Friday, October 19, 2007

Today in History: When "The B**** (errrrrrr, I mean, government) Set Me Up!" Actually Worked

Today marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most notorious drug busts of the 1980s. The fantastically talented and tragically flawed businessman John DeLorean was arrested on October 19, 1982 in a Los Angeles area motel taking part in a drug deal. The deal involved DeLorean purchasing $24 million worth of cocaine. Yes, that's 24,000,000 United States Dollars worth of cocaine. Nose Candy, White Horse, Blow, Coke, Yayo, Frosted Flakes, Chippie, Snow, Hell of a Drug, Cocaine. Drugs, a lot of them. DeLorean was attempting to buy the 2oo plus pounds of Columbian cocaine and in turn sell it in the U.S. for a profit. A complete deal would have given him enough money to save his fading and troubled company, the DeLorean Motor Company.

DeLorean was a much hyped and successful star employee at General Motors in the 1960s and 70s. This is the guy, who at the young age of 36 was named a chief engineer of the Pontiac Division at GM. Ever ridden in a GTO or seen a Firebird on the road? Both models were brought to the market by DeLorean. He was considered a genius of sorts in the car making world as well as a confident risk taker. Just as he was about to peak in the company -his names was bantered around as a potential leader of General Motors- he quit in order to start his own company. That company became known as the DeLorean Motor Company, or DMC. It went on to produce one car and one car only, the DMC-12, commonly known as just the DeLorean. The DeLorean was revolutionary in design. It had what are now called "gull wings." The wings were doors that opened upwards, not outwards, giving the car a futuristic look. They were made famous forever a few years later by the movie "Back to the Future," Doc converted a DeLorean into a flying time machine, Marty flew, got back in time to save his family, the end. Oh yeah, Lea Thompson. Cult status cemented.

In the real world the DeLorean wasn't really a great car at all. The British government gave DeLorean tons-o-cash ($160 million) to construct a plant near Belfast with hopes that the car manufacturing plant would produce and sustain thousands of jobs in the region. The promise never materialized. The car, while visually striking and initially very popular, wasn't quite the powerful sports car that its image put forth. It took over 10 seconds to go from zero to 60mph (not that impressive for a sports car) and cost over $25,000, more than its main competitor, the Corvette. The DeLorean didn't come in many varieties. The cars came out of the factory in a standard grey stainless steel. Dealers had to paint some of the models on the lot in order to drum up interest. The interior initially came in only one color: grey.

The DMC factory only produced about 9,000 cars over its entire life of about 3 years. Comparatively, the Ford Taurus sold over 400,000 units per year in its best years in the 1990s. The British government placed the factory in receivership (that's really bad) early in 1982 and DeLorean started in on the drug idea with some shady characters who happened to work for the United States government.

DeLorean was famously videotaped during the drug deal with a classic quote about drugs (ala OUR own drug video star, he who shall not be named). DeLorean's video taped quote was a little more benign. He famously said on camera that cocaine was "better than gold." Eh, doesn't quite have the same ring as "the b***** set me up!" However, that's exactly what DeLorean insisted during his trail. He accused the U.S. government forces of entrapment and using unscrupulous individuals in the set up. He was actually secretly videotaped two times: once doing the deed, and another time trying to get reassurance from the "dealers" that he wouldn't be connected to the drugs in any way. Whoops. CBS showed the FBI videos on national TV. Apparently that wasn't enough for the idiot jurors who agreed with DeLorean's entrapment claim (despite the video OF HIM BUYING DRUGS) and they all agreed that he had a spotless background and deserved leniency. He was acquitted after a 29 hour deliberation. On the other hand, Marion Barry served six months in prison on possession charges. No $24 million dollar drug deal, no master plan to sell the stuff to Americans for profit. No, just a little toot in a high-end DC hotel with a former girlfriend who was working for the feds. That's it. I mean. Its lame. LAME. Lame justice system. Anyway. DeLorean was later sued for millions of outstanding debt in 1999, declared bankruptcy and lost his estate worth $15 million the next year. Five years later he died at 80 years of age. Sadly the car bearing his name will be remembered for years, but his story seems to be lost, for better or worse.