It is true that DeLorean's automotive tastes run more to lean, quick sports cars than to just-folks sedans. "I like cars that are lighter, more fleet, like a European Grand Prix car as opposed to, say, a stock car," he says. "With this comes a liking for high performance—within limits. Not just big engines and neck-snapping acceleration, but automobiles that will brake, steer and corner with the best. In this sense high performance means safety, and the enthusiast segment of the market understands this and responds to it." Noting that more than 10% of the domestic car market involves so-called "high performance" or "sporty" or "muscle car" vehicles, DeLorean says, "The enthusiast market has always been there, it's just that we didn't recognize it.
"We can make cars that will run 100,000 miles with minimum trouble and expense. Therefore we've got to build a new product that will lure the customer out of his old car long before it's worn out. His old car then becomes a new car, in effect, for someone lower on the economic scale. This is the thing that keeps America dynamic: replacing things with a new and better product before the old one is worn out. This is one of the reasons why the enthusiast market is so important. These people set trends, they establish mental attitudes about cars and are excellent market indicators. They have a lower average age-level with higher average incomes—just the kind of guys you want to keep. The person who understands how to appeal to these sporting, nonbusiness, instincts is successful."
Underlining DeLorean's own sporting tastes were a pair of powerful sports cars hunkered down in his garage. One was an orange Corvette, the other a $10,500 De Tomaso Mangusta—a rakish, two-seat Italian coupe that DeLorean was evaluating as Chevy moved toward a new rear-engined Corvette, due in 1971. DeLorean had already disposed of a Maserati Ghibli, partly because Kelly found it bothersome churning around town shifting its five-speed gearbox.
The son of a Middle-European father who worked in the foundry at the Ford Motor Company, DeLorean has fought his way to the top ranks of the industry without family legacies or Brahmin bloodlines, and he is wholly unlikely to go stodgy as he motors on. Several months ago he entertained the English rock composer Barry Mason and his miniskirted girl friend in the fusty 14th floor GM executive dining room, where mod types are about as popular as Ralph Nader. (The room has a decor that might be described as 1939 World's Fair Modern. One GM man has said. "When you look out a window you expect to see the Trylon and Perisphere.") Consorting with such creatures has gotten DeLorean labeled in some quarters of GM as a "troublemaker" and having a "hang-up on youth." but he is confident that his talent and good judgment will prevail. "I'm not worried about who I'm supposed to know, about who people are; I just do what I have to do," he says with an edge of defiance in his voice.
In the short time he has been on the job at Chevrolet, DeLorean has begun to make his loose, informal executive style felt. Everywhere, from the assembly lines to the vast network of new-car showrooms, men are getting used to calling the boss by his first name. Although the customary industry long-range product planning will prevent DeLorean from creating Chevrolets to his exact liking for a couple of years, he is already aiming for a more youth-oriented Chevy identity. I le approves all advertising, and his preference for tanned California sun-buds as models has caused one ad executive to remark, "As far as our advertising is concerned, any broad over 21 is a has-been." Nevertheless, DeLorean's enthusiasm, plus the prospect of new Chevy products like a subcompact sedan (a car DeLorean thought of naming "Snoopy" for a while) and a sleek Italianesque Camaro, both set to come out in early 1970, have the staid old company buzzing. One longtime Chevy man said, "We haven't felt this much enthusiasm around here since the days of Bill Knudsen."
Yet there are those who predict that General Motors will clamp down on its house rebel and that he will accept the clamps if he harbors any thoughts of gaining the corporation's presidency—a job at least 10 years in the future if GM tradition means anything. There had been whispers that if the strictures became too harsh at GM, DeLorean might move in with Bunkie at Ford. But when Knudsen was fired in the now-famous shoot-out at Ford, DeLorean immediately lost leverage at General Motors. As one GM man puts it, "As long as Bunkie was in command at Ford, GM faced the possibility of John switching over to the opposition, just as Bunkie had done. That sort of thing simply isn't supposed to happen to the world's largest corporation."
Although some of his associates say DeLorean has become slightly subdued since his friend's fall from power, there is really no reason to expect him to show up at work some morning with a hutch haircut and pleats in his pants. He is, after all, riding the crest of a highly successful record at General Motors. This year's Chevrolet line, headed by the new Monte Carlo luxury hardtop and a sharply styled collection of Chevelle intermediates, appears to have been well received by the public. Waiting in the wings for introduction is the new Camaro sporty car—a true two-plus-two with some of the leanest contours this side of Modena, Italy. Also ready for release is the sub-compact (code-named XP-887), which promises to have a tremendous impact on the industry. If these cars are successful they can do nothing but embellish DeLorean's reputation.
He is also gaining substantial visibility outside the automobile world—a factor that some Detroit-watchers interpret as a harbinger of his entrance into politics. Recently a 250-member advisory board of Southeastern Michigan Junior Achievement chapters selected DeLorean as the man they would like to act as their spokesman in establishing a more contemporary image for their organization. Reportedly, DeLorean's name came up extemporaneously during the discussions, indicating that his efforts to identify with the youth of America have not been in vain.
If DeLorean were to chuck the automobile business in favor of politics (which he firmly denies is a prospect although Kelly encourages him in this direction), he would bring to it an original amalgam of the liberal reformer's zeal coupled with a ringing faith in American business. "The biggest difference between America and lesser-developed nations is our business managerial talent," he says. "The countries that are making unusual progress toward eliminating hunger and poverty are basically imitating American managerial skills, so this attitude we sometimes hear—that business is primarily motivated by the pursuit of money—requires reexamination. American business has eliminated more suffering than all of the government programs ever conceived, and has done so while also building individual pride.