Concepts and prototypes : Healey 2000 and 3500 (1982)

Could car production have remained at DeLorean’s Northern Irish factory when the DMC-12 went out of production in 1981?

Automotive industry grandee Barrie Wills tells the inside story of how his plan to take over the Triumph TR7 and TR8 and turn them into new Healey sports cars could have revived both the factory and this popular sports car line.

Healey 2000/3500: Rebirth of the TR7 and TR8

DeLorean-Triumph TR7

In mid 1981, British Leyland announced production of its Triumph TR7/TR8 family of sports cars was to cease. In less than six years a total of 115,090 cars had been produced, despite the disruption of shifting assembly operations twice, first from Speke in Liverpool to Canley in Coventry – and finally to Solihull. The last car was built in Solihull on 5 October 1981.

The TR7 was the latest in a long line of Triumph sports cars, dating back to the classic Triumph Roadster (TR1) of 1952. The concept of the TR7, in common with many sports cars developed around the early 1970s, came from the ban on open-topped cars forecast by the US industry due to safety concerns. The Jaguar XJ-S, launched in 1975, suffered similarly and was also launched as a coupe.

The TR7’s mechanicals did not live up to expectations. Like the DeLorean DMC-12, it was underpowered by strangulation from the anti-emissions equipment that was mandatory for the US market. Despite that 18,867 cars had been produced in 1979 and 14,023 in 1980.

TR7 evolves into something quite special

After the legislators in the US had ceased to procrastinate and decided that open cars could continue to be sold, the soft-top version of TR7 was launched in the US in May 1979 and was exclusive to that market for some time. The US motoring journalists liked the new variant, thought the styling was an improvement, but disliked the rough engine noise and the car’s flat mid-ranged performance. In March 1980, sales of the soft-top started in the UK and, eventually, it outsold the coupe by nine to one.

Prototypes of the TR7, fitted with the Buick-based Rover 3.5-litre V8 engine, for which Bruce McWilliams had been instrumental in negotiating the purchase from GM some years earlier, had been tested, although it had never been a sanctioned development programme.

The decision to incorporate it officially came long after a pilot build exercise of a few cars in 1977. On 13 April 1980, the TR8 was launched as a soft-top car. It was received with enormous enthusiasm by the US press. It seemed clear that, at last, the USA – the leading market for sports cars in the world – had been provided with the car it wanted. Ironically, at the behest of BL’s Chairman, Michael Edwardes, production ceased 18 months later.

Triumph TR7 Convertible
Triumph TR7 Convertible

From tragedy opportunity is born

Such was my disillusionment with DeLorean by the autumn of 1981, I had decided the demise of the TR7/TR8 presented a real business opportunity for a new specialist car operation. I had stayed in close contact with one of my colleagues at DeLorean Motor Company Limited (DMCL) since he had left the company. I decided to float my idea with him. It received his enthusiastic support.

I was more than aware that the West Midlands region was suffering significantly from the downturn in industrial activity in the UK. This situation was to be worsened with an announcement by BL’s Chairman Michael Edwardes that the Rover plant at Solihull was to close (later to be rescinded after trade union protests).

Chuck and I bought an off the shelf company called Acquiler Consultancy Services Limited and decided to take a flier by testing the water with the leader of the West Midlands Enterprise Board, Geoff Edge. This was despite the fact we were yet to even raise the subject with BL Cars. In September 1981, we produced a short paper on the feasibility of continued production of the TR7/TR8 and were invited to Geoff’s home in Walsall to discuss the plan.

Selling the concept

Edge called Chuck a few days later to say that, while he personally would like to take things further, the Board wasn’t so keen. We therefore decided to keep Acquiler, with its registered office at Chuck’s house, dormant for the time being but Chuck was to answer his front door one morning to find a couple of CID officers on his doorstep. It turned out that Acquiler was not so clean after all, as a company of the same name had been up to something naughty. Chuck was quickly able to assure the officers of our total innocence and we charged our solicitors with rectifying their error by buying – at their expense this time – a replacement, assuredly super-clean, company!

After the West Midlands disappointment, I decided that if instead we put the redesigned soft-top TR7 and TR8 products together with a reduced volume DMC-12 in Dunmurry, providing we kept the management and staff to a level that was consistent with that of a small specialist car operation, we should have a viable business for Dunmurry.

Over a small glass or two of J&B whisky, I floated the revised plan with Chuck. He quickly saw its attraction but we both knew we had much work to do in a very short period of time. The first move was to approach BL Cars in order to explore the firm’s willingness to even consider the idea.

Firstly, we revived our assuredly clean ‘off the shelf’ business, this time called Amella Management Limited, which was once more registered at Chuck’s home. This – having been a DMCL company house – was now in the ownership of DMCL’s Receivers, Sir Kenneth Cork and Paul Shewell of WH Cork, Gully and Company (Cork Gully), who had been appointed on 19 February 1982. Chuck was, as a consequence, in discussions with them about its sale to him. The irony of having this address as our company’s Registered Office did not escape us.

Gathering the troops

Chuck and I took just four current DeLorean employees into our confidence. The first was Nick Sutton, who we had arranged to ‘bump into’ at the Coventry office one Saturday morning. We needed him to do some product costing on both cars. We particularly needed to know the effect reduced volumes would have on the material cost of the DMC-12. Nick worked for days on a re-costing of the car, based on production at a rate of 20 per day. As a result, we planned for an overall material cost increase of 7%.

Harry Steadman was our planned Head of Manufacturing, supported by Glyn Lewis, who despite his Welsh name was an Ulsterman. George Broomfield had been grooming Harry as his successor, with his retirement to Florida in mind. However, we lost George for health reasons, and were sad to see him go – his experience and knowledge would be greatly missed, and I had lost my mentor.

The task of developing the financial portion of the Business Plan fell to Howard Le Duc. The confidentiality aspect of the discussions with BL meant that access to the company’s computer system was ruled out. As a result, Howard was forced to develop the cash flow statements, individual departmental and other budgets, profit and loss forecasts and balance sheets using a desk calculator and handwritten spreadsheets.

DeLorean production in Dunmurry
DeLorean production in Dunmurry

The Business Plan: enter the i-car

Bennington and I sat down around my dining room table in Cannon Park, Coventry to develop the base assumptions for the new plan. We split them into two sections: DMC-12 and TR7/TR8, which we decided to give a code name – i-car (decades ahead of Steve Jobs!)

The DMC-12 assumptions were that:

  • The Receivers would dispose of the Dunmurry plant in total in a leasing arrangement covering all the assets. Supplier support would be forthcoming
  • The Receivers’ opinion (as stated publicly) that the Dunmurry business was licensed to produce and sell DMC-12 and any subsequent derivatives without restriction (by John Z) would be substantiated
  • A marketing agreement could be reached which ensured sales coverage in the US which had John Z’s support
  • Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD) cover would be granted to a new British company independent of its US importer; sales of DMC-12 and subsequent derivatives would not be less than 5000 units per annum worldwide
  • Government would make all normal grants available
  • Trade union support would be forthcoming on conditions of employment and working practices.

The i-car assumptions were that:

  • BL would make tooling and rights available on a royalty per car basis
  • Worldwide sales of the revised TR7/TR8 would not be less than 4550 units per annum, marketed in the US through the existing DMC network
  • A major distribution group would take both cars in the UK
  • Importers and distributors would be appointed for both cars elsewhere
  • Assured painted body supplies would be made available from an outside source, independent of BL and the Dunmurry company
  • Assembly could be absorbed into the existing Dunmurry facility without any major structural costs.

Over the first six months of the plan, working capital of £6.7 million was required. Some £250,000 covered product development costs, £500,000 was set aside for facility changes, and £2 million was budgeted for start-up expenses over the first eight weeks. Also, another £500,000 covered formation expenses (legal, accounting, etc.), and a sensible contingency of £2 million was set.

In a full production year, with 4550 units of each model range produced and sold, DMC-12 contributed a profit of £992,000 while the i-car, range contributed £3.89 million. A total profit of nearly £4.9 million. We needed an investment of £12 million.

The approach to BL Cars

1975 Reliant Scimitar GTE
1975 Reliant Scimitar GTE

During the last 12 months of my service at Reliant and prior to the fateful Nash takeover, I had been in discussions with BL Cars’ Product Planning Director, Alan Edis. We had made a considerable amount of progress regarding a mutually beneficial idea, whereby Reliant would purchase BL powertrains as the core of a range of specialist sports cars, which would be complementary to BL’s own range.

This was particularly relevant as BL was phasing out cars such as the Triumph Stag and MGB. Plans included a replacement Scimitar GTE (above) to be designed by Marcello Gandini at Bertone, and powered by a Rover 3.5-litre V8 powertrain.

Alan Edis, therefore, was my logical first port of call within BL. Along with Bruce McWilliams in his BL days, he had been one of the promoters of the TR7/TR8 in soft-top form and was supportive of the general idea. He introduced me to Robert (Bob) Neville, the Finance Director of BL Cars’ subsidiary, Austin Rover Group. Bob was based at Canley, Coventry, which made an early meeting between him, Chuck and I very easy to arrange.

A desire to save the TR7

Like Alan and unlike many Finance Directors, Bob was a product guy and was sad to see the TR range disappear just as it seemed to have hit the mark of approval in the crucial US market. On a confidential basis, he provided us with sufficient information for us to use in the preparation of our business and financial plans.

He also agreed to sell a red convertible TR7 from the company’s press fleet for us to use as a demonstrator and as a reference for the discussions we would be entering into with potential investors. I dug into my savings to make the purchase.

Over just a few days, we squeezed in a number of meetings and numerous phone conversations. Progress was frenetic as we needed to prepare for meetings with potential investors, which eventually looked positive after extensive negotiations with several Merchant Banks and a body known as the Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporation (the ICFC) – 85% owned by the English and Scottish clearing banks and 15% owned by the Bank of England, the ICFC had been established in 1945 in order to increase the availability of funding to small and medium-sized enterprises, and used the name of Finance for Industry when conducting its day-to-day business.

The meeting we didn’t have with Harold Musgrove

Harold Musgrove

With finance looking good, the next key step with BL was to turn Bob Neville’s enthusiasm for our idea into an agreement that was at least enough to support the business plan through a firm letter of intent. He made it clear to us this would require the support of Mark Snowden, Austin Rover Group’s Commercial Director and, more importantly, Harold Musgrove the division’s Managing Director.

I had met Harold briefly once before, during my time at Leyland Bus, when he had been Director of Production Control of Truck and Bus Division, but I doubted he would remember me. Harold revelled in his role as a ‘rough diamond’ who ‘called a spade a shovel’ and who, to a great extent, ruled by fear. I knew he had to be handled carefully and was not a man to take lightly.

Bob arranged for Chuck and I to visit BL’s Head Office in Portman Square, London for a meeting, we assumed with Harold. It was scheduled for 6pm, no doubt to make sure as few people as possible would be around. On arrival we were taken into a meeting room, in which Mark Snowden and Bob were expecting us – but no Harold. We went through the usual pleasantries, expecting Harold to join the meeting at any time.

Spelling out BL’s options

Mark opened the meeting by asking us to go over the background to the DeLorean receivership and to summarise the business plan through which we hoped to take over the Receivers’ assets. As we were talking, I noticed a door slightly ajar to Mark’s right.

The chair upon which I was sitting opposite Mark had casters, so I was able to push it back a little and to the side. This enabled me to peer around the door. To my considerable amusement I could see Harold Musgrove, seated with his back to the door with his ear to the crack, listening in.

Throughout our very constructive discussions, which lasted a good hour or so, I never once let on to Mark, Bob or Chuck that I knew that Harold was there. I talked to Chuck about it after the meeting, once we were on the pavement outside Portman House, but neither of the BL guys were ever told I was aware their boss so obviously needed to hear everything first-hand.

Formalising the BL deal

Our next step was to write to Bob to specify our requirements formally. In a later phone conversation Bob agreed we could hand this letter to him at a meeting at Canley on 18 May. This letter confirmed our earlier verbal requests for a licence to produce and market the two soft-topped cars – codenamed the i-car range – to be derived from TR7 and TR8.

This included the use of tooling, both in-house and based at suppliers, the availability of all engineering drawings, product costs, supplier and purchasing records, standard times, process planning information and other technical information, an agreement through which BL would supply 2.0-litre and V8 3.5-litre engines, gearboxes and axles.

There would also be assistance in re-sourcing certain in-house produced components, if necessary (we already knew BL planned to close Alford & Alder, Triumph’s BL-owned supplier of rack and pinion steering gears and I had conferred with their Technical Director, Vic Carter, who was prepared to assist), and the ongoing supply of spare parts by us to BL for the existing vehicle parc.

Bob’s immediate response was concise. The names Triumph and TR would be disallowed, BL dealers could not be used unless specifically agreed and our ideas on vendor tooling were acceptable. We could have no access to product costs, otherwise all other information we required would be made available. Also, the supply of major components by BL would have to be qualified and restricted to those currently or previously made by BL, and there would be a strict need for confidentiality.

DeLorean-Triumph TR7-i-car-Convertible

The restyle: A reborn Triumph

We had managed to get a freelance stylist and former Reliant apprentice by the name of Ed Peppall – later to work for McLaren Cars – to produce a series of sketches based upon the TR7/TR8, with Giugiaro’s detested side creases removed from both sides, new bumpers front and rear, revised bonnet air intakes and new but nondescript logos.

With little effort needed, we also managed to persuade the co-operative Essex-based model maker IDAT, which supplied much of Lotus’ work of that nature and had made many of our interior trim models, to produce a small-scale model of the car based on Ed’s sketches. Both Ed and IDAT were sworn to secrecy.

We also had confidential meetings with our old friends at Laepple, in which we used the TR7 purchased from BL as the basis of feasibility studies on the practicality and budget cost of modifying dies to remove the side creases from the body-in-white.

The BL letter

On 29 July, we received a very cautiously worded but supportive letter, outlining our agreement with BL. This was signed by Harold Musgrove and Mark Snowden on behalf of Austin Rover Group and its parent company BL Cars. The letter implied the need for anonymity regarding TR7/TR8, and the importance of confidentiality.

As we had been told at the Portman Square meeting, should our agreement in principle become public, the deal was off. It also pointed out we would need to approach BL’s Land Rover division to secure supply of the V8 engine. As this was already being sold to third parties we assumed this would not be a problem.

We were much encouraged by the distance we had come with BL over such a short time. Conscious that both BL and DMCL were effectively Government-owned and knowing how important the jobs in Dunmurry were, we did, however, attempt to counter some of BL’s cautiousness by writing to Bob Neville on 31 July. Chuck’s letter made it clear several important points were still outstanding that we wished to address, once we were more certain about the completion of the funding. With this we felt confident we had the deal we wanted with BL in our grasp.

What to call the i-car and its DMC-12 sister?

We were becoming increasingly concerned about the bad vibes surrounding the DeLorean name and its future use as a brand. The logo DMC, which had been designed by the American graphic artist Phil Gibbon in 1974, was so distinctive we wished to retain it. We believed we should change the company name to Dunmurry Motor Company while dropping the word DeLorean from the vocabulary.

However, the Healey brand struck Chuck and me as ideal. The Healey Gullwing (DMC-12), and the Healey 2000 and 3500 (the TR7/8 based i-cars) fitted the envisaged new DMC image perfectly. I’d first met Donald Healey in 1969 and knew that he was now retired and living back in Cornwall. But through industry friends I was able to track down his son Geoffrey, who was working in product development at Triumph in Coventry and living in the village of Barford, on the way to the Cotswolds from Warwick.

I arranged to meet with Geoffrey at his home. I explained to him how we wished to use the Healey brand and that we were prepared to pay a royalty per car produced. He told me he was positive towards the idea but, quite naturally, wished to consult with his father and get back to me. He called me a few days later to say all was well and that we could build the brand into our Business Plan.

Killed by the banks?

However, we were then informed about the ICFC’s (Finance for Industry) initial assessment of our Business Plan – that was negative enough for us to conclude that we were ‘dead in the water’. There were six negative points: it considered our sales forecast of 5000 per annum to be ambitious and thought 3000 per annum to be more realistic.

Our timing of nine months lead time to get the i-cars into production was also considered optimistic, despite us taking into account the longest lead time of six months for the new bumper covers and 16 weeks from Laepple for the modifications to remove the side crease from the body shell.

There were also questions over the John Z distribution association in the US – could he be relied upon to keep his word? There was some doubt we had allowed sufficient cash for planned facelifts and – eventually – a new model. He felt our projected returns were likely to be insufficient to justify the investment risk.

Revised Business Plan brings success

Despite all that, we were asked to revamp the plan to address these concerns. Within a week, we’d revised the plan and, on 7 July, met with Tim Frankland and his team at Hill Samuel. The revised plan was based on new assumptions that included a valuation of existing Dunmurry assets of £15 million, reduced sales of DMC-12 at 3000 per annum in the US and 500 in other markets, but with an increase in annual i-car sales of 5000 in the US and 2500 in the UK and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the ICFC had raised concerns about dollar/pound movements and Howard Le Duc therefore produced a sensitivity analysis that addressed exchange rates of £1/$1.6 through to $2.1. These demonstrated a full year net profit of £15.3 million at $1.6, through £9.65 million at the plan’s assumption of £1/$1.75, to a net loss of £408,000 at $2.1.

Above all, this demonstrated so clearly how much influence the then haphazard fluctuation of the pound/dollar relationship had on our prospects and would have on the future strength of the business. Other exporters from the UK, particularly Jaguar, who were also dependent upon the US market, were going through similar difficult times as a result.

The revised proposals and financial projections proved to be good enough to bring about Hill Samuel’s acceptance that sufficient funds might be raised from private sources to meet the requirements of our plan.

William Pratt Thompson: our new Chairman

On the advice of the City of London bankers, William Pratt Thompson, or ‘Pratt’ as he was known to business colleagues and friends, was drafted in to become the venture’s new Non-Executive Chairman. He had a proven track record after coming to prominence in the automotive industry as head of Jaguar-Rover-Triumph.

He joined BL from the power management company, Bowthorpe Holdings, where he had been Deputy Managing Director. He had no previous automotive industry experience but was highly rated in the City for his business acumen. In 1977 Pratt Thompson rose to prominence when he was appointed Managing Director Jaguar-Rover-Triumph.

By 1981, Pratt had been appointed head of BL International, and it was from that position he had announced the closure of the MG Abingdon factory at Michael Edwardes’ direction. Then, in 1982, things came full circle when Jaguar-Rover-Triumph was broken up in readiness for the eventual privatisation of Jaguar Cars under John Egan. Pratt received a ‘golden handshake’ on his departure from BL to seek new opportunities, and was free to work for us.

The secret is out…

The cloak of secrecy over the i-car element of what was now being referred to in the British press as the ‘UK Consortium’ bid, so necessary to preserve the vital confidentiality of the deal with BL, became a source of major frustration for other supporters of the efforts to re-establish a viable business in Dunmurry. This particularly applied to the trade unions, as one leader, John Freeman of the TGWU, attempted to use his friendship with one of the Receivers, Sir Kenneth Cork, to confirm the identities of the three-man team leading the ‘UK Consortium’.

Cork stood solid until, suddenly, on 10 August, Kenneth Gooding, the Motor Industry Correspondent of the Financial Times, referred to the introduction of ‘a new product to be produced alongside the sports car’, attributing this news to Sir Kenneth.

The Belfast-based News Letter went further, stating that ‘axed BL sports car, the Triumph TR7, could be given a new lease of live [sic] in Ulster…’ It further stated that ‘the three-man team … has considered a number of products that could be made at Dunmurry’. It went on to state that ‘the consortium favoured the revival of the Triumph TR7 … aimed at the lucrative American market’.

Outed by Private Eye

Chuck Bennington and I arrived at Hill Samuel’s offices at 100 Wood Street on 12 August to find Tim Frankland and his team with glum expressions on their faces. ‘Have you read today’s Private Eye?’ asked Tim.

We had not, but we soon learned that City columnist and insider ‘Slicker’ had written alleging shady dealings in the company of Roy Nesseth from John Z’s post-GM and pre-DMC past. This had already caused consternation on the part of those present and many of their friends in the City, from whom they had received phone calls before our arrival.

We were shaken by what we had heard and wondered who could be Slicker’s source – the notorious and still bitter William F Haddad perhaps? In August 2013, through the introduction of Chris Hughes, formerly of Cork Gully, I had an email exchange with ‘Slicker’.

Colin Chapman

I asked him about that article. ‘Slicker’ told me: ‘My memory suggests that I was told about Nesseth by sources close to John Z in New York who were not enamoured of his tactics. There were a number of US executives who I knew by then including Bill Haddad. I recall there were always a number of similar flaky figures to Nesseth around John Z.

‘I was interested in what was happening because of the cost to the taxpayer and the way in which John Z seemed able to play the various factions inside Her Majesty’s Government. The employees were the victims of two greedy schemers in John Z and Colin Chapman (above) – plus, of course, the taxpayer. Both employees and taxpayers were let down by politicians with their own agendas.

‘I drove the DMC-12 in the US on a trip there and regretted not joining an American friend in buying one when they were being almost given away as a Ford Edsel type investment. I believe they are now very valuable although I would add that I would only have bought it as an investment not to drive.’

Maggie, Maggie, Maggie: No, No, No!

Things got worse, though – and 12 August turned out to be a disaster. That morning, we were told by Hill Samuel that while Trade Minister James Prior remained very much in favour of our plan, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was not.

Later that day we heard from Cork that he thought Prior had botched his presentation to Thatcher in that he confused her by giving the impression that the ‘UK Consortium’ had no funds at all – as a result, Thatcher thought we were asking the Government to put more money into DeLorean.

All Prior was, in fact, seeking was a nod of approval from her to the Receivers and the Department of Commerce’s promised guarantee of Hill Samuel’s fee, which, once the funds had been raised, would be paid to Hill Samuel from the investment.

Hill Samuel were shaken to the core by the sudden turn of events. Tim Frankland told us he felt the Government considered Cork’s handling of John Z to have been poor and such was the perception of him in the eyes of City of London investors, even the presence of his name in a Business Plan was a turn-off. Tim told us to ‘call it a day’ with the Receivers for the time being.

The UK Government briefs against us

On 20 August 1982, the Belfast Telegraph reported that the ‘UK Consortium’ had ‘failed to raise the necessary funds’, we had only put forward an ‘outline plan’, we had ‘not put together a management team’ and we had asked the Government to ‘underwrite the cost of raising the money’ – a request for ‘aid’ that ‘did not inspire confidence’.

Although there was no reference at the time to the source of this information, the author of the article, Alan Watson, admitted to me in August 2013, when we met for drinks at the Culloden Hotel, his source was a spokesman of the Northern Ireland Office.

One comment resonates with me from this period. This is the statement that John Putt told me was made to him by James Prior. Prior told Putt, ‘Margaret has two problems, British Leyland and DeLorean. Removal of the first is difficult because of its many repercussions, getting rid of the second is much easier.’

The amazing events of October 1982

The notations in my pocket diary for the month of October 1982 read as follows: John Z last option: 1 October, then 4 October, then 8 October, then 11, 12 and 13 October. Each of these dates represented advice given to me by Paul Shewell as the closing of the option. Joe Daly was now present in Dunmurry, while Don Lander was continuing to hold things together in California, where a new General Manager called David Wood had been put in place to replace Bruce McWilliams. Jim Gardner, Ernie Benson and Harry Steadman waited patiently for the instruction that would lead to employment and production.

Press Day at the Birmingham International Motor Show was on 19 October at the National Exhibition Centre. There was a space containing a floral display that would have housed the Dunmurry Motor Company stand showing off the homologated European specification left and right-hand drive cars. On the same date, as we closed for the day, I was tipped off by the Receivers’ representative, John O’Donnell, that ‘tomorrow is to be the big day and, by the way… you, Barrie Wills, were struck off the list of those to be retained at the very last minute!’

O’Donnell had also told me that John Z had run out of ways in which he could fund the cost of keeping Dunmurry open. He said that Robin Bailie, the company’s lawyer, had provided either personal funds or funds from his firm Mills, Selig and Bailie’s coffers (he wasn’t sure which), to cover the cost of that current week’s salaries, wages and overheads.

Conclusions (with the benefit of hindsight)

By early November 1982, Chuck and I were left with little to do other than to thank Bob Neville at BL for his and his company’s tremendous support. They had demonstrated to us that, from Harold Musgrove down, they wanted to see a good home for a new TR7/TR8-based sports car.

Bennington and I reluctantly abandoned the i-car project and got on with looking for new jobs. I had a very nice, nearly new, ex-BL press fleet, red soft-top Triumph TR7 sports car to remind me of all that we had been through, while I declined John O’Donnell’s kind offer to ‘do a deal’ on my right-hand drive, black trim, automatic transmission, company DeLorean DMC-12.

One sports car was enough for someone without a salary or pay-off and looking for a new job. One was left wondering whether, with most of the UK charged by the frenzy of the British press over the DeLorean scandal, one might just be unemployable?

DeLorean-Triumph TR7-03

These are extracts taken the book John Z, the DeLorean and Me… tales from an insider, by Barrie Wills. Copies are available from Barrie’s own website.

Barrie Wills
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  1. This probably was not the missed opportunity that many would have hoped. The World was not in a great place back in 1981, and sports cars were not in huge demand. The pound dollar exchange had made the TR a noose rather than a cash cow at BL. Therefore, how could a smaller operation have done any better?

    • The US was the top market for V8 sports cars, obviously. Corvette sales peaked all time for a 12 month model year at about 51,000 in 1979. Volume was about 40,000 for 1980 and 1981. The 1982 model year was shorter and it was known that a new design was planned; production stopped early to retool the Kentucky factory. There was no 1983 model year. The long 1984 model year introduced the new car in spring 1983 with over 50,000 sold. The retooled factory ran at full capacity for several years with about 40,000 per year.

  2. It was likely too late by that point to salvage things with the TR7/TR8-based Healey 2000/3500. In reality it would have been a better bet for DeLorean to have adopted it earlier instead of embracing the mid-engined layout for the DMC-12.

    Likely cheaper too compared to the DMC-12, with the TR7/TR8’s front-engined rear-wheel drive platform easily allowing for a handful of variants to be spun-off and essentially be the Giugiaro-styled DeLorean version of pushing TR7 envelope as it were (ideally sans gullwing doors or stainless steel surfaces).

  3. Agree that the DMC-12 was a bit of a dead duck but wonder if this would have been an opportunity to revive the Triumph Lynx. However, there is the cost of shipping bodyshells, etc, to Northern Ireland to consider along with a new paintshop? Maybe a good idea but in the wrong place. Why was Michael Edwardes against it? Maybe shift the whole lot to a reopened Abingdon and rebadge as an MG?

  4. I think the whole De Lorean story is a tragedy: John D wanted to set up a new car company, create thousands of jobs in a Belfast that was blighted by terrorism and unemployment, and sell a futuristic sports car to well off buyers around the world. Problem was there was a major recession, the DMC 12 was underwhelming for the price, and the factory had soaked up £ 58 million in taxpayers money. I doubt many investors were keen to invest yet more in the failed project.

    • Agree. I’ve aired my opinion of the TR7 before, not a fan. As for the DeLorean. How anyone could start with clean slate and end up with the DMC12 is quite beyond me. If it hadn’t featured in Back to the Future it would be deservedly forgotten.

  5. BL made everthing wrong! There were so many people in the world which wanted to buy sport cars. Convertibles and coupe’s! But the people in the whole world did not want the rubbish which came from Triumph, MG, Jaguar,…
    They wanted cars with value for money! And that was delivered for mire money from Germany and for less money frim Japan! So many customers who bought MG, Triumph, Jaguar Healy bouught in the early 1980ies 280 Datsun, RX7 Mazda, Toyota Celica, …. and the were satisfied with great value! There were not many people who wanted a car which came from Britain! Look for example some old Magnum from the early 1980ies. Magnum was on a scrapyard and there were some MGB’s and TR7 Triumph’s standing which were not older than four years. The people in the USA wanted to get rid of that rubbish and bought sport cars Made in Japan! There was no Celica in the yard!

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