piggy bank

Movies—but the actual automobile was infamous for years before Marty Mc Fly stepped inside one in 1985.

And, though the fiction is better remembered today, the real story of the De Lorean is just as dramatic. De Lorean, who was breathlessly covered by the 1970s press as a renegade General Motors exec who bucked the corporate establishment and set off on his own, and then shared his remembrances of the automaker in a book.

A few years later, however, it became clear that he wasn’t out of the auto game: In 1977, De Lorean said that he was hoping to go into business producing his own sports car.

Though he estimated at the time that he could have the car ready by the next year, it wasn’t until Jan.

21, 1981—exactly 35 years ago—that the first De Lorean DMC-12 was produced.

Months before the cars would be available, it was clear that De Lorean was going big: for the holiday season of 1980, the American Express catalog advertised a De Lorean plated in 24-karat gold going for $85,000 (versus $20,000—about $54,000 today—for the steel version).

“Shaped like a flying wedge, the De Lorean appears to exceed the 55-m.p.h. “It is expected to get 22 m.p.g., about the same as a diesel-powered 1981 Cadillac Brougham.

Entry to its luxuriously appointed interior is through gull-wing doors that tilt up instead of swinging out.

The 24-karat car will pose some special maintenance problems.

Owners wishing to get any dents knocked out will probably have to return the damaged part to the factory, where the bumps will be pounded out and the piece refinished in gold.” By October of 1980, seven people had put down a deposit on a golden De Lorean.

Though the 1980 car market wasn’t exactly solid gold, the lavish De Lorean style didn’t stop at the cars themselves.

A 1983 book later charged that John De Lorean ran up expenses on the company’s dime even after it was clear the cars wouldn’t be a big hit.