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Moving heaven and earth -- and maybe drugs -- to save his cars

Moving heaven and earth -- and maybe drugs -- to save his cars
Automaker John Delorean and his wife model Christine Ferrare in their Jaguar car as they leave terminal Island Federal Prison here on October 29, 1982 in Los Angeles. Delorean was released on $10 million bail after spending 11 days in jail on charges he financed a $24 million cocaine deal. File photo by Glenn Wagnner/UPI | License Photo

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- It was the end of the road for DeLorean cars even before the arrest of the company's flamboyant founder, John Z. DeLorean.

Hours before DeLorean was arrested in Los Angeles, allegedly mixed up in a massive cocaine racket, the British government had given up on the tycoon, a man as sleek and stylish as the cars he built.

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It had decided finally to shut the plant established with $114 million of taxpayers' money to build a racy aluminium and steel sports car bearing the Delorean name.

News of DeLorean's arrest came as a complete surprise to the receivers who had been trying to save the company since February. The FBI said DeLorean claimed he got involved in the cocaine ring to raise money quickly for his car company.

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'I got to know DeLorean over the past few months and he was entirely unpredictable,' said receiver Sir Kenneth Cork. 'One moment he would be excitable, in an other -- when disaster was sitting on his head -- he would be very calm.

'We thought he would move heaven and earth to save the company... Never did we think he would get involved in something like this, although of course it has got to be proved,' he said.

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At the factory at Dunmurry on the outskirts of Belfast Wednesday, the last 80 workers were moving dozens of the silver gull-winged cars into storage. More than 800 automobiles, worth some $25,000 apiece, are believed stored there. More are stockpiled in the United States.

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The Ulster epic of the brilliant car salesman -- more accustomed to jewelery than axle grease on his fingers -- began in 1980 when the Dunmurry factory opened amid great hopes of revitalizing industry in troubled Northern Ireland.

At one time, DeLorean employed 2,600 workers in one of Britain's worst unemployment blackspots with a jobless rate as high as 20 percent.

But the dream quickly faded when the slump in car sales in the United States belted the luxury car market.

RELATED IRA denies ties to DeLorean

By the end of 1981, 7,680 cars had been built but only 3,085 had been sold, according to British government figures.

Last January, DeLorean asked the government for credit guarantees worth $55.5 million to help the company over the slump. The government declined, the company laid off 1,000 men, and the receivers were called in Feb. 19.

They cast about for financial backers but in the end only Delorean himself had confidence enough in his dream to keep trying and in the end he ran out of time.

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'If I had five pounds for every time he said there was a check in the post or his bank computer went wrong, I'd have enough money to run the company myself,' one government source said.

But union leaders were as disgruntled with the government as with DeLorean himelf.

'I think it's completely immoral for John DeLorean -- if proven to be true -- that he was dealing in drugs. I think it's equally immoral for 2,000 people to be put on the dole whenever we have a viable proposition,' said union official Brendan Machin.

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