John Z: An Appreciation

I read John Z. DeLorean’s autobiography about thirty years ago; I was alternately fascinated and horrified. One of our readers, “Reno”, wrote this up as part of a healthcare degree he’s been taking. If you’ve never heard of the fellow beyond his stainless-steel coupe, this is a good place to start!

A healthcare leadership paper about Al Sloan and Charles Kettering would be an interesting intersection of the US automotive industry and cancer care. Alfred Sloan donated $4,000,000 to what was then known as the New York Cancer Hospital, and Charles Kettering agreed to oversee the organization of the cancer research program. At that time Alfred Sloan was the chairman of General Motors and Charles Kettering was Vice President of research at General Motors. These men came from wealthy families and made their fortunes running General Motors and forming Delco (Dayton Engineering Laboratories Co.). Charles Kettering is credited for inventing the electric starting motor at Delco. General Motors acquired Delco through its acquisition of United Motors Corporation in 1918. This is an interesting story, these men were able to position themselves for success through their various family connections and alumni networks. An intriguing story would be the story of a leader that was on the fast track to the top. This leader is the son of immigrants with an unstable home life growing up, making it to the senior executive team of one of the world’s largest corporations and then stepping down to peruse his own interests due to his refusal to comply with the strict hierarchy of a ridged corporate culture. A leader that would fit that description would be John Z. DeLorean.

John Z. DeLorean was born in Detroit in 1925, his management career in the automotive field started while attending a coop program in the Chrysler Institute. Growing up in Detroit most people worked in some capacity in the automotive field in those days, DeLorean had many short stints at factories and machining shops while he was in school. He worked his way through college and graduate school. He received a Masters from the Chrysler Institute. His father was a brilliant machinist, but had minimal formal education and had a hard time getting his ideas out to others. John continued working at Chrysler after his masters/coop program ended, but quit in 1952. He decided to leave Chrysler due to the size of the organization. He felt it was too big. In the early 50s the ‘Big Three” were the leaders in the automotive world. There were many independent car companies still producing competitive cars, but General Motors, Ford and Chrysler were producing the most cars by volume. GM was in first place, followed by Ford in a close second, and Chrysler was a distant third. John felt that Chrysler was a too large for him to be successful. He was looking for a smaller manufacturer where he would know all the people working on the projects he was participating in. This is an important theme that would come back again later in his career.

The independent car manufactures that were still around in the early 1950’s were experiencing a phenomenon that occurs in a maturing industry. The larger industry leaders were undercutting the smaller players in price and volume. The advancements that were being introduced each year were requiring more and more research and development dollars to remain competitive, and the style cycles demanded that a heavy restyle was required each year to remain competitive. The independents such as Packard, Studebaker, Willys, Rambler, Nash, Hudson, Crosley, and Kaiser were starting to have a hard time keeping up with the innovation and refreshes necessary to remain competitive. By the end of the 50s all of the independents listed above would be gone or combined. The independents were notable in their innovation. Packard was the first manufacturer to offer power windows and air-conditioning as regular production options. These innovations could not prevent the onslaught of GM.

John left Chrysler in 1952 and took a position under Forest McFarland who was the head of Research and Development at Packard. DeLorean’s first assignments were on the central hydraulic systems and development of the Ultramatic Automatic Transmission. The Ultramatic was Packard’s first fully automatic transmission. Due to Packard’s small size the engineer was involved in designing, working with machinists, assembly, testing, and production. This enabled DeLorean to learn and experience the many phases of car design. While working with the blacksmiths at Packard, John learned a basic philosophy that he adopted for the rest of his career; maintain business relationships with a mutual, professional trust, and respect. Later in his career this would be mistaken as arrogance and aloofness. Within four years of joining Packard he was asked to head the Research and Development department. In 1954 Packard bought Studebaker and formed the Studebaker-Packard Corporation of South Bend Indiana. The last true Packard was built in 1956 at the Packard plant in Detroit. After that all production moved to South Bend and the Detroit production and offices closed. The 1957 and 1958 Packards were facelifted Studebakers. It was a sad end to a storied marque.

By 1949 General Motors had every vertical in the automotive market covered with their 6 brands. They had also released their first new postwar body shell and they were dominating the market. They had the market saturated following the maxim of Alfred Sloan “A car for every purse and purpose.” The market was covered from low priced to high by Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac, and GMC truck. The strategy was that an individual could start out buying a Chevy, and move up to Pontiac then Oldsmobile etc. as their finances improved. Each division had their own unique flavor in those days. Chevrolet was the economy car, and Pontiac was not as plain, but not flashy or exciting. They were known for chrome strips on the hood and a glowing Indian Head as the hood ornament. The exciting brands were Oldsmobile and Buick. Cadillac was marketed as the “Standard of the World” the pinnacle of the GM hierarchy. Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac were the only GM brands to have an OHV (Over Head Valve) V8 in 1953, there was a lot of excitement with the senior brands at GM. Cadillac and Oldsmobile each introduced their own V8 in 1949 331 and 303 respectively. Buick introduced their OHV V8 (The Nailhead) in 1953 for the marque’s 50th anniversary.

The Oldsmobile V8 was such a big deal when it was introduced that the song Rocket “88” was released in 1951 by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats as a tribute to the Oldsmobile Rocket 88. The Delta Cats were also known as Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm Band, this was before Ike Married Tina. The Olds 88 had the light body shell of the Olds 76 and the powerful engine of the heavy Olds 98. This is a formula that would be used by John when the GTO was created in the 1960s. In the early 50s, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac were very exciting brands with their own unique feel. Chevrolet, Pontiac and GMC were all using straight 6 motors and had very plain utilitarian styling. The team running Oldsmobile were plugged into the consumers of the day, they were producing a product so popular that a hit song was written about the thrill of driving an Oldsmobile 88. This car had a light body with a powerful engine it was a combination that consumers wanted. The Oldsmobile leadership generated a buzz with the product that resulted in increased sales.

In 1956 John was recruited by General Motors’ Pontiac division to head the Advanced Engineering Department by Simon “Bunkie” Knudsen. Bunkie came from an automotive family. His father, William Knudsen, was heavily involved in the forming of General Motors. DeLorean enjoyed working at Packard and appreciated the multifaceted aspects of his positon there, it gave him the flexibility that he did not have at Chrysler. Simon was looking to dramatically change Pontiac and he needed someone who was a maverick who was able to be flexible as needed to transform the division. John DeLorean was entering his sweet spot. Bunkie understood office politics, but shunned them. It could be argued that his father’s position at GM allowed him this freedom and another manager would not have that leeway.

During the late 50s DeLorean was learning how to navigate the corporate politics. It became evident that the engineering skills were less and less important, and survival and advancement required selling ideas and proposals to management. Bunkie was mentoring John and revitalizing a brand that was selling more and more cars every year. Bunkie walked through the plant floor and stopped and talked to the workers and took their advice and he implemented their ideas where necessary. This enabled the brand to be more nimble and faster to react to market changes and consumer demands. During this period each GM brand was very independent only sharing body shells, basic suspension hard points and suppliers. This yielded cars from GM that had a familiar feel, but distinct personality. Bunkie was promoted to head Chevy in 1961 and Pete Estes was selected to head Pontiac, and DeLorean continued his development learning from the leaders that were transforming Pontiac and moving up through management ranks. Pete and Bunkie had different management styles. Pete was outgoing and Bunkie was more reserved, but DeLorean learned and applied the best leadership aspects from both men. DeLorean was using a hands on management style, where he was adapting to the leadership demands of the executive suite on the Fourteenth Floor in the GM headquarters, while delivering the messages gleaned from the factory floor or the engineering lab.

When the 1959 Pontiacs were being configured for their release, DeLorean came up with a look called the “Wide Track” that was incorporated in the marketing for the 59 and 60 Pontiacs. The 1959 GM corporate car bodies were very wide with the wheels tucked in, but he pushed the wheels out to the edge of the wheel well when prototyping a rear independent suspension system. The look was amazing on the new bodies and was different than the rest of the GM divisions. Incorporating the features across the whole car line and marketing the line as such contributed to the youthful performance oriented brand that he was brought on to accomplish. When john was recruited to work at Pontiac he was pitched that the brand was considered an “old lady” car. The sales were low and on a downward trajectory for several years. Upper management was considering closing down Pontiac. DeLorean saw this as an incredible opportunity to grow himself and the brand. The fact that he was starting to see success with his ideas, and the sales of more cars were attributed to his work. The senior leadership on the fourteenth floor had to call DeLorean to task at times due to the fact that he ignored some of the corporate mandates when making some engineering changes to the designs. These changes resulted in increased sales and year over year improvements to market share for the division. The wide track and the scaling back of chrome embellishments on cars were a couple of things that were counter to the trend within GM, but the trajectory of the Pontiac sales were attributed to these unique features of Pontiacs. DeLorean had a connection to the market place, similar to the Oldsmobile team’s market connection 10 years earlier. There was a buzz around Pontiac.

When the 1960’s started, DeLorean was dialed into the automobile market place. He understood that the youth market was hot and the Baby Boomers were starting to get their licenses. There was an adage that said “you can sell an old man a young man’s car but you can’t sell a young man and old man’s car”. Pontiac was now involved in NASCAR and Drag Racing. This was great exposure for the brand, and the industry was buzzing about Pontiac. John was about to introduce a new car that would follow a formula Oldsmobile had followed in 1949. It was rewarded with a hit song and a legendary hotrod; Pontiac would do the same thing. When Ronnie and the Daytona’s sang about the 3 deuces, 4 speed, and the 389 engine in their hit from 1964 “Little GTO” they did not realize they were also singing about a corporate guidelines that was being violated. GM had a corporate policy about limits on the size of the engines that could be installed in intermediate sized cars. The 1964 Pontiac Tempest was based on GMs corporate A body chassis, which was an intermediate car. The Tempest had the 326 for its largest engine and the GTO used the Tempest’s A body chassis.

The thing that made the GTO special and exciting was the 389 engine and upgraded suspension and brakes. The 389 was the standard engine installed in the larger Bonneville and Grand Prix. No other GM intermediate car had an engine that large in 1964, but the 389 was part of the reason the GTO was an instant success. DeLorean and Pontiac leadership did not tell GM leadership about this car when it was under development. Leadership found out about this right before the cars public introduction and could not do anything about it. The car was kept from leadership due to the understanding that they would have not allowed production. John knew that this was a bad political decision, but he also knew that the concept of the GTO would be successful. In the first three years of the GTO production, they sold 31,000 in 1964, 60,000 in 1965, and 84,000 in 1966; the Pontiac production team figured they would sell 5,000 a year. The concept was so successful that GM let Buick, Chevrolet, and Oldsmobile follow with their own A Body based muscle cars the GS, Malibu SS 396, and 442 respectively in subsequent years. DeLorean and Pontiac created a whole niche market for factory muscle cars from GM. The other manufactures followed suit with cars like the Plymouth GTX, and Ford Fairlane GT 390. The corporate bosses were not pleased with DeLorean’s actions, but they were pleased with the profits from the new models. It is important to remember that in mid-1960s GM had approximately 50% of the domestic auto market, today they have 20%. DeLorean had an understanding of the car market and he had the support and flexibility within Pontiac to produce cars that people wanted to buy. When he started Pontiac was selling 233,000 cars a year in 1956. When he left Pontiac in 1969 Pontic sold just under 900,000 cars. DeLorean was a large part of this dramatic increase, with cars like the Grand Prix, Firebird, and the GTO. There was corporate pushback with the firebird and Grand Prix due to internal competition with the Rivera and Camaro, but DeLorean knew these would be hits.

DeLorean was on the management fast track at GM and he was promoted to the General Manager of the Chevrolet division. This was a huge promotion with more visibility. He lost much of the independence that he had at Pontiac. Pontiac had one assembly plant Chevy had 11. Chevy accounted for almost half of GMs total volume in 1969 and senior GM leadership wanted it to be run a particular way. John also ran into problems he experienced at Chrysler, namely the vastness of the organization and lack of interpersonal relationships. At Packard and Pontiac he was able to quickly establish connections and understand the inner workings. He thrived in these environments and Chevrolet would prove to be a challenge. He found success in implementing modern financial controls, increased use of computers for orders and inventory, and staff optimization. DeLorean described Chevrolet in February 1969 as a confused, over-managed, under-controlled division. He was very successful at Chevrolet he managed to turn the division around without as much turmoil as his work at Pontiac.

When John was given the top job at Chevy he had to deal with the Vega. The Vega was GMs bold new compact economy car to compete with the imported cars and to beat their cross town rival Ford to this segment of the market. The Vega project was known internally as XP-887. It was a corporate project with requirements dictated by senior leadership at General Motors. Pontiac and Chevrolet had been working on their own independent designs for cars in this space. The requirements for the Vega were not able to be met with either design from Pontiac or Chevrolet. DeLorean felt that the design from either division would have been a better car to produce. It would have been a more durable car than what was produced. The Vega was problematic from its initial development. The car did not come from within a division, and as a result it did not have the champions that were required to produce a high quality final product. Traditionally the corporate executives on the Fourteenth Floor would select a market to sell a car (policy) and then they would pick one of the divisions to produce and sell the car (operations). In the Vega’s case, it would have been the small car market and Chevrolet would have been the division to sell the car. The Vega project corporate management selected the market and developed the car themselves. They selected Chevrolet to sell the car. It was a corporate car not a divisional car. The people creating the car were several steps removed from the market. It produced a product that was ultimately not competitive in the marketplace, due to the immense problems the customers had with their Vega after purchase.

DeLorean had to motivate the Chevrolet engineering staff to build the design they had to build. He was successful in gelling the teams on the project, and they produced the cars. DeLorean stepped up the quality processes in assembly to catch as many defects as possible and adjust the manufacturing processes to eliminate the defects before they could be built in to the Vega. Corporate funded the additional quality processes. In October 1971 GM Assembly Division (GMAD) took over the remaining Chevrolet assembly plants. This was an attempt to streamline the assembly facilities. One of the first things that was done was eliminating 700 jobs in quality at the Lordstown Ohio plant. The Vega’s were made exclusively at the Lordstown plant; the quality positions were put there specifically to address the shortcomings in the Vega during assembly. With the quality employees and processes removed, the owners of the new Vegas were discovering all the problems that were unable to be removed during the development. The assembly adjustments were put in place to correct these shortcomings, but GM took the assembly processes and plant away from Chevrolet. GMAD was now responsible for the Lordstown plant and all the other Chevrolet plants. GM made more money selling Caprices and Malibus then Vegas; as a result the Vega quality issues were not a high priority. The 1971 UAW strike at Lordstown resulted in a low output for the 1971 model year, and there were more UAW problems after GMAD took over operations of the Lordstown plant. The problems with the Vegas kept mounting with thousands of cars being recalled costing GM millions, and the sales did not meet expectations until the 1974 model year. By the end of the Vega run in 1977, the majority of the issues were addressed, but it was too late for the Vega. This development was frustrating to DeLorean.

In 1972 DeLorean was promoted to Group Executive of the Car and Truck Group. This is a position that had an office on the fourteenth floor at the GM headquarters. He was now a senior executive at General Motors. DeLorean wanted a position overseas where he saw the greater potential for growth in the European market, but he also saw another environment that was similar to Packard and Pontiac where he would have more autonomy. In his new position on the fourteenth floor he was now working with the executive team day after day. He was unable to go back into his division, Chevrolet or Pontiac, to take a reprieve from the struggles on the fourteenth floor he was in there every day. He was unable to achieve the small victories that keep people engaged. He was fighting to downsize cars, streamline ordering and inventories, and accelerate product development and innovations. The majority of the executives on the fourteenth floor were devoted to perpetuating the system rather than implement sound business results. It only took one year of this to wear DeLorean down on April 2, 1973 he resigned from General Motors. This paper shows that leadership is often reluctant to implement the concepts and ideas these leaders bring to the senior executive ranks. The successful companies embrace ideas from leaders like DeLorean, but it takes many components for leaders like DeLorean to succeed at the highest level. The majority of the senior leadership team must share the same goal and vision, this has proven elusive in many different car companies. The rise and fall of General Motors is a fascinating illustration of this resistance to change.

DeLorean believed that General Motors needed to adapt and innovate to retain its market share. He was unable to convince the rest of the fourteenth floor that this was necessary. History has proven DeLorean was correct in his intuition that General Motors was not on the right path with the processes in place to produce cars. General motors started losing market share in the later part of the 70s and the decline continued until GM declared bankruptcy on June 1, 2009 with its stock at .75 cents a share, GM was removed from the DOW. Its market share was 19.5% in 2009 at bankruptcy, in 1962 GM had 50.7% of the market. DeLorean was a visionary and he was not the only person who attempted to stop the inevitable. The corporate structure that had been built up at GM was so resistant to change and it wound up imploding. DeLorean was often at odds with the system, but was so successful in his day to day roles he was ultimately promoted out of his success zone. DeLorean quickly discovered once he arrived in a senior leadership position at General Motors that he was not able to implement the change that was necessary to ensure General Motors would retain its market share. He remained in that role for a year and resigned. There are many more chapters in John DeLorean’s story but this paper focused on his leadership while navigating the bureaucracy of General Motors. After he left General Motors he started his own car company DeLorean Motor Company (DMC). His car became a star car in the Back to the Future movie series. One of the many legacies of John DeLorean was that he had an understanding of the marketplace and culture and produced many products that are still relevant today.

24 Replies to “John Z: An Appreciation”

  1. John C.

    I am not a fan of John Delorean. Everything that was great was all him and everything that wasn’t was some old guy in white shoes that harshes his buzz. Notice he took over Chevy years before Vega yet it’s supposed issues were anything but his fault. Same with the issues with the Corvair based premium Tempests at Pontiac.

    Remember when he wanted the ghost written “on a clear day… ” to be a “Bible” of American business. Sorry, I don’t chose to bow down.

    Look what he did with a deep pocket of other peoples money at DMC. An “ethical” SJW safe sports car ripped off from Lotus with a lousy, poorly balanced, slow, unreliable 90 degree French V6. It took Hollywood making it into a time machine to make it seem cool

    • rambo furum

      As an aside, I’ll question Jack’s apparent decision not to edit this article of the numerous grammatical issues that surely irked him more than me.

      I didn’t read DeLorean’s autobiography. I read a biography. The things I remember are as follows:
      1. As noted above, DeLorean was great on taking credit for success and scapegoating failures.
      2. He played really fast and loose with fraudulent loans and the like.
      3. Whatever book it was that I read really harped on his bizarre DMC decisions. He was obsessed with making the dash have the texture of some expensive pen he had. I think Lotus flat out told him that the rear was the worst place to put an engine. His choice of gull wing doors and stainless exterior came at a time when sporty cars were more about appearance, meaning flashy colored paint and/or convertibles, which were not really an option for the DMC-12.

      • CJinSD

        Colin Chapman embezzled the Irish taxpayers’ money meant to pay for development of the DMC-12 in order to run his mediocre F1 team and then escaped justice by appearing to die.

        • Ronnie Schreiber

          If I recall correctly, Chapman and Delorean managed to divert something like $17 million between them. $8.5 million wouldn’t have lasted Chapman very long, considering his rather expensive tastes. He was a clever engineer and an innovator in many ways but his best friend said about Chapman that he was “Not a man to be trusted about your wallet or your wife.”

    • Panzer

      I honestly can’t tell if you’re a highly committed troll, or someone who is simultaneously quite articulate and extraordinarily stupid.

      • John C.

        Given my propensity for lost if just causes, I will vote stupid.

        What made Delorean famous was not the GTO or the ethical sports car. It was the Clear Day book, where he told the next generation why they should hate GM, telling them exactly the story they wanted to hear, exactly how they wanted to hear it, and from exactly the kind of person who they wanted to hear it from. Much like memoir of a fired white house staffer aimed at the other side, or a Mark Twain book making fun of the South.

        • Panzer

          It is true that part of what you’re railing against is government policy and the anti-americanism of much of the trend-setters in American society.

          But on the other hand, how you so casually dismiss the mismanagement of the American auto industry and try and pretend that import car buyers were entirely motivated by self hatred rather than a superior product in context.. It is truly mind boggling how someone can exclude inconvenient facts the way you do.

          Can you explain to us how the liberal car buyers of California convinced the Arabs to decrease their oil production and drive up the price of oil, thus making economy important to American consumers?
          Or how those same liberals and auto journos almost simultaneously convinced Henry Ford Jnr to reject Iacocca’s genius plan to license build Mazdas in the US for Ford to get a head start over their competitors in the economy car market?

          • John C.

            It is generally agreed that American cars reached their peak in 1965, I don’t actually agree but for these purposes fine. Do you really think the wheels came off in the next 5-10 years and brilliant people suddenly were not. I don’t.

            Notice the cars that drive the import humpers crazy most. Not this Bonneville, not matter how weak the engine or inefficient. Nor some Caddy where the wood became fake. The people that say that don’t really like wood as what the I. M; Peis of the world describe as needless decoration. Hence the hatred of pre India Jaguar. The hippies were happy to let their parents and grandparents drive them until nature and CAFE took their course.

            What really drove the hippies crazy was cars like the Vega and the Citation. Important large investment offerings Why, they were small and efficient, the exact insults they casually threw at the big ones. It was instead the audacity of actively trying to bring them into the club by making something American that should appeal. The really annoying part was early on many of their generation bought in, because the hippies were a minority. Insulted because it brought them right up to the line of saying they resent their own country. We suddenly hear lawyer talk of aluminum engine blocks and brake proportioning valves. It is obvious what they were really saying.

            Oddly the move to Japan and Korea and now trucks tells us how wrong the hippies were, I think most of the now old hippies realize it was a mistake. Mass market appliances, like choosing Bobby Sherman over Jimmie Hendrix in 1969. Now comes the blaming of those record company, err big three executives. They were so evil, how can we be blamed?

          • Panzer

            “Do you really think the wheels came off in the next 5-10 years and brilliant people suddenly were not. I don’t.“

            Well, to a certain extent yes. The American auto industry was so dominant and such a world leader for half a century, that such success breeds complacency – the Victory disease or ‘the higher they are, the harder they fall’ – and from such heights they did fall.
            You didn’t answer my earlier questions and moreover you reinforced the point I made by pointing out what a minority the hippies really were.
            It’s not hard to figure out that American consumers would turn away from the big three in the 70’s when you had those tenured UAW slobs leaving their half eaten sandwiches inside door skins and fabricating chassis rails different lengths on one car, as well as the big three’s manifest failure to meet emissions tests while creating a compelling product.

          • John C.

            Ah yes, if only the blacks had stayed on the plantation and Chevrolets were built by Pollacks, than everything would be ok. That is the kkk argument. Not heard much anymore… Careful!!

        • Panzer

          “Ah yes, if only the blacks had stayed on the plantation and Chevrolets were built by Pollacks, than everything would be ok. That is the kkk argument. Not heard much anymore… Careful!!”

          At least I know you’re nothing more than a troll now. Going for the SJW Racist card when you’ve run out of ammo haha

          • John C.

            I do apologize to our Polish friends out there but I was annoyed that some anteater guy from down under has the gal to assume the UAW are a bunch of slobs dropping half eaten sandwiches. I stand with the very few still current UAW members against such a lazy ignorant slur.

        • Panzer

          Haha fuck you 😂
          I may have grown up in New Zealand, but my father was stacking Viet Cong in a Marine recon unit while your father was still shitting his pampers. Which probably makes me more of an American than you 🤙

          Thank fuck GM and Ford product planners don’t listen to midwestern fudds like you, so we have great vehicles like the Suburban or the GT500, 1LE and C8.

          • Panzer

            “Anti white loser”

            John, do you know the one thing above all that has made White European civilisation the dominant powerhouse that it is?
            It’s the philosophical conception of the individual who can think for himself and analyse the past and present – so we as white europeans can look back in the past and say: “yeah, that was a dumb decision, lets not do that again” and in doing so, improve the future.
            Asian societies (as you yourself have pointed out many times) for instance on the other hand, do not have this cultural concept and instead have extraordinarily strict hierarchies, making their societies more efficient in the short term while more brittle and less adaptable long term.

            So when I stand here and cast a critical eye over certain aspects the past of my people, it’s because I love them and I want them to do better and be stronger in the future, which is generally what happens when we’re honest with ourselves. And it is this process that has gotten is from 120hp small block Trans Ams to wonders like the C8.

            And it is your petulant – “WELL GAWD DANG NOONE FROM THE MIDWEST EVA PUT A FOOT WRONG ON GAWDS GREEN EARTH” – bullshit paradigm that saw GM go from 50% market share to 20% in the space of a few decades. Thanks for being the sort of blind bozo that ruined one of our nations greatest institutions 👍
            The workers of Michigan applaud you.

  2. stingray65

    John DeLorean was a talented engineer and manager and came to prominence at GM just as they were shifting from being engineering driven to being bean-counter driven. Basically all the top brass at GM came out of product or manufacturing engineering until the 1960s when they were under serious anti-trust pressure from the US government. If a firm isn’t allowed to make more money by making better cars and gaining share, they will shift to trying to make more money by focusing on making cars more cheaply, and this is the period when GM started to cut quality and share parts and manufacturing plants more prominently across divisions. Under such circumstances the finance guys start to take charge and engineers are mostly demoted to meeting regulations and figuring out how to engineer out costs.

    As GM quality slipped and brand distinctions disappeared, GM started losing share to more innovative and quality focused foreign competitors. DeLorean projects like the GTO, rope drive IRS Tempest, OHC six, and desire to rationalize (i.e. downsize) the full-size cars ran into more frequent brick walls as the bean-counters didn’t see sufficient profits or too many risks and I believe that is why he left GM. Unfortunately, Ford and Chrysler were too conservative at the time to see his potential and make him and offer he couldn’t refuse (I’m sure he also saw how badly Ford treated Bunkie Knudsen), because they certainly could have used someone with his engineering chops and market instincts to push back against anti-trust worried GM and the foreign onslaught during the 1970s and 80s and made a much happier and productive final chapter in his career.

  3. LynnG

    Jack, may I venture a guess that the “guest” author might just happen to be your son… It is a really good term paper, but he should have included end notes.. 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • JustPassinThru

      Second that..

      What I recall of John Z, back in the day when I read the buff books…was, first, his inability to comply with social demands of his position – dress code, marital behavior (he picked up a trophy second wife) and delusions of grandeur. As mentioned, he was free with the spending of OPM…somewhere along the lines of the DMC project, he should have realized he was in too deep, and bailed, or compromised, or sold what he had to another maker, maybe Lotus. But, as with Tucker, and to a lesser extent, Kaiser, he had the Big Picture dreams, but neither money nor technology available.

      And then, his last gasp. Yes, I know he was acquitted of the drug-running charges, but jury-nullification for a bad-faith sting operation, doesn’t negate that DeLorean needed money fast and was not above performing some felonies to make that money. And, that would not have been the end, either…that car, in that form, in that plant, with the CEO’s habits, was not going to make it.

      Nor did any of DeLorean’s proclaimed talents, manifest later. He’d poor-mouthed GM, showed he had no respect for form, rank, rule or law, and there was no longer any interest in hiring him.

      I would posit that DeLorean was an engineer first, a man of limited managerial talents…and the places he succeeded, Pontiac excepted…the rest, failed. Packard was making poor choices, all the way down. GM, later. DMC was similar to today’s Unicorn IPO companies….forty years ahead of its time. Based on Hopium and Bigger Fools.

      Rest in pine, John. You coulda been somebody, but you didn’t know your limitations. Had you stuck with Pontiac, you’d have gotten the gold watch and the James J. Nance School of Business, Honorary Degree….the school named after your old boss at Packard.

      • Ronnie Schreiber

        In the movie Framing John Delorean, a Delorean associate insisted that they had managed to arrange financing from a New York bank that would have saved DMC but this was before cell phones and they could not reach Delorean before he got to that ill-fated meeting in a hotel room.

  4. -Nate

    ? I don’t ken your comment .

    Mr. Delorian chose the wrong path, his mistake, bummer .

    The 14th floor idiots destroyed a great company and didn’t care .

    I’m enjoying the comments and learning from them as always .


  5. JDog

    I have no issues with Delorean. He came up with the idea of muscle cars. The DMC, while compromised, is still a pretty sweet whip. He may have been a vain, arrogant rule breaker with a beautiful wife and maybe sought unconventional financing, but that just makes things more interesting. If he was an artist, musician or writer, his shortcomings would be hailed as virtues.


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