Meanwhile, and in record time, De Lorean built an ultramodern factory in the unlikeliest of places -- Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the midst of civil unrest. The first De Lorean finally rolled off the assembly line in early 1981, but it would be six more months before a batch was actually ready to be air-freighted to the United States, where the cars sold for well above their $25,000 sticker price. (By then, the DMC-12 name had died along with the $12,000 price tag.) Comedian Johnny Carson, an early investor in the company, was one of the first customers to drive his De Lorean home. Or at least try to -- his alternator failed on the way.
The company itself proved no more reliable. Rumors of impending financial implosion decimated demand overnight. Rather than slow production, John De Lorean inexplicably doubled the factory's output. Unsold inventory accumulated, tying up the company's limited working capital and causing production to grind to a halt. In its final fight to survive, the De Lorean Motor Company was optimized to achieve profitability selling 4000 cars per year -- well below the initial 10,000-unit break-even plan and a fraction of its founder's absurd 30,000 per annum goal.
Thirty years later, you can't drive a De Lorean without a camera-wielding pedestrian calling out, "Back to the Future!"
It makes you wonder: if the movie had come out earlier, might De Lorean have survived? With that kind of fame, surely 4000 cars could have been sold per year. Was it, irony of all ironies, bad timing that killed the car that everyone knows as the time machine?
One thing's for sure: its looks were not to blame. Giugiaro's hard-edged wedge, drawn in 1975, still looks futuristic today -- even before the twin 90-pound doors are hoisted open. If there's any criticism, it's that the car's incredibly low and wide proportions promise more performance than the French powerplant could deliver. Reaching 60 mph takes ten long seconds -- it might have looked like a spaceship, but this was an executive express, not a supercar.