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John DeLorean

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1925 - 2005

Entrepreneur

John Zachary DeLorean, an engineer and entrepreneur who developed several cars for top automakers before branching off on his own, died on March 19, 2005 of complications from a stroke. He was 80.

DeLorean was the eldest son of a Ford Motor Company foundry worker. The Detroit native attended the Lawrence Institute of Technology on a music scholarship, served three years in the U.S. Army during World War II and earned a master's degree in automotive engineering from the Chrysler Institute. He worked for the Chrysler Corporation until 1952, then was named head of research and development at Packard.

In the 1960s, DeLorean developed the Catalina and Bonneville for General Motors' Pontiac division. He encouraged the automaker to offer smaller, sleeker models and helped produce the Tempest, Pontiac's first compact car. DeLorean also premiered the Pontiac GTO, a souped-up hotrod with a V-8 engine, and marketed it to young, affluent men. Dubbed "The Goat," it was widely acknowledged as one of the first "muscle cars."

Although DeLorean's success at GM seemed virtually guaranteed to take him into the higher echelons of the company, he resigned in 1973 to launch the DeLorean Motor Car Co. in Northern Ireland. In the hopes of generating 2,000 new jobs, the British government sank $120 million into the $200 million project. Eight years later, DeLorean's unpainted, stainless steel sports car hit the streets. The gull-winged DeLorean DMC-12 became a household name after it was featured as a time travel machine in the "Back to the Future" films, but poor reviews and quality control issues kept consumers from buying the vehicle.

At the same time, DeLorean faced serious legal troubles. In 1982, he was arrested in Los Angeles and accused of conspiring to sell 55 pounds of cocaine -- worth $24 million -- to salvage his business. DeLorean claimed he was the victim of entrapment and fought the charges in court. Despite the existence of a videotape on which he accepted the delivery of a suitcase full of cocaine, DeLorean was acquitted by a jury in 1984. His company eventually collapsed after producing less than 9,000 cars. DeLorean was cleared of defrauding the company's investors, as well, yet his legal entanglements forced him to declare bankruptcy in 1999.

A workaholic, he reportedly slept for only four hours a night. After his arrest, DeLorean settled down and became a born-again Christian. The former automobile industrialist lived his final years on social security and occasional consulting fees. To honor the automaker, 25 owners of DeLoreans parked their cars in front of the Royal Oak, Mich., funeral home where his memorial service was held.

His first wife was Elizabeth Elaine Higgins; his second was Kelly Harmon, 24 years his junior and the daughter of a Michigan football star. Both marriages ended in divorce. His marriage to Christina Ferrare was dissolved in 1985. He is survived by two daughters and an adopted son, and by his fourth wife, Sally.

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