John Z. DeLorean was once a god in the world of American automobiles. While the head of Pontiac, he hatched the idea of stuffing a big, thumping V-8 engine into the lowly LeMans chassis and the GTO was born. He also helped bring the Firebird to market. In 1973, he left General Motors to found DMC, the DeLorean Motor Company, which took almost a decade to bring its first car to market.
The DeLorean was groundbreaking in many ways. The 2-seater sports car featured gull wing doors patterned after the iconic Mercedes 300 SL coupe of the 50s. It also had a stainless steel skin that left the factory unpainted. One can only wonder if that gave Elon Musk and his gang any ideas when it came time to design the Cybertruck.
The DeLorean was supposed to have performance similar to a Corvette, but various engine deals fell through and it went into production with a wheezy 4-cylinder engine sourced from Renault that didn’t have enough power for the rather heavy chassis. Performance was lackluster, handing was so-so, the cockpit was cramped, and sales languished. The company went bankrupt. The DeLorean would be just another footnote in the history of the automobile were it not for the movie Back To The Futurewhich turned it into pop culture icon.
That’s where things stood until 1995, when Stephen Wynne of the UK acquired the rights to the defunct company and started a business supplying replacement parts for DeLorean owners. Wynne recently sold the rights to the DeLorean brand to Joost de Vries, who previously worked at Tesla and Karma. Wynne is planning an updated version of the original car to commemorate its 40th anniversary, but DeVries is planning an entire lineup of new DeLorean-branded cars.
The DeLorean Alpha5
Later this year, the first of those new cars is scheduled to appear at Pebble Beach. Known as the Alpha5, it is a modern reinterpretation of the original, complete with gull wing doors. This time, however, instead of being powered by a 4-cylinder engine or a flux capacitor, it will be battery powered. DeVries promises it will have performance similar to a Porsche Taycan. Without providing any details, he says the car will have a 0 to 60 time of 3.4 seconds and a top speed of 150 mph. He also says it will have an EPA range of at least 300 miles of range
DeVries tells Autocar that the Alpha5 will match the performance of “the Mercedes-AMG GT and maybe the higher-end Porsche Taycans, but it’s more catering to the internal combustion crowd than trying to become a faster Tesla Model S Plaid.” Asked for details, he declined, saying only “The car is being built in Italy — we’ve outsourced that — and we have some partners on the UK on the powertrain side.”
The first 88 cars — 88 was the speed the car needed to reach in the movie to initiate its time travel feature — will be for use on race tracks and private roads only. After that, production of cars for sale to the public will begin, probably in late 2024.
Styled By Italdesign
The original DeLorean was styled by Giorgietto Giugiaro and his team at Italdesign. The new Alpha5 will also be styled by the same company. “In Italy, they never really stopped designing DeLoreans, which was awesome,” de Vries says. When he and his team looked back at sketches in the firm’s archives, they “found the saloon, discussions about the coupe, a city bus, and an SUV. You would never know [DeLorean] stopped building cars.”
Now, DeLorean aims to bring that hypothetical line-up to reality by branching out into other market segments that target more mainstream models that will sell at higher volumes. The first will be a sports coupe powered by a V-8 engine (part of John DeLorean’s initial vision) followed by a battery-electric sedan, and finally a premium sports SUV with a hydrogen powertrain. “We need an SUV for volume,” de Vries says. “The business case is an SUV that will be launched very quickly after we launch our halo car, but we need that halo car first.”
The SUV will be sized to compete with such full size luxury SUVs as the BMW X7 and the Cadillac Escalade while retaining stylistic links to the halo car. The SUV will take its power from a hydrogen powertrain because DeLorean is “not convinced that batteries are the end goal.” Whether this will take the form of a fuel cell electric system or a combustion engine remains to be seen, Autocar says, but de Vries is firm in his belief that “there’s no one road to Rome” when it comes to phasing out fossil fuels. [We don’t fully understand how building a V-8 powered coupe helps with that phase out.]
With its initial seed round of funding complete, DeLorean’s next funding round will be tied to an IPO, possibly in August. de Vries explained: “We will be a public company. We have to be. Building cars isn’t cheap, and you need lots of money to make it happen.”
Making Cars Is Hard
Joost DeVries talks a good game and he is serious about reinventing DeLorean as a company that makes thoroughly modern cars, but the history of automobiles is littered with good companies that failed. Electric car startups are a dime a dozen. Faraday Future has been trying to get started in earnest for a decade. Canoo has said it may not have enough money to start production. The big car companies are falling all over themselves to prepare for the inevitable transition to electric cars. DeVries may have the best of intentions but that may not be enough.
The DeLorean brand may still be snakebit by an incident that happened years ago when John Z. tried to set up a factory in Northern Ireland. The government gave him a very generous package of subsidies, in hopes that the factory would relieve chronic unemployment in the area. But when it came time to stake out the site for the factory, John Z. himself selected the location.
In order to build where DeLorean wanted it, it was necessary to uproot a whitethorn tree. According to Irish legend, those trees are home to “the little people,” the elves and leprechauns that are an integral part of Irish folklore. Some may snicker up their sleeves about such nonsense, but according to Ireland Calling, in 1999 work was interrupted on the main road from Limerick to Galway because a whitethorn tree stood in its path. The road had to be rerouted and construction was delayed for 10 years!
Joost DeVries will need some pretty powerful mojo to ward off the ongoing consequences of John Z. DeLorean’s reckless decision to disturb the ancestral home of the fairies in Northern Ireland more than 40 years ago. Will the new company succeed where the original failed? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master, who knows quite a lot about things seen and unseen.
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