You guys know about the DeLorean, right?
I mean, you know about the DeLorean outside the context of Back to the Future, right? There was a guy who actually designed that thing. You knew about that … right?
Wait, you didn’t? You thought it was some obscure gull-wing car in a Boomer-era blockbuster?!
Hey, if you’re one of them millennials or zoomers, I’ll cut you some slack. No one’s heard of the actual designer behind the car. Most don’t even know the car was a real-world product, and still is to some extent.
So what is the legend behind that nifty, time-traveling machine? Who was the man behind the vehicle that bore his namesake?
Heh. Boy, do I have story for you.
So the man behind the car is just some guy named “John DeLorean.” Sounds like a Miami cop in an action-comedy, if you ask me. It’s a cliche for action heroes to have plain first names and super-cool last names.
Anyway, “John” held the distinction of being an automaking celebrity in the 1960s and 70s. DeLorean (sorry, got bored with the first name) didn’t just benefit from designing popular muscle cars. He had a glitzy public image as well.
Flying in the face of 20th century conventions and corporate etiquette, DeLorean dyed his hair jet-black and sported open button-down shirts. In all fairness, if he designed sports cars for handsome men with beautiful wives, he had to look the part.
John DeLorean had all the makings of a revolutionary automaker. He was even born in Detroit of all places. His father, Zachary, was a Romanian immigrant who worked at a Ford factory to support his wife and kids.
John’s childhood was frequently chaotic as his father would devolve into violent stupors. We’ll cover the impact this had on DeLorean in just a bit.
After serving in World War II, DeLorean completed his studies in Industrial Engineering and sold life insurance after university.
Despite his sales success, he felt the urge to try something else. Something more exciting.
Every so often when I’m employed at a certain company, I feel the urge to leave after a while. If you’re doing the same work day after day and not getting anywhere in life, then what’s the point? Your conscience will push you out of the workplace or your boss will get fed up with your lackadaisical effort and terminate you.
If it sounds like I’m speaking from experience, it’s because I am. I had a life before I was the Supreme Commander of ToomStone, you know. But that’s a story for another time.
So DeLorean started working at Packard Motors before getting into GM. Now, this is where his life started to launch off the back roads of convention and into the skies of automaking innovation.
General Motors – Initial Success
As an automaking conglomerate, GM has had several car brands under its umbrella and DeLorean started at Pontiac.
For those familiar with the history of automobiles, the Pontiac GTO was a revolutionary vehicle that popularized the “muscle car” in the 1960s and 70s. What is a muscle car, you ask? I don’t know, just watch the Fast and Furious movies.
My understanding is that a muscle car is a vehicle with the necessary horsepower for street racing.
That’s all I got.
Sorry. I may be a man. I may be a steak-eating conservative, but a grease monkey I am not.
Anyway, the Pontiac GTO was a smashing success and DeLorean pretty much got all the accolades.
If this guy was the creative force behind a super-popular muscle car in the 60s, you can bet he would become a public figure. And he did.
However, around this time DeLorean was subject to a great deal of infighting and politics in the bowels of the GM machine. If you were head of Pontiac, you’d want to ensure the division’s success without outside interference, right?
DeLorean couldn’t. Not in the massive corporate behemoth where his input was secondary to his superiors. DeLorean wanted to introduce a smaller version of his Pontiac Banshee but his bosses shelved it out of fear their prized Corvette model would suffer.
In short, DeLorean couldn’t run things his way. He couldn’t get his vision 100 percent realized.
Eventually, he was promoted to the head of the more profitable Chevrolet division. By this time, GM executives were growing frustrated with DeLorean’s recalcitrant nature.
After record-breaking success with the Corvette and Nova models, DeLorean was promoted to Vice President of GM. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before he would assume the Presidency.
But not if the GM executives had anything to do about it.
What happened next is pure speculation.
Some believe DeLorean was fired from GM for his defiance against corporate leadership. But according to the company, and DeLorean himself, he simply resigned and retired. He cited wanting to do more in the “social area.”
This explanation was bizarre given how he founded his namesake auto company not too long after. “Social area”? Okay, pal.
John didn’t want to be the Pontiac or Chevy guy. No, he wanted to be the DeLorean guy. Screw making someone else’s name famous!
Despite the initial hype, it took the DeLorean Motor Company several years before getting their first (and only) vehicle to market.
And this is where the famous gull wing comes in.
While the design itself was unique, it was impractical. The wing doors were frustrating to open and close. The stainless steel exterior made a paint job virtually impossible and cars were mostly sold in one shade.
It begs the question if DeLorean introduced designs like this to the heads of GM during his time there. He certainly had the temperament of someone willing to go against automaking standards for the sake of creating something revolutionary.
But is “revolutionary” synonymous with “practical” and “doable”? Think of Leftist social and economic causes. They want Universal Basic Income and all the rest, even when unemployment benefits have a tight correlation with consistent unemployment at large.
Anyway, the ultimate commercial failure of the DeLorean car was perhaps because DeLorean exemplified a certain ethos that was flowing in America at the time: Objectivism.
Objectivism is a political and social philosophy formulated by novelist Ayn Rand, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union. Rand theorized that collectivism is tantamount to tyranny, or rather it leads to tyranny. State power is usually required to apply beneficial measures for the common good.
Part of Rand’s philosophy stipulated that people should act in their own interest, not somebody else’s. Basically, be individualistic.
Be selfish, even.
Her first literary success, The Fountainhead, featured Howard Roark, an innovative architect who stubbornly refused to cater to society’s norms. Roark resisted coercion throughout the story to bend to society’s will. He was pressured by his professor. He was libeled by socialist magazine editor, Ellsworth Toohey.
In the end, despite a trial, Roark never changed his ways. He argued that society’s current norms at one point went against the grain. Breaking the rules is necessary for progress, he claimed.
“Throughout the centuries, there were men who took first steps down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision. The great creators — the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors — stood alone against the men of their time. Every new thought was opposed; every new invention was denounced. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered, and they paid. But they won.”– Howard Roark
In the end, Roark oversaw the construction of a tower based on his own design. He became a powerful man who finally saw the realization of his dream. His lover, Dominque Francon, ascended to the very top of Roark’s tower to see her new God in front of a beaming Sun.
Howard Roark has become iconic among capitalist right-wingers since the novel was published.
“Hey! Let’s go against the grain! Let’s make ourselves remembered after we’re gone! Screw conformity! Let’s leave our mark somewhere, guys!”
DeLorean – The Objectivist
I believe this is the mindset that DeLorean operated on. He wanted to be Howard Roark, not a faceless businessman in the GM conglomerate. DeLorean had the urge to break out and start something new.
DeLorean may not have had a consistent father figure in his younger years but he was the oldest son. Oldest sons are usually the most confident and authoritative among a couple’s children. They cultivate leadership qualities which benefit them later in life.
However, without a father figure to draw the line in the sand and enforce the rules, the child has the risk of becoming wayward.
With his mother’s constant encouragement, DeLorean had the benefit of both confidence and creativity. Although he didn’t have the necessary discipline.
This made him want to become a hero in an Ayn Rand story. He wanted to become an Objectivist God.
What better way than to upend the entire concept of cars? What better way than to fundamentally change cars to make his name stand out?
Can Man be God?
Unfortunately for him, his idea just didn’t work. He took the plunge to innovate and it mostly flopped. He may have had the heart of a creator but not the mind of a CEO.
The DeLorean Motor Company defaulted on its loans from the British government and DeLorean himself was caught in a cocaine bust to pay off said loans. (In fairness, he was acquitted on the grounds of entrapment).
Instead of building a factory in Detroit, the Motor City, DeLorean opened up shop in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The country’s economy mainly relied on textile production. Automaking was only a known trade half a world away. The DMC factory suffered from many quality issues on account of its unskilled workforce.
DeLorean’s life story begs the question: Is Objectivism doable? Is it a workable philosphy in the real world?
Objectivism leads man to believe he is God. But man is not God, he is merely Man.
No man has the power to found a groundbreaking entity on his own. Such an undertaking requires a vast skillset unattainable by human standards. You need a team of players to compensate for your weaknesses.
Where would Steve Jobs be without Wozniak? Or Lennon without McCartney? Or any pitcher without his catcher?
Fiction vs. Reality
Howard Roark is a fictional character at the center of an unrealistic novel. Rand’s philosophy may be useful in small doses but our society, our world, cannot function when everyone tries to be a trailblazer.
History is filled to its brim with blunders serving as cautionary tales. John DeLorean was a brilliant car designer but not suited to be an executive. Sometimes being a real trailblazer is knowing our place and staying in it. It’s accepting that we’re not God.
I’m the Supreme Commander of ToomStone, guys, not a dashing Hollywood chick magnet. It is what is.
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