Italians in having a mid-engined car; he felt that would give him excellent handling and, in a country that had not even turned to front wheel drive, the marketing edge.  Unfortunately as North American cars were then still largely rear-wheel-driven, using old-fashioned large, heavy engines, he had to look to Europe for a suitable package, and the choice was limited. The exotic Italian marques could not have produced the right number of engines (and it wouldn't have been in their best interests to do so) and most of Europe's front-drive engines were too small. After trying and discarding a Ford V6, DeLorean chose, of all the unlikely

things, the Citroen CX2000 drive train.That old-fashioned pushrod four displaced just 1985 cc and produced 102 bhp. Originally that might have been enough power, for the DeLorean was always intended to be a very light car thanks to another of DeLorean's pet projects, the development of Elastic Reservoir Moulding. ERM meant taking two 1/2 in layers of foam and compressing them together with a layer of resin between. By the time the foam had been compressed to just V6 in (4 mm) it would become a very light strong and stiff panel. It promised to be better than fiberglass and even easier to produce. In the end that promise was never fulfilled and fiberglass took its place; for one thing it appeared that the dies for pressing ERM would have to be almost as precise and expensive as those for a conventional steel body.

THE NEED FOR MORE POWER

By 1976 a prototype had appeared, fitted with the Citroen engine, although even then it was obvious that it simply wasn't powerful enough. Citroen themselves rapidly lost interest when turbo charging was mooted and DeLorean looked elsewhere. For the all-important American market DeLorean needed torque as well as power, and that was why he settled for the 2.8-litre version of the Peugeot-Renault-Volvo Douvrain co-op engine which offered him 162 lb ft of torque at suitably low revs (2750 rpm). Unfortunately its size and shape meant that a mid-engine location was out of the question, and DeLorean had to settle for having the V6 hung out behind the rear axle line with the transmission towards the centre of the car.  After all, it worked for Porsche, so DeLorean was not too worried about

the switch; but perhaps he was already losing his marketing touch - when most Americans thought of rear engines they thought of the Chevy Corvair, a car with an appalling (if largely undeserved) reputation. Having decided on the V6, DeLorean was thorough enough to acquire four Alpine A310s from France as they used the same engine in the same way.
By 1978 the time had come to pro-ductionise the car. Building one-off prototypes is one thing, designing for the production line quite another. Once Northern Ireland had been de-cided on as the factory location it was natural for DeLorean to turn to a British company for production expertise. Jensen and Ashton Martin were consulted before Lotus got the

contract. Had the DeLorean ended-up in Puerto Rico, as seemed likely at one stage, DeLorean would probablyhave turned to a company in the States for production know how and the car might have been quite different. Lotus was given the task of taking Bill Collins' prototype and turning it into a production car in just 18 months. Porsche had wanted a further two years for the same job, so it was hardly surprising that Lotus fell back on what they knew best. The prototype had been chassis-less (oddly enough like the first Lotus Elite) but Lotus immediately gave the car their standard tall backbone chassis.  It looked like two capital 'Y's joined together - in other words there was a central spine with forks at either end.

The engine and transmiss-ion nested in oneand the plastic fuel tank and radiator in the other at the front. As Mike Kimberley (now Lotus Managing Director) put it '. . . we recom-mended. . . the transfer of Esprit technology funda-mentally to insure that the shortest time possible was spent on engineering and de-velopment and all solutions from the engineering front could follow as far as humanly predictable and practical a right-first-time philosophy and short-circuit a hell of a lot of learning curves'.
   

THE DELOREAN DREAM

What Lotus were not allowed to change were the engine, its location or the DeLorean's styling, but they certainly made the suspension and chassis in their own image, so much so that some American commentators felt the car was a poor copy of the Lotus Esprit under the skin. The wishbone-and-coil front and the trailing-arm rear suspension were uncannily similar. . . . With DeLorean desperate to have 'production' DeLoreans ready to show dealers by February 1980, work at Lotus intensified to the degree that as many as 300 Lotus employees were concerned in the project and the schedule was met - the first DeLorean left the Dunmurray factory on 21 January 1981, bang on schedule. Neverthe-less DeLorean's dream had taken longer to realise than he intended, and naturally everyone wondered if the car would be worth the wait. Would it drive like a Lotus or the curious compromise it was?

DeLorean never claimed that the car was intended to be an out-and-out sports car (although paradoxically it was sold as the DeLorean Sports), but as a sports coupe for the upwardly mobile 30-40 year-olds. As one ad (The DeLorean - Live the Dream) put it 'It all began with one man's vision of the perfect personal luxury car'. In other words it was aimed at Corvette buyers with more taste, those to whom image was more important than outright performance. That was just as well, as the combination of chassis, body, heavy gullwing doors and that stainless-steel skin all combined to produce a weight of 2700 lb (1224 kg) and a mediocre power-to-weight ratio of 24lb/hp. That was more or less the same as more mundane cars like a V6 Mustang, and produced the reaction you would expect from professional road testers. Car and Driver magazine found that the DeLorean wasn't '... gutless on the road but neither does it bend your
comprehension of acce-leration.' Nicely put, for in real terms that meant it would reach 60 mph (97 kph) in around 9.5 seconds, substantially slower than important rivals like the Corvette or the 280ZX Datsun. The DeLorean was slower in top speed too, managing only 120 mph (193 kph).
The lack of sheer performance meant that no-one seriously questioned its drive train layout with the weight bias firmly to the rear (35 per cent front, 65 per cent rear). DeLorean had taken the obvious precaution of fitting larger Goodyear NCTs on the back (235/60HRI5 compared to the 195/60HR14s on the front) to preclude Porsche 911-like oversteer, and in general the DeLorean was well behaved, understeering in the preferred American way, not at all difficult to drive.
    At high speeds it was a different story, with some testers complaining of rear-wheel steering and a general lack of precision.
Although Road & Track felt it did not have the 'kit-car feel that many critics expected', the DeLorean felt underdeveloped - which of course it was. To some extent time had left it behind, making it feel more like a car of the '70s than the '80s, competent but hardly state-of-the-art, wide and low but without the leech-like grip its looks suggested.It took Lotus a while to make the Esprit the car it is today, but DeLorean ran out of time and money for the essential fine tuning and development. The hope was that the DeLorean buyers would be sufficiently impressed by the extremely smart interior, which cocooned the driver in leather up-holstery in front of an impressive array of instruments and switches.If the car had the right image and enough performance not to destroy the illusion, why didn't it work?
To be viable, DeLorean had to sell 30,000 cars a year,and so many identical cars at $25,000 each could never have found a market; the car was expensive enough to attract the individualist who likes status and exclusivity, but whereas one stainless steel car is distinctive, thousands upon thousands would have simply been grey clones. It was too expensive for the Corvette crowd - the Corvette was around $6000 less and still GM only sold 40,000 a year. The car was also expensive enough for the American buyer to expect everything to work as efficiently as on a Buick, and, hardly surprisingly, early cars were not faultless.The market simply wasn't there. Porsche never expected to sell that many 924s in a year, let alone 928s, while Datsun 280ZX sales relied on far

greater value. Logically, DeLorean shouldhave gone up-market and built a truly exclusive and expensive car with a decent profit margin, but that did not suit his GM training where volume meant success.
    In the end the DeLorean Sports was neither one thing nor the other, and its strange nature was clearly demonstrated when some owners, tired of the dull stainless steel marred by fingerprints, took to painting their cars - rust-free fiberglass clad in rust-free stainless steel. .. clad in paint. Chevrolet would have had a fit.
    By October 1982, with plummet-ing sales and the company in receivership, it was all over, even before the desperate DeLorean was arrested on the infamous drug dealing charge, from which he was acquitted. KB

The brushed stainless steel finish became easily discoloured, leading some owners to have their cars painted. Had the company continued, it would have offered optional paint.