The fabulous and lesser-known exploits of John Z. DeLorean
May 16, 2014 9:12 PM   Subscribe

The DeLorean DMC-12 is a really cool car. But if you have a hard time finding one for sale, try looking for a DeLorean snowcat. Alas, the DeLorean sedan, bus, and all-terrain vehicle were never mass-produced, and it's unclear if his monorail patent was ever monetized.

How in the world was there ever a DeLorean-brand snowcat? In 1978, John Z. DeLorean purchased the snowcat division from Thiokol. (You might know Thiokol as the manufacturer of the Space Shuttle's solid rocket motors, but did you also know that their name is a portmanteau of the Greek words for "sulfur" and "glue"?) DeLorean's snowcat company was named the Logan Machine Company, but in its early years it sold snowcats under the DeLorean Motor Company name. Marvel at this glorious VIN plate for a 16,000-pound DeLorean.

The snowcats were later sold under the Logan Machine Company (LMC) name. John DeLorean eventually sold his ownership stake, and in 2000 LMC ceased operations.

Of the DeLorean Motor Company's other proposed products, the DMC-24 sedan came the closest to reality. A wooden mockup was even built, but after the company's demise it was made-over as a Lamborghini concept. In perhaps the saddest chapter of automotive history, cheap hubcaps on the recycled Lamborghini concept covered up the mass-produced DeLorean alloy rims.

The DeLorean bus, named the DMC-80, was more of a licensing agreement than an engineering project.

The DMC-44 was envisioned as an affordable and practical all-terrain vehicle. The DeLorean Motor Company even made a sepia-toned promotional film. The film was produced during the brief interval in American history when it made perfect sense to follow a plucky country tune with spacey synthesizer music. Although the DMC-44 never saw production, try renting a converted DMC-12 tow truck to experience the top of the line in utility sport.

After the demise of the DeLorean Motor Company, John DeLorean attempted without success to bring a successor car to market. In 1985 and 1986, the media reported on rumors of the "Firestar 500", supposedly based on the DMC-12 design and evocative of a weird, insane, 1980s-style Plymouth Superbird. The venture supposedly somehow involved Gordon Novel, who the press described as a "self-proclaimed counter-intelligence agent".

By 1987, DeLorean was denying that his automotive venture revolved around the Firestar 500. He described intense interest in his project, citing as an example a letter from "one of the wealthiest men in Canada".

A short report in 1997 said that John DeLorean had "emerged from obscurity and is planning new cars with aero space technology."

By the year 2000, DeLorean's new car was referred to as the DMC2. (previously) "We're going to try to become the Dell Computer of the car business," explained DeLorean, referring to Dell's manufacturing process and not their design. The launching pad for this new venture was a stylish DeLorean wristwatch. People who bought the $3,495 watch would receive a certificate entitling them to priority status for purchasing a new DMC2. The watch was made of stainless steel and had a hidden dial. The car was to envisioned as "a lightweight gull-wing car made of structural composites with no metal frame, a 250-275 horsepower engine and priced under $30,000." It's not clear whether anyone actually bought or received one of the watches.

If you made it this far, congratulations. Now we get into the really wild stuff. Did you know that John Z. DeLorean was granted a monorail-related patent in 1995? According to the patent application, "each of the passenger cars further includes a suction or vacuum generator for maintaining the respective propulsion mechanism in contact with the respective track."

DeLorean's other business ventures included an avocado farm and ski school. He died in 2005. In 2012, another company introduced a $15,900 watch that made use of melted-down DeLorean components.
posted by compartment (18 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
You might have noticed Thiokol snowcats in The Shining, or The Thing. There's no DeLorean snowcats in the imcdb, but there is a DeLorean T-40 tow tractor.
posted by zamboni at 9:25 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

(Evidently some company in Texas bought all the parts created for the DeLoreans and are building them new now.)

Though really, my favorite incarnation is Ecto-88, which doesn't appear to have either skis or a monorail but I bet if you told Ernest Cline about this post, he'd get right on that.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:30 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine had a life-long dream of being the proud owner of a Delorean. He finally got one. He quickly found out that in the world of car ownership, owning a Delorean had its own subculture, which he gleefully joined. He spent a summer tooling around town, loving his machine. He spent the following year slowly becoming unhappy and disenfranchised with his dream since it broke down all. the. time. Sometimes it was easy to fix, other times, not so much. He got parts from the new Delorean company, or sometimes he would talk with other Delorean owners and come up with a simple fix. Another year goes by, and he's only driven it a handful of times that summer. The same the following year. The year after, he got rid of it. The dream was over. After the tough winter we've had, I'll be sure to mention that he should look into getting a snowcat, though he might settle on the watch, assuming it works properly.

Awesome post, well done!
posted by ashbury at 9:43 PM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

He was also employed by Pontiac in the 1960s, where he was one of the driving forces behind the Pontiac GTO.
posted by zombiedance at 11:20 PM on May 16, 2014

Shades of Elon Musk, or do I have that backwards?
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:31 PM on May 16, 2014

I must admit, I probably just spent more time than a grown man should imaging that snowcat looking more like a time machine.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:14 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a very comprehensive post.

In the summer of '82, I'd just graduated from high school and my uncle was a couple of years out of college. One afternoon when I visited my grandmother, he showed up driving a brand-new DeLorean. It belonged to his close friend who had just bought it after coming into inherited wealth (the guy actually had, through inheritance from his father, at that time become the youngest team owner in NBA history).

I was seventeen and really wanted to go for a ride in the car. I knew driving it was out of the question, but I figured riding around for a while was no big deal. But my uncle wouldn't indulge me. He was sort of a dick that way, honestly. But I don't know why his friend was letting him drive the car in the first place — my uncle had recently totaled his second car in five years.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:16 AM on May 17, 2014

See also this great piece from the always-excellent Ate Up With Motor concerning the development of the 67-69 Firebird, with the history written in the present tense, from the second-person perspective of John Z. DeLorean himself.
posted by MarchHare at 6:00 AM on May 17, 2014

So it's like 2003 or thereabout. It's Sunday morning and I'm in a white toast subdivision northwest of Philadelphia checking out garage sales with an old friend. We're mostly interested in old tools, instruments, and tech, so the neighborhood's offering of maternity clothes and broke down Fisher-Price toys was not cutting it.

And then we saw it. Up the driveway from a couple six year old girls selling lemonade and haircut Barbies was a gull-winged monstrosity of a car. We went to investigate, dropping $0.25 each on some warm, dilute minute maid.

We're mid-ogle as a guy comes out of the house with a holographic ball cap and says, "You like that? I got it from the Zemeckis team."

I've gotta get some breakfast in me but other highlights of that day were hearing how this man fought off carjackers with his black belt skills, watching him ride a unicycle while juggling, and getting to take our pictures sitting in not *A* but *THE* Delorean, or one of three to be precise.
posted by The White Hat at 6:16 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I took several classes in college (in production / manufacturing mgmt) from a guy that DeLorean hired to help design the auto plant in Ireland. He had some interesting stories. He told us that the first time he talked with DeLorean about the car was in a hotel bar where DeLorean sketched the car on a napkin. The car they ultimately built was almost identical to the sketch.

He also said that DeLorean was an automotive genius that didn't need to take the shortcuts that he did - had he taken his time he could have built a sustainable car company.
posted by COD at 6:26 AM on May 17, 2014

the standard delorean vehicle was referred to as a snowmobile in my circles.
posted by bruce at 7:34 AM on May 17, 2014

Ah, delorean, ahead, the midst of...its time. I would have missed these vehicles. Sigh.

Relative to the DMC44:,_Platform,_Utility_1/2_Ton,_4X4

We called them mules. The army version had a few extra features. For example, you could pivot the entire steering column at its base, swing it down. You steered the vehicle while walking behind it. It had a wicked granny gear that let you move at any walking speed you could tiptoe through the tulips with 500 pounds of Peaches and Pound Cake, water, ammo, or whatever.

It was pretty much as good as any of the modern RVs, maybe not as speedy on the road, and it didn't come with the roll-bars.
posted by mule98J at 9:45 AM on May 17, 2014

So after skimming over the usual "DeLorean was the biggest genius in the history of geniuses" stuff at Jalopnik, I clicked through to the site of the guy selling the snowcat and ended up browsing around the net looking at pictures of my favourite snow vehicles Bombardier B12/C18 and Aktiv Snow Trac, both of which I suspect made it here from a parallel universe.

(well, I'm a bit of a fan of the Bv 206 too, after spending some quality time in one a winter many years ago, but they're not that interesting to look at.)
posted by effbot at 10:31 AM on May 17, 2014

He wrote one of the more interesting books about Detroit & the industry: On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors. I see it's selling for $4 on Amazon, with free shipping.
posted by LonnieK at 11:25 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

The firestar 500 is the most 80s car ever. It looks like a Mitsubishi starion, mkii supra, Porsche 944 and a testarossa were all combined with a dash of countach.

Basically, it looks like a fake movie prop to make fun of the 80s from something like Kung fury.

I love it.
posted by emptythought at 11:26 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Interview with John DeLorean 1988 where he speaks about his troubles and lost friends.. I had no idea that he had been charged for drug trafficking etc, nor that he considered his company "closed by the British government".
posted by dabitch at 11:56 AM on May 17, 2014

Clive Sinclair nearly bought the DeLorean Northern Ireland factory to build the C5 in - that deal ended up going to Hoover in Wales, however.
posted by Devonian at 5:40 PM on May 17, 2014

The British car-fixing TV show "Wheeler Dealers" renovated a DeLorean. That episode gets repeated on the US cable channel "Velocity" every couple of months. It wasn't hard to get parts for it (they bought the car and the required parts in the US and shipped them over together). The only unusual bit was that they had to call out a mobile aluminum re-finisher guy to smooth out dents, since you can't really use filler on a non-painted car and refinishing brushed aluminum is a skilled job. The restored car was terrific.
posted by w0mbat at 3:21 PM on May 18, 2014

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