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Jay Leno's Column: The Collector

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Jay Leno on DeLorean

I read the Octane feature about DeLorean with mixed emotions. It’s hard for me to like cars when I don’t like the creator. When I was a teenager, growing up in a small town in Massachusetts, most of the cars were practical, reliable, four-door sedans. Nothing really sporty or unusual.

Then along comes John DeLorean, who broke the mould for GM. Most GM executives were guys who wore white shirts and dark ties, had 2.4 kids. They were either salesmen or engineers and they weren’t what you’d call exciting.

Here was a guy who wore long hair – just like the Beatles! – who wore Italian suits, hobnobbed with Hollywood celebrities and most of all came up with the idea of putting a giant V8 in a mid-sized body. That doesn’t seem particularly outrageous today, but GM had all sorts of unusual rules back in the day about what engines could go in what bodies and how much horsepower was allowed. The Tempest was the intermediate-sized Pontiac.Although it might seem huge by English standards, for Americans it was midway between a small car, like a Chevy Nova or a Falcon, and a big car like an Impala or a Galaxie.

In any event it shaved hundreds of pounds off the full-size car. And thus the GTO was born. And so to me DeLorean was the hero. Every time he bucked GM or irritated them in the press, we would all give a cheer because he was a rebel and he was cool.

When we heard he’d left GM to start his own car company he really became our hero. He was going to build a fast car that was a safe car: a car unlike Americans had ever seen. It would be an American car with a European vision. Road & Track and Car and Driver, everybody, they all heralded the arrival of this thing.

We knew there would be teething problems and when the DeLorean arrived, although a bit underpowered, everyone still thought it was OK. My predecessor Johnny Carson was an investor and he got one of the first DeLoreans. I remember him telling me that he was on the freeway one day and the battery died and he couldn’t get the doors to work or the windows and it was turning into a sauna. He was stuck on the road in this thing and he couldn’t get out. But all along there was the fact John DeLorean was building the car in Northern Ireland, so not only was he making this car but he was going to bring peace to the world and solve unemployment.

Then the whole thing fell apart for me when he became a sleazy reported coke dealer. Although he was found innocent, for me it was a technicality. Any time you show up with a suitcase full of cocaine and say it’s as good as gold, I’m sorry, you’re guilty. It’s not as if he didn’t have a vast personal fortune already – he could have used his own money and he didn’t.

That’s when the whole thing fell apart for me. I realized he wasn’t really interested in building this dream car we all wanted. And the thing that annoyed me most was that it sort of proved that the GM guys were right. They said he was sleazy, they said he was unscrupulous, and it turned out that the guys who just go to work every day and put their noses to the grindstone were the good guys.

Then when he got off, and still had a vast fortune, he suddenly became religious. He ran ads in the newspaper saying he needed money for his defence. A friend of mine who was not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination sent him ten dollars. Then my friend went on a vacation. He walked by the most expensive restaurant in town, saw John DeLorean eating some gourmet meal and went in and demanded his ten dollars back. That’s when my friend became my hero.

It’s amazing when you put your faith in something how it can sour you on a car. I never even saw the Back To The Future movies because I didn’t want to look at the DeLorean. I see them now and I see the man in Texas rebuilding them and I guess that’s good. But it’s like an old girlfriend or boyfriend – John DeLorean was a hero of mine, I had such faith in him, and to say he broke my heart is probably too literal but it was physically upsetting.

The DeLorean is just tainted for me. I’ve never driven one. I don’t ever want to.


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