New Historian

Rock Star Car Designer DeLorean Arrested On Drugs Charge

John DeLorean and 1971 Vega

<![CDATA[John Z. DeLorean was arrested for conspiracy to obtain and distribute 55 pounds of cocaine in a $24 million deal, on 19th October, 1982. A playboy, inventor, and unscrupulous yet brilliant business man, DeLorean is remembered as an almost cartoonish figure: the embodiment of the most kitsch elements of 1970s and 1980s style whose life had a rise and fall trajectory which made it seem designed to be immortalised in Hollywood. Surprisingly, despite all of the accusations of wrongdoing which were levelled at DeLorean during his life and after his death, he only spent two nights in jail - as he waited for bail to be posted following his 1982 arrest on drugs charges. Just under two years later, in 1984, he was acquitted of all of the charges leveled against him. DeLorean was arrested on the basis of video evidence which showed him buying cocaine in Los Angeles. Damningly, the recording even had footage of DeLorean referring to the drugs he had bought as "better than gold". The defence DeLorean and his lawyers built focused on a technicality, arguing that he had been entrapped by the Justice Department. Although admitting that he'd agreed to buy the drugs out of desperation as a means to save his failing business, DeLorean and his defence argued that he'd only agreed to this deal because the FBI agents had gone out of their way to entice him. DeLorean faced trial in August 1984. After twenty- nine hours of deliberation, the jury reached an agreement, and he was acquitted of all charges. Born in Detroit to a Romanian immigrant father who worked at a Ford plant, and an Austrian mother, DeLorean excelled at academia, earning a masters degree in mechanical engineering. In many ways his life followed the path of American history, and particularly that of the nation's car industry. He grew up in Great Depression era Detroit, served in the military during the Second World War, and then started working for the city's automotive giants in the 1950s as the majority of them faced increasing difficulties and risk of extinction. Working for General Motors, one of Detroit's 'big three' car makers, he helped revive the company's fortunes by leading the design of some of their most iconic cars. By 1971, the success of the cars he had helped create earned DeLorean a promotion to the position of vice president at General Motors. At the same time, DeLorean developed his flamboyant public image. Boasting bushy sideburns, medallions and open necked shirts he started to date Hollywood celebrities and socialise with superstar actors and musicians. His life became part of his promotion, a glamorous car maker who devoted himself to cultivating the glamorous image of his muscle cars. Eventually, his rock star persona started to jar with the directors of General Motors, and he resigned from GM in 1972. A multi-millionaire, and awarded a lucrative GM franchise in Florida as part of his severance package, DeLorean never had to work again, but still opted to pursue his own business ventures. In 1978 he opened the DeLorean motor company, creating the iconic DMC-12 car which would be immortalised in the Back to the Future movies. The company was funded with little of his own money, instead relying on investment from the British government, who gave money to found the plant as a means to create jobs in Northern Ireland, and his celebrity friends such as Sammy Davis Junior. The car flopped, too expensive to compete with American muscle cars and notoriously unreliable. DeLorean spiraled into debt, leading to the situation where he was willing to risk selling drugs to raise money. The company failed to secure additional funding, and the millions of dollars of investment DeLorean had won were lost. For the rest of his life DeLorean was dogged by accusations of fraud and embezzlement, as well as tax evasion and defaulted loans. He accrued massive debts in unpaid legal bills, and owed millions to debtors when he finally declared bankruptcy. Yet through it all he remained largely unscathed, living in a New York apartment valued at $4 million until the year 2000. Both in terms of his persona and his business dealings, DeLorean was a symbol of the excesses of extreme wealth. A maverick and a con artist, a brilliant designer and a reckless business man, his arrest on drug charges in 1982 was in reality an unexceptional moment in the context of his exceptional life. ]]>

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