Two weeks before his death in March of 2005, I had a conversation with John DeLorean, the storied GM exec, design chief, and creator of the GTO (Gran Turismo Omologato) at GM during the muscle car era in the mid-sixties.
The reason for the conversation? At the time I was talking with an inventor named Tom Kasmer who was requesting an interview on my national radio show, America's Car Show. Kasmer had developed a new hydraulic vehicular powertrain called the Hydristor. He claimed that John DeLorean was going to use the Hydristor as a powertrain offering in his new car that was slated to roll out from his resurrected corporation, DeLorean Motor Company (DMC). I told Kasmer that if he could have John DeLorean call me and confirm that this was true, then I would have him on the radio show. I had received other similar calls in the past, so I forgot about this one as soon as I hung up the phone.
The next afternoon I received a call from a NYC number I didn't recognize. The voice on the other end introduced himself as John DeLorean and asked to speak with me. I was surprised, to say the least. For about 20 minutes we talked on a few fronts (while a friend of mine sat in my office with his mouth agape and pie-eyed) and then we scheduled a live on-air interview for three weeks later in early April; however, two weeks later he died of a heart attack.
I had put together the interview questions a week or so after our phone conversation and saved it filed under the title: "The "Would-Be" Interview With John DeLorean." Below are the questions I was going to ask John. The answers are what I thought John might have said based on our conversation two weeks before his death.
TMT: John, regarding the creation of the GTO - the story goes that one Friday you were sitting in the design studio at GM and wanted to drive something exciting that weekend but could not find anything compelling. So you found the smallest car in the stable, stuck the biggest engine you had in it, and drove off into history with the creation of the GTO. Is that about how it happened?
JD: Well Tom, history and the facts always do differ. So here's how it really happened. Yes, it was a Friday afternoon and I was trying to decide what to drive that weekend. As I looked around the design studio, I realized that there was nothing in the lineup that I wanted to drive. I wanted something sporty and powerful so I looked at the Tempest, which was the smallest car we had in the lineup. Then impulse took over and I had my team find the largest engine we had in inventory at the time (389 CID that was used for the Catalina and Bonneville) and install it in the Tempest. I drove the car for the weekend and LOVED IT! So I decided to loan it to other GM execs. This was a dangerous move to my career at the time because GM had issued a ban on factory-sponsored racing. To get them to drive it, I said that the car was designed for street-racing, not professional racing. They took the bait and test-drove the car with that understanding. I knew I had something hot when I had a hard time getting the car back from them, and hence the GTO was born.
TMT: Fascinating story. The GTO led you to Pontiac division President in 1965 at 40 years old, the youngest GM exec to date. You built Pontiac to a strong position and then took over Chevrolet when Chevrolet was having trouble. You reorganized that division and made it profitable too. As a result, GM promoted you to VP of national car and truck division, in effect a stepping-stone to the GM presidency. But you left GM shortly after that. Why did you leave GM before reaching the pinnacle of power?
JD: Too much bureaucracy and red tape at that level. It's hard to overcome traditional values and ways of doing business. I figured I'd open my own car company where I had full reign.
TMT: Hence the creation of the DMC corporation?
TMT: History records that DMC had a short run and closed due to economic, legal, and quality control issues. Is this true?
JD: Yes. (During our conversation that day, DeLorean was very closed-mouth about the failure of his car company and about anything illegal he participated in.)
TMT: I understand that you are in the process of re-launching the DMC car company. Will the car you're selling be built on the same platform as the DMC car of old?
JD: We'll use the same platform and look with a Renault powerplant; and as an option, some vehicles will come equipped with the Thomas Kasmer Hydristor hydraulic hybrid powertrain.
TMT: Really? The Hydristor? And what about the signature gull wing doors?
JD: Yes, the Hydristor has wonderful potential as a hybrid powertrain and will be a perfect fit in our new cars. I have looked at it both from an engineering and marketing standpoint and am very excited about the potential this system has to offer our DMC vehicles. We are looking at using carbon fiber and fiberglass panels to lighten the car, high performance suspension and steering systems, a high performance Renault powerplant, and yes, gull wing doors again!
TMT: When can we expect to see the new DMC cars roll off the assembly line?
JD: Sometime next year.
TMT: John DeLorean, thanks so much for taking the time to be on America's Car Show radio program.
JD: You're welcome, Tom.
John DeLorean died two weeks after our phone conversation and I never got to interview him on my radio show. As stated earlier, this "would-be" interview is based on my conversation with John on the day we spoke. Sadly, he never got the chance to re-launch his company. Obviously history shows that John DeLorean and his fabled DMC company suffered great pains and ultimate demise due to illegal drug activity on John's part, a down economy, and quality control issues in the first batch of DMC cars that rolled off the line. Desperate times often bring on desperate actions and such was the case with John DeLorean. He was blinded by his passion and drive to make his company successful. Too bad - he was a great man despite his shortcomings. I prefer to remember him as the automotive genius who created the GTO, a man who held several automotive patents, an automotive marketing wizard, a master salesman, and a leader in the automotive world. Men of this caliber are what legends are made of. I feel fortunate to have spoken with him before he died.
'Til next time ... Keep Rollin'
Tom Torbjornsen is an automotive expert of 38 years. An automotive journalist in good standing with the International Motor Press Association and Motor Press Guild, Torbjornsen has been the Repair and Maintenance editor for AOL Autos, At Home Portals, and many other websites. Hear his radio show AMERICA'S CAR SHOW, locally on WKSN 1340-AM via the SSI Radio Network Saturday mornings at 8 a.m. See Tom's television show, "America's Car Show" on Buffalo's all new WBBZ-TV, channel 5 on Dish, channel 67 over-the-air and on DirecTV. The show airs weekly Wednesday nights 6:30-7 p.m.. It is re-aired on Thursday mornings at 9 and Saturday mornings at 11. For more info on Tom Torbjornsen, visit AMERICA'S CAR SHOW website at: www.americascarshow.com. You can send Tom your car questions and TV show topic suggestions at: email@example.com. Find Tom's book, "How To Make Your Car Last Forever" in local Barnes & Noble booksellers and online at Amazon.com.