John Z. DeLorean was one of those outsized personalities that the automotive industry seems to produce. A native of Detroit, the son of immigrant parents who lived a hardscrabble life through the Great Depression, DeLorean would earn two engineering degrees and an MBA as he worked first at Packard and then General Motors.
DeLorean was in love with power, both automotive and executive. He was by nature restless and a non-conformist. He acted and dressed differently to the GM norm, and was comfortable mixing in both automotive and non-automotive circles – a skill that won him both admiration and jealousy from his superiors.
By 1965 DeLorean was running Pontiac, and at 40 was the youngest man to ever head a division at GM. He was determined to make its cars the envy of the automotive world. He shepherded the Pontiac GTO, widely regarded the first muscle car, into production.
He also argued for a version of the highly regarded Pontiac Banshee concept to be put into production. However, GM’s executives refused, not wanting to give the Chevrolet Corvette internal competition. It was eventually decided that Pontiac could use a version of the then-new Camaro for a Mustang fighter. DeLorean chafed at such limitations, which placed Pontiac behind Chevrolet.
After the successful introduction of the Cadillac Eldorado and Oldsmobile Toronado, DeLorean coveted a piece of the personal luxury market, and got permission to develop a car; naturally as a joint venture with Chevrolet. The result was the 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix, the second generation of the car. Smaller than the Eldorado or Toronado the Grand Prix had power, luxury, and handled well for a bigger car (it was still 5300mm long).
The car sold very well – over 200 per cent above the previous year – but DeLorean wasn’t satisfied. He still wanted a singular design statement, a Pontiac ‘halo car’.
He decided to meet with Paul Farago, an automotive coachbuilder and local celebrity in Detroit automotive circles. Farago had opened a garage and coachbuilding workshop in Detroit after the Second World War and became well known for interesting automotive creations, the designs of which were drafted on the floors and walls of his shop.
Farago, like DeLorean, knew first hand of the Depression-era immigrant experience in Detroit, having moved with his parents from Italy in 1930. He had maintained ties in the old country, and during the 1950s he acted as an ambassador and agent for Ghia in Detroit. He was an invaluable liaison between Chrysler and the Ghia staff during their collaborations of the 1950s.
Farago also ran Dual Motors, a company that which imported limited edition Ghia-styled cars that were the favourite of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack set during the late 1950s. Fabulously styled and yet subdued, by the over-finned standards of the era, they were the most expensive cars sold in America during the company’s short lifetime.
Farago had maintained both his coachbuilding shop and his Italian ties throughout the 1960s, and now DeLorean was eager to tap into both to create a personal luxury car that would be unique in the GM lineup.
Farago, in turn, was interested in revisiting the glory days of Dual Motors. They turned to Sergio Coggiola, who had recently opened his own carrozzeria after 14 years at Ghia. He was eager to prove his design and coachbuilding skills.
DeLorean, Farago, Coggiola. Three men with successful careers, but each with something yet to prove. DeLorean procured a Pontiac Grand Prix chassis from GM. It was sent to Italy and Farago and Coggiola got to work on a design.
The design that emerged was remarkably different from the production Grand Prix. It had a long snout and a narrow front fascia which contained the headlights and horizontal grille bars. It sat on wheels and tires provided by Firestone, custom units unique to the car.
Critics then and now have noted the resemblance to previous Ghia projects such as the De Tomaso Mangusta and the Maserati Ghibli, both styled by Giugiaro, and no doubt assisted in some way by Coggiola. Others have noted a resemblance to the Lamborghini Espada (Gandini, at Bertone), while still others have noted that there is a hint of Chrysler’s ‘fuselage era’ styling.
The interior was almost completely stock Grand Prix; the car had received a new interior in 1969 which DeLorean was very pleased with. It was sportier than its predecessor and extremely driver-focused, with both instrument panel and center console leaning towards the driver, enveloping him or her like a cockpit. Coupled with new generation bucket seats, the interior elements provided a unique driving experience. That interior was one of the reasons the car sold so well.
With all this going for it, there was no reason to look for a more science fiction–like solution, and, in any case, the Farago was intended to be a proof-of-concept, demonstrating to GM executives that a ‘halo car’ could be created out of the existing Pontiac parts bin.
The Farago was introduced to GM’s leadership, who regarded the car with curiosity – but nothing more. There was no way they would invest more in Pontiac, which had a full lineup of cars. There was also no way they would allow a mid-level division to upstage the Cadillac Eldorado or Coupe de Ville. GM officially passed on the car.
DeLorean was once again thwarted in his desire to create a high-powered halo car with his personal stamp on the design and engineering. He had little time to gnash his teeth, however: he was soon promoted to head of the Chevrolet division, a premier position in GM at the time.
In a few years he would be promoted to Vice President, and seemed destined to lead all of GM. But with each promotion came new enemies to add to his previous ones, and GM’s higher executives were to grow rather tired of DeLorean’s jet-setting, high-profile lifestyle.
John DeLorean would leave GM in 1973. He was given a Cadillac dealership from GM as a ‘retirement present’ and would head up an organisation that helped poorer Americans enter the workforce. This was partially funded by GM and officially kept DeLorean in the GM family. But DeLorean had had enough. He started the DeLorean Motor Company and the rest is well-documented history.
Paul Farago was saddened by the loss of a potential GM contract, but he kept the car as a consolation prize and it would be a rolling calling card for his coachbuilding shop, which continued for many years in Detroit. He died in 1997, after one of the most interesting careers in automotive history.
Coggiola would go on to work for a number of different European brands and is best remembered for his design for the SAAB Sonett III, a rakish sports coupé that looked a lot like a downsized Farago.
As for the CF428, it still exists today and appears at the occasional concours, like Pebble Beach in 2017. The car is cared for by Farago’s nephew, who keeps it in running order as a shrine to his uncle’s legacy – and, of course, to the DeLorean that might have been.
More? Here’s an amateur video which shows the Farago in some detail: