In Ireland we have quite an astounding motoring heritage despite our diminutive size, tradition of third world roads and totally isolated island status. We have hosted many of the most pivotal races in history from Dublin Grands Prix to Gordon Bennett races, the British Racing Green livery a testament to our early involvement in things motoring. Some of the most famous race and rally drivers and motorcycle pilots alike have hailed from these bumpy old lanes of ours too but car industry, how about a car industry? We have a car manufacturing heritage but a quirky one unlike the massive global industry suppliers of the UK, USA, Japan or more recently Korea.
We had a fine tradition of car assembly in Ireland that goes back to the establishment of the first ever Ford plant outside of the USA; the Ford plant that was a big employer in Cork for literally decades. There were many other assembly plants but these were simply that, assembly operations for Complete Knock Down kits. Yes, from a cynical perspective these were just the result of import regulations and loopholes but did we ever have an auto industry in Ireland?
Cue John DeLorean, the charismatic son of Detroit, rags to riches darling of the US auto industry. He was an engineer and dyed in the wool auto maker, creator of the Pontiac GTO and a man who could feel the pulse of the red blooded motorist. He had this crazy idea to build his own sports car and saw Puerto Rico as the ideal place to do it. He tapped his high flier friends and acquaintances for investment, commissioned none other than Giorgietto Giugiaro to design the stunning and rakish bodywork which would be in bare brushed finish stainless steel. As with any such undertaking, the hurdles were many and the whole project tripped up on many of these. Crash testing of the proposed composite monocoque didn’t quite go as planned so it was back to square one for the design.
This point saw the illustrious sports car and race car constructor Colin Chapman adapt one of his Lotus back-bone chassis concepts to fit the application. The project used a crate engine sourced from the Peugeot – Renault – Volvo design partnership. This was a superb idea except that the motor was originally designed as a 90º V8 engine but space and other design constraints meant that the last two cylinders had to be dropped thus creating a compact V6. Clever compromise is the catalyst for efficient engineering design but anybody who knows engines knows that this is an asthmatic and somewhat harsh prospect before it heads from paper to the foundry.
Not stalled by these challenges, DeLorean the born winner pressed on and didn’t blink at the prospect of UK government investment in the project. This came with a health warning but was simply way too good an offer to snub. The production would be in Dunmurry close to Lisburn in Northern Ireland right on the conflux of sectarian lines. To international fanfare the car was launched and while it looked avant garde by any stretch of the imagination it was slow even by comparison to it’s US manufactured cousins and was in an extinct category benchmarked against entry level Porsches or Nissans. None of this mattered however because this was an Irish made car, well sort of anyway. Sure it was made in the North of Ireland but we finally had car production and to the outsider it was made in Ireland. We had arrived!
So how is it that we talk in past tense of all this drama? Sadly the lack of sparkle from the original production examples further tainted by manufacturing and quality issues dampened sales. DeLorean knew that the game wasn’t up despite the UK money running out and the challenge of funding the operation looking more and more impossible. How DeLorean stumbled into the trap well nobody really knows but this he did. A trap set to snare a suspected cocaine importer by the name of William Hetrick this needed a pawn and DeLorean was a perfect fit. He brokered a deal between a FBI agent and Hetrick claiming afterwards that he was under duress fearing for the safety of his family. He was arrested and ultimately released without charge having made the case that he was fitted up. It was the end of DeLorean however and for Ireland, the end of car production also. All that remains of the DMC facility these days is a couple of sections of overgrown test track.
And what of John DeLorean? Well he had several reincarnations but the legacy of the DMC failure followed him through the remainder of his life until his passing ten years ago in March 2005. He was however eternally grateful for the publicity that accrued to the quirky car thanks to the Back to the Future movie franchise with all of it’s time travel.