By: James Bartlett
Even if you’re not a petrol head, you definitely know the car he designed. Stainless steel silver, gull-wing doors, and it travels through time when it reaches 88mph?
Okay, that last bit isn’t true, but you know I’m talking about the DeLorean DMC-12, the amazing-looking sports car that took Marty and Doc flying Back to the Future in the 1985 movie and its two sequels.
What fewer people know is that John DeLorean was arrested in an FBI cocaine sting at a Los Angeles hotel in 1982 – yes, several years before the car became a movie icon.
The factory had been in production for barely a year or so, but his glamorous image, model wife and celebrity endorsements didn’t look it was going to be enough to save it from closure.
Those 55 pounds of cocaine were apparently his desperate attempt to get some big money – fast.
That factory? It was in a suburb of Belfast. Yes, the DeLorean cars were all made in Belfast, during some of the worst days of The Troubles. And a huge chunk of the money invested in DeLorean’s venture had come from the British government.
But on that night in 1982, the party was over.
DeLorean was acquitted on the drugs charge, but questions about many missing millions never went away, and what you could call the Tesla of its day seemed destined to be a quirky museum exhibit.
A superstar automotive executive, a dream to start a new economical and environmentally-conscious car company, millions of dollars, drugs, sectarian violence, disgrace and Hollywood magic.
How has this story not been filmed before?
It’s a question that opens Framing John DeLorean, a documentary that’s slightly different in that it talks to the actors playing the roles in the reenactment sequences.
It also talks to a number of people who were involved in the whole escapade: designers, engineers, still-disappointed factory workers, lawyers, the FBI agent, the informer who drew DeLorean into the sting and others.
Was DeLorean a visionary undone by bad luck, or a conman on the make?
The most interesting moments – which, like the reenactments, you wish there were more of – see Baldwin talking off-camera (usually in the make-up chair) about how he approached the role, and what he thinks DeLorean must have felt as his dream crumbled about him.
Those reenactments – often matching shot-for-shot directly from archive footage – really bring the story to life, though it’s of course the interviews with the actual people (and especially DeLorean’s children), that bring the story home.
DeLorean’s fame – and then infamy – clearly crushed his son and daughter.
Their parents divorced immediately after the court verdict, and they suffered jokes and media attention all their young lives. More than that, their father was actively looking to bring his car company back right up until his own death in 2005, and it seems they often felt they came second or third in his affections.
DeLorean the company still lives, by the way.
Liverpudlian Stephen Wynne bought all the remaining parts in a bankruptcy sale in 1997, and his repair facilities in several US cities are always booked up months in advance. He’s waiting for government approval to go back into limited production, and has improved everything under the bonnet and elsewhere for a 21st century version.
There are still rabid fans and collectors across the world as well, and strong reviews for Framing John DeLorean at Tribeca led to the news that George Clooney’s Smokehouse Productions is planning a project, with Clooney directing and maybe starring.
Also, 2018s’ Driven, which was directed by Belfast’s own Nick Hamm and looked at the relationship between DeLorean and that confidential informant, has just been picked up for North American distribution.
Wherever John Z. DeLorean is now, he’s surely happy about it all.