John Z. DeLorean, the innovative automaker who left a promising career in Detroit to develop the short-lived gull-winged sports cars featured as a souped-up time travel machine in the "Back to the Future" movies, has died. He was 80.
DeLorean died late Saturday at Overlook Hospital in Summit, N.J., of complications from a recent stroke, said Paul Connell, an owner of A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Directors in Royal Oak, Mich., which was handling arrangements.
"Obviously, we're deeply saddened by the passing of an incredible, talented car person and loving family member," said DeLorean's nephew, Mark DeLorean.
DeLorean was among just a handful of U.S. entrepreneurs who dared start a car company in the last 75 years. Nearly all faded away, but his crashed spectacularly amid drug charges.
A Detroit native, DeLorean "broke the mold" of staid Midwestern auto executives by "going Hollywood," and pushed General Motors Corp. to offer smaller models, auto historians said.
While at GM, he created what some consider the first "muscle car" in 1964 by cramming a V-8 engine into a Pontiac Tempest and calling it the GTO, fondly dubbed the "Goat" by auto enthusiasts.
DeLorean was a rising if unconventional executive at GM who many believe was destined for its presidency before he quit in 1973 to launch the DeLorean Motor Car Co. in Northern Ireland. Eight years later, the DeLorean DMC-12 hit the streets.
Its hallmarks, such as an unpainted stainless steel skin and the gull-wing doors, have been ignored by mainstream automakers. The angular design, however, earned it a cult following, and the car was a time-traveling vehicle for Michael J. Fox in the popular "Back to the Future" films of the late 1980s.
But the factory produced only about 8,900 cars in three years, estimated John Truscott, membership director of the DeLorean Owners Association. That figure is dwarfed by the major automakers, who sell more than a million vehicles a month.
DeLorean's company collapsed in 1983, a year after he was arrested in Los Angeles, accused in a sting of conspiring to sell $24 million of cocaine to salvage his venture.
DeLorean used an entrapment defense to win acquittal on the drug charges in 1984, despite a videotape in which he called a suitcase full of cocaine "good as gold."
He was later cleared of defrauding his investors, but continuing legal entanglements kept him on the sidelines of the automotive world, although his passion for cars did not abate. After declaring bankruptcy in 1999, he said he wanted to produce a speedy plastic sports car selling for only $20,000.
A public viewing was tentatively set for Wednesday at the funeral home, located north of Detroit, with a private burial scheduled for Thursday at White Chapel Cemetery in the Detroit suburb of Troy.