My JOHN DELOREAN STORY
In the summer of '74, I moved my family to Southern California. I was trying to escape from
Jehovah's Witnesses and low-paying jobs. I was an artist and decided to move where art
and artists were in demand.
I performed various art-related jobs which led to meeting fascinating people along the way.
In the course of time, I found myself working in a Beverly Hills art gallery. The owner was named Billy Hork. He was about 32 years old, energetic, and quirky. Hork was the essential entrepreneur and he made quite an impression.
Billy Hork hired a Captain Hook look-alike handing out ‘picture hooks’ with business cards attached featuring his gallery!
Hork didn't want customers to just stand there staring at a piece of art in his gallery--no, no, no! He demanded his salesman walk right up and begin unwinding a reel of fascinating details for the viewer: how it was made, about the artist, the framing, etc.
I caught on quickly. Look at all the training I’d had as a Jehovah’s Witness! Knocking on doors and narrating the meaning of the Universe :) I became adept as an Art Associate and earned commissions for art sold.
Hork arrived in California visiting and inspecting his West Coast gallery while keeping an eye on his shady partner, Tom Francini. We chatted for a couple of hours. I came away with a nifty John DeLorean story from him.
Why don’t I share this story with you now?
In 1974, young Billy Hork met John DeLorean in New York.
Delorean designed Hork's favorite automobile the Pontiac GTO muscle car. Delorean also designed Hork’s second, third, and fourth favorite cars: Firebird, Grand Prix, and Chevrolet Vega. DeLorean was the kind of young, handsome entrepreneur who appealed to Billy Hork's sense of outrageous "style."
They hit it off.
Delorean was pretty savvy about both money and the people who had it to invest. Billy Hork was “on tap” for Delorean’s charismatic world-building ideas.
The dashing designer confided in Hork, "I'm going to start my own automobile company and design and build the most outrageously exciting car in the history of the world!."
(Yes, he was modest, too.)
Hork's tongue was practically hanging out.
He quickly grabbed DeLorean's arm and pleaded.
"I want the first one to roll off your assembly line!"
DeLorean smiled a big, wide, Cheshire cat grin.
"Okay, tell you what I'll do. Write me a check for $20 thousand bucks and you'll get the first one I produce!"
They shook on it. In a trembling hand, delirious with excitement, Billy Hork wrote big, handsome John, sexy John, a whopping check. (My hand would be trembling too, wouldn't yours?)
"Don't fill in the date yet," said DeLorean, "I don't know when that first car will be ready. Just leave it blank and I'll fill it in."
Hork agreed and then---a small thought passed before his mind. The seed of curiosity sparked a query.
"Um--uh, John--do you have any idea___approximately__when I might take possession of my fantastic new Delorean vehicle?"
John Delorean pocketed the check and clamped a firm, reassuring hand on Billy's shoulder. "Don't you worry--it won't take one day longer than necessary. I'll keep in touch with you."
And that was that.
It was 1973.
Billy Hork told me this story many years later, of course, around 1982 or so.
He had a merry twinkle in his eye as he recounted the following details. . .
"That was in '73, and I didn't hear a squeak out of John for three years--three LONG years. One day, my phone rings and it's John. John is calling me!"
Hork's face flushed red with enthusiasm as he tells me this. His body became very animated. He pantomimed picking up an imaginary telephone and begins pacing back and forth like he's actually on the phone at that same moment.
"Hello John, it's great to hear from you. I'll bet I know why you're calling me! it's about the car you've designed. Is it ready? IS IT READY, JOHN?"
Then, Hork’s face turns to astonishment. He pantomimes grave disappointment. The smile sags into a droopy curve of forlorn sadness.
"Production problems? Oh. Yeah. Sure. Sure. I understand. . ."
So John DeLorean tells him there is a delay because cost overruns have cut into his available cash. A prototype is ready to demonstrate the concept of the gullwing vehicle--But the car is NOT YET very good. Then, big John drops it on him. . .
"I don't think you want the prototype, Billy. You can have it - just say the word - but, know this - I'm re-engineering it. I'm bringing in a guy from Lotus and rejiggering the engine into a fuel-injected V6. Moving things around inside. YOUR car will be the best my company can possibly put on the market. If you want to wait for it - THAT ONE is yours. Is that okay with you?"
So, Billy is waggling his head from side to side now like a man weighing life and death in an internal battle. The car looks fantastic--but--John DeLorean says it's not any good. What are another few months compared to getting the BEST of all possible great designs?
"Yes, John. That's okay. I'll wait."
And now. . . here it comes. . . ready for it?
John DeLorean tells Billy Hork, "I'll need another check from you. This time another $10 thousand dollars. Trust me, Billy--it's well worth the money!"
The name of the redesigned car was to be called Z TAVIO. John DeLorean was combining his middle name and his son, Zachary's first initial.
Billy pauses and shakes his head in an exaggerated side-to-side motion.
"I later found out, Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr. both had invested a similar amount too. In fact, DeLorean had already burned through $175 million dollars from investors!!"
Most quality issues were solved by 1982 and the cars were sold from dealers with a one-year, 12,000-mile (19,000 km) warranty and an available five-year, 50,000-mile (80,000 km) service contract.)
In case you didn't notice, 1982 is almost a decade after Hork and DeLorean had first shaken hands!
The name of the vehicle had changed by then to DMC-12.
About 9,200 DMC-12s were produced between January 1981 and December 1982.
All that ended in bankruptcy and DeLorean was arrested on drug trafficking charges!
Okay, take a breath. Let it sink in.
So now I'm standing there staring at Billy Hork who has grown very quiet and still as he's lost somewhere inside his own thoughts and memories.
I break the silence. . .
"When did you finally get your car?"
Hork snaps out of his reverie and looks startled, but soon flashes his trademark smile again.
"I never got the one John promised--that first one. He had promised everybody things like that to get the money upfront. I'm not angry about it. That was just the greedy collector inside of me, ya know?"
I nodded but didn't really believe him.
"The car was, at first, retail priced at $12 thousand. That's what the 12 meant in DMC-12 (Delorean Motor Company-12 thousand bucks.) But that never happened. The price kept going up and up and up. Eager car enthusiasts offered $10 thousand ABOVE whatever asking price there was. So, I wasn't the only idiot in the village."
I smiled at his self-deprecation.
"Funny thing is this. John DeLorean is six feet four inches and his design was for a man of that height to fit comfortably behind the wheel. I'm a lot shorter - you may have noticed - and I have to stretch my legs to reach the pedals!"
We both laughed.
"I came out ahead. I made money off of John because he was true to his bargain--sort of--in his own way."
(Note: adjusted for inflation, the DeLorean DMC-12 purchased by Billy Hork was going for about $65,000 dollars in today's money. Billy had only paid $30,000.)
"Well, that's quite a story. Are you driving it around now? I'd love to see it."
I'll never forget the expression on Billy Hork's face as he turned and looked up at me to answer my question. It was a wistful expression with a tinge of regret.
"Nah. I drove it a few times and sold it. Those gull-wing doors never worked right. I got stuck inside a few times and became the laughing stock- the butt of everybody's jibes when I had to be rescued from my fancy-schmancy exclusive vehicle."
He snorted and shook his head.
"I sold it and doubled my money. I felt sorry to see it go. I'd have been a fool to keep it when I knew I could turn such a profit. I admire John DeLorean a lot for selling it to me and seeing to it I took delivery. He went through hard times and had other things on his mind."
His voice trailed off.
Customers wandered inside the gallery where we stood. He walked briskly over to them and chatted them up. I stood watching him.
Billy Hork died in 2008. He was only 62.
What a guy. What a story!
I really enjoyed listening to him and watching him act it all out.
I also enjoyed writing this to share that experience with you.