John DeLorean deserves better

A death is never an excuse to pick on someone, no matter who that person might be.

When I heard of John Z. DeLorean’s stroke and subsequent passing Saturday, my 21st birthday, I felt a sorrowful shudder amid the partying and showers of beer. DeLorean is one of my all-time heroes, and I just so happen to own one of his stainless Gullwing coupes. In the days after receiving the sad news, I was shocked and upset to see his death disrespected by the media.

Before obtaining my DMC-12, I had read volumes about the automotive legacy of DeLorean, and I’m convinced his now-infamous fall from grace was the combined result of many unlucky circumstances, including a huge economic recession, automobile corporation death wishes and a lack of public understanding and support for his dream.

It should be noted that the “Back to the Future” car wasn’t the only thing DeLorean created. He worked his way up to the top (as vice president of General Motors Corp.). Most notably, he crafted the Pontiac GTO, one of the most beloved classic cars ever, and also used his skills to file more than 200 patents. Apparently, every car produced today uses at least one of his patents.

He was also an ardent civil rights activist and claimed to quit the GM vice president position because of the racial injustices he saw.

But somehow, the public still regards DeLorean as some sort of low-life cocaine dealer, when in actuality, they know nothing about the “notorious” cocaine case.

Obviously, it was a conspiracy.

The FBI set up DeLorean by conning him into meeting a potential investor, while they were really trying to catch him trafficking coke. I think I might just go along with a cocaine deal, too, if I found myself in a room of big, threatening, mafia-type guys who pressured me to buy it. Even so, all DeLorean said was “that’s as good as gold” when the feds decided to arrest him and slap on one of the largest bail sentences in U.S. history.

He was eventually acquitted of all charges, citing entrapment, but by then the DeLorean Motor Company, founded in Northern Ireland, had collapsed. A string of other court battles followed, accusing the man of defrauding other investors. DeLorean won them all, but went bankrupt in the process.

I can understand a public negativity toward falling celebrities – heck, my last column had a lot of that. But the fact that this mean-spirited haze continues after his death is appalling. There are national publications containing obituary titles like “Auto innovator, conman dies” and “Shamed motor maverick dead at 80.” Even The Minnesota Daily published a cartoon Wednesday showing disbelieving angels, upset DeLorean had entered heaven.

A death is never an excuse to pick on someone, no matter what one’s opinion of that person might be. It’s worse than kicking someone when they’re down. DeLorean was no saint, but he is forever a part of the American identity. His life reminds us that no matter what is against us, we should use the motto of DeLorean Motor Company: “Live the Dream.”

Mat Koehler welcomes comments at [email protected].