Who owns DeLorean? The company’s 40-year rise from bankruptcy detailed


Over 40 years since the first DeLorean rolled from the production line, we’ve received intel that a second and markedly different DeLorean is on the horizon. The all-electric DMC Alpha5 will zoom from 0-60 mph in just under three seconds, a significant improvement from the DMC Delorean, which accelerated from naught to sixty in 10.5 seconds. 

Crucially, however, the DMC Alpha5 retains the iconic gullwing doors of the original, though the ones in the electric car are noticeably bigger. 

The DeLorean gained a cult following after the original car’s appearance in Back to the Future films. Therefore, fans are excited to see the new vehicle unveiled at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in mid-August 2022. 

Key Takeaways

  • Famed engineer and businessman John DeLorean left an executive position at General Motors to found the original DeLorean Motor Company in 1975. 
  • The original DeLorean Motor Company folded in 1982 following low sales, poor funding, and court cases against the founder John DeLorean. 
  • English mechanic Stephen Wynne founded the new DeLorean Motor Company after acquiring inventory and intellectual property from DMC’s bankruptcy holding company. 
  • DMC’s CEO Joost De Vries says the company plans to employ hundreds of employees in the coming years and build a premium SUV, a sedan, and a sports coupe.

John DeLorean founded the original DeLorean company in 1975

John DeLorean was a respected figure in the automobile industry when he left GM to form the DeLorean Motor Company. However, by the time he left the car industry, his reputation was in tatters (more on that later).

DeLorean had built the first American ‘muscle’ car, the Pontiac GTO, had a reputation for being a capable business innovator and was the youngest person to become a General Motors (GM) executive. Investors believed that he could make DeLorean work, and they funded his operation. 

John Delorean
John Delorean poses with the 1967 Pontiac Firebird convertible | Don MacDonald/The Enthusiast Network

Hollywood celebrities and The British Government provided over half of the startup money. The British Government hoped that investing in a job-providing project in North Ireland would reduce sectarian violence. 

Construction of the Dunmurry, Belfast, manufacturing plant ended in 1979, but due to engineering delays and budget constraints, assembly lines started in early 1981. 

An inexperienced workforce built poor quality DeLoreans, prompting the establishment of Quality Assurance Centers to check the cars before handing them to customers. The system was mostly successful, helping quell many quality complaints. 

Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro designed the angular, gull-winged DMC Delorean. Its stainless steel body parts were attractive and resisted corrosion but made painting difficult. 

The DeLoreans rolling out of the Dunmurry plant were identical, except for a few that featured a gray interior rather than the original black. Some dealerships painstakingly painted the DeLoreans to make them unique. 

John DeLorean’s company went bankrupt after failing to sell enough vehicles

Despite high hopes for the company, DeLorean sales weren’t as high as expected. The company needed to sell between 10,000 and 12,000 units to break even, but by late 1981, it had only sold around 6,000 cars. 

John Delorean poses with one of his sports cars at a beach next to San Francisco Bay in 1985 | Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS/VCG

The company restructured and launched a stock issue expected to raise about $27 million. However, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission forced the cancellation of the stock issue due to concerns about the company’s viability. 

The British Government stated that it would help only if John DeLorean acquired a similar amount from other investors. Matters went from bad to worse when the FBI targeted John DeLorean for drug trafficking. 

The FBI arrested DeLorean for conspiring to smuggle $24 million worth of cocaine into the United States. A key piece of evidence was a video showing undercover FBI agents discussing the drug deal with DeLorean. 

Attorney Howard Weitzman convinced the court that the agents coerced John into participating in the deal: they deceived John by approaching him as legitimate investors. 

The court acquitted John DeLorean of all charges, but the victory in court did little to save his reputation. In several years, John went from a respected engineer and investor to a failed entrepreneur shadowed by illegal dealings. 

With investors unwilling to pump money into the DeLorean Motor Company, it went bankrupt, ending operations in 1982. John DeLorean retired in New Jersey and claimed that the company had the funds and orders to keep running, but the powers that be forced its closure. 

DeLorean Motor Company’s bankruptcy led to the loss of 2,500 jobs and over $100 million in investments. 

Consolidated International (now Big Lots) bought the unsold DMCs and the inventory of unused parts left in the factory. In 1989, Montupet, a French automotive supplier, took over the Dunmurry plant and started manufacturing cast aluminum cylinder heads. 

Stephen Wynne started the new DeLorean Motor Company in 1995 in Humble, Texas

In 1995, Stephen Wynne started the new DeLorean Motor Company to support DeLorean owners. The company would service and restore DeLoreans and sell stock, aftermarket, and replacement DeLorean parts. 

Stephen Wynne - DeLorean Motor Company
Stephen Wynne, the new DeLorean Motor Company | Photo by Brett Coomer /Houston Chronicle

With thousands of DeLorean vehicles on the road, the new DeLorean Motor Company helped owners maintain their cars. 

Demand for the DeLorean soared in the early 2000s, prompting Stephen’s DMC to start selling refurbished cars. James Espey, the Vice President at DeLorean, explained the move to the BBC:

“A lot of people are interested in the car because of the story behind the car. A company started by John DeLorean – a guy who quit General Motors to start his own company to show them how to do it. Admittedly John has a much stronger reputation here in the States… but he still created a fantastic car.”

Espey stated that teenagers who watched Back to the Future films and could now afford the car in the movies had filled out orders for refurbished DeLoreans. He added:

“We feel quite confident that there is a market for between 20-25 hand-built made to order cars each year, without question. Right now, we have a nine-month waiting list for cars.”

In 2011, DMC announced plans to fit an electric motor into the DeLorean. “The car of the future has really become the car of the future,” James Espey joked. The company planned to sell built-to-order electric DeLoreans by 2013. 

By 2011, DMC was building around eight to ten refurbished original DeLoreans at $57,500. The classic electric DeLorean wouldn’t see the light of day, however, as regulations stopped the development of the vehicle. 

If all goes to plan, the all-new electric DeLorean will go into production in 2024, nearly 30 years after owner and president Stephen Wynne launched the company. Chief Marketing Officer Troy Beetz said in a statement:

“The Alpha5 is a representation of the past 40 years of DeLorean. There was this enormous responsibility to make sure we honored the history of the DeLorean brand, but an even greater responsibility in curating its future … I think we did both with the Alpha5.”

Joost de Vries, CEO of DMC, said the company plans to build a manufacturing plant in San Antonio

Joost de Vries, the current CEO of DMC, told Texas Public Radio that the company would build the new cars in a yet-unconstructed manufacturing plant in San Antonio. He added that the company plans to employ up to 450 people in the coming years. 

Joost de Vries, the current CEO of DMC | Photo by Youtube/AutoMotoTV

However, de Vries also told Autocar that the new car would be manufactured in Italy. Joost told NPR that the Alpha5 isn’t a new idea but rather a development of the original vehicle:

“DeLorean lived on in online games like Forza and Need for Speed and Asphalt, Playmobile, Hot Wheels. The brand never left the market. A lot of the ideas that DeLorean worked with in the early 80s is actually something that we’re developing further.”

De Vries said that the company plans to eventually build a premium SUV, a sedan, and a sports coupe. DMC has completed the first round of funding, with the next one possibly including an IPO. De Vries said:

“We will be a public company. We have to be. Building cars isn’t cheap, and you need lots of money to make it happen.”

The prospect of a new DeLorean car would probably not exist were it not for Stephen Wynne’s gamble on the failed company. The self-taught English mechanic emigrated to the United States in 1980 and started a foreign car repair shop in Southern California. 

He specialized in repairing the original DMC DeLorean. “There was no competition,” Wynee told CNBC. “Nobody wanted to touch them, and it just seemed like the opportunity to go for.”

Wynne expanded his operation to Houston, capitalizing on the car’s rising fame following its starring role in the Back to the Future franchise. He purchased DeLorean’s inventory and pieces of the intellectual property in the mid-1990s. 

Stephen then built a warehouse and restoration center in Humble, Texas. “Unless you go to a DeLorean convention, you’ll probably never see more DeLoreans in one spot then what you do when you come here,” he said. 

Wynne built shops in Florida, Seattle, and Chicago and licensed affiliates in Japan and Europe to ‘keep the DeLorean experience alive.’ Per the 2016 CNBC piece, Stephen invested $5 million to keep DeLorean running. 

If the new electric car project proves to be a success, he’ll recoup his investment many times over. 

John DeLorean’s wife sued the new DMC twice for trademark infringement

John Delorean passed away in 2005, leaving his wife, Sally Delorean, to manage his estate. In January 2015, she instituted a suit against the new DMC, claiming the company illegally used the DeLorean name to sell merchandise. 

Sally further claimed that DMC had fraudulently licensed the DeLorean name and images to other companies, including Urban Outfitters, Apple, and Nike. 

DeLorean sought damages, the profits obtained from the use of DeLorean’s trademarks, and an injunction stopping the company from further use of the marks. DMC’s attorney, William Mead, denied Sally’s claim, saying that John DeLorean never opposed the operations of the new DMC. He added:

“The DeLorean Motor Company denies that the Plaintiff has any right or authority to prevent the DeLorean Motor Company from operating its thirty-year-old business, and has no right to money damages.”

In October 2015, DMC and Sally settled. DMC paid Sally an undisclosed sum in exchange for the rights to use the DeLorean Motor Company name, logo, and trademarks. Sally retained rights to John DeLorean’s name and depictions of his likeness that are not public property. 

Both sides expressed relief over the settlement, with James Espey telling The Associated Press: “This allows us to get back to the business of doing business.”

However, Sally returned with another trademark infringement suit targeted at Back to the Future creators Universal. John DeLorean had agreed with Universal that he would receive 5% of the net receipts from ‘merchandising and commercial tie-ups’ associated with the DeLorean’s appearance in the films. 

Sally argued that the proceeds from the deal belonged to John DeLorean’s estate, not the new DMC. The District Judge dismissed the claim, stating that the 2015 settlement prevented Sally from instituting the case. 

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the District Judge, affirming that the Universal agreement fell with the 2015 settlement, giving DMC rights to proceeds from John’s deal with the production house. Circuit Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. wrote:

“The demand that Universal pay DMC Texas for the use of marks for which it has ‘worldwide rights’ falls within its business of licensing and enforcing the licenses to its marks and other intellectual property.”