Photos via PhotOhio.org.
In late 1985, probably more people talked about the De Lorean DMC-12 than at any other time in the car’s history. Its namesake had the year before beat the cocaine trafficking charges against him, the press followed his every move, and there was that one movie that featured the car that summer. John Z. DeLorean wanted a piece of the action.
No matter that he no longer owned De Lorean Motor Company. He’d just build another DMC-12 but call it something else: the Firestar 500.
Not long after his infamous arrest in October 1982, DeLorean lost his company. A month later, investor and entrepreneur Sol Shenk bought the company’s assets, and a month after that production ceased entirely. Shenk moved the remaining parts and cars to Columbus, Ohio, and though he talked of restarting production there, he eventually hired another company, KAPAC, to simply distribute the remaining De Lorean parts inventory, which it did until 1997.
Two years later, immediately following his acquittal of the trafficking charges, he seemed to have no inclination to return to the auto business, but after Robert Zemeckis’s “Back to the Future” became a summer blockbuster in July 1985 and cast the De Lorean DMC-12 in a new light, it seemed DeLorean had a change of heart.
In August 1985, DeLorean called a press conference in Columbus to announce he’d secured about funding to build yet another sports car. The Firestar 500 was to have more power than the PRV V-6-powered DMC-12 courtesy a 500hp aluminum fuel-injected four-valve V-8, it would weigh 500 pounds less than the DMC-12, and it would notch a top speed of 220 MPH and a zero-to-60 time of less than four seconds. Though he wouldn’t build it under the De Lorean name, he said he would build it using parts supplied by KAPAC.
Other than the renderings he presented at that press conference, DeLorean didn’t offer much more. Nor did Gordon Novel, DeLorean’s former private investigator and one of the main backers of the project (as well as self-declared counterintelligence agent and ufologist), who got quoted in some of the resulting stories. Neither said who would build the engine for them (based on the specs, all we can speculate is that DeLorean’s contacts at GM and Lotus informed him of their plans for the upcoming LT5), when production would start, or where exactly they would set up a factory to build the cars in Columbus.
(Yes, the single lower-case “b” in the renderings brings Bertone to mind, and the rendering does have some similarities to other Bertone designs, but we’ve yet to find an instance of Bertone using that font.)
Reporters ate it up and the news spread quickly. The press had been eager to tell DeLorean’s comeback tale, and here was their chance. But then they almost forgot about the Firestar 500 overnight in September 1985 when a federal grand jury in Detroit handed down a 15-count indictment against DeLorean for his alleged involvement in the disappearance of $17.75 million of De Lorean Motor Company investors’ funds.
DeLorean seemed to forget about the Firestar 500 just as quickly. Though he was acquitted of the fraud charges that December, according to a Motor Trend article from early 1987 – archived by the De Lorean Motor Club of Canada – DeLorean said he was just a spectator to Novel’s plans for the Firestar 500 and that he had no direct involvement in that car. Instead, he had bigger and better plans to build a $100,000 exotic sports car designed by an unnamed West German. This time he had $20 million in funding backing him, he said. “Interest in investment is incredible,” he told Motor Trend. “I’m getting letters from everywhere. We have a lot of opportunities.”
And then, nothing. The Firestar 500 was apparently never mentioned again. DeLorean’s $100,000 exotic never materialized. DeLorean spent the next decade and a half fighting lawsuits that arose from the collapse of De Lorean Motor Company, eventually declaring personal bankruptcy in 1999, and though he talked later in life about starting another auto manufacturing venture using aerospace technology, nothing came of that either.