In 1969, when John DeLorean was general manager of Chevrolet Division, he took a group of reporters through GM's Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant, which had been refitted to produce the Chevy Vega.
It was the largest, most automated factory in the United States.
After the usual management discussion about this and that, one reporter asked just how big the factory was.
"It's so big you can see the curvature of the Earth in here," DeLorean shot back, without batting an eye.
John DeLorean, who died March 19 at the age of 80 after a stroke, was never afraid of a bit of hyperbole. He was larger than life, and he knew it.
It didn't start out that way.
DeLorean was born into a working-class family in Detroit, the oldest of four sons. As he told it, his father was an alcoholic who abandoned the family, leaving his mother to support the rest of them by working in a nearby factory.
After attending public high school in Detroit and learning to play the clarinet, DeLorean got a scholarship to attend Lawrence Institute of Technology.
He graduated with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. Later, he earned a master's degree in automotive engineering from the Chrysler Institute and an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan.
His first automotive job was at Chrysler Corp., but he quickly moved to Packard Motor Car Co. In 1956, DeLorean joined General Motors' Pontiac Motor Division in 1956 and began his journey toward the top.
Along the way he also developed his ego, a fondness for Hollywood and a taste for the finer things in life. DeLorean assumed a hip persona and a mod wardrobe that put him at odds with GM's culture and its gray-flannel executives. But he also became just as arrogant as many GM executives of the day, men he later criticized.
Even after he left GM in 1973, DeLorean never lost that GM swagger and sense of self-importance that came from being a ranking exec at the world's largest and most powerful automaker.
In some ways, leaving GM made DeLorean even larger because he became a critic of the auto industry in general and GM in particular. He testified in Washington on behalf of safety, which endeared him to safety advocates and insurance companies.
And he later wrote the book On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors with J. Patrick Wright, former BusinessWeek bureau chief in Detroit. Wright published the book without DeLorean when DeLorean got cold feet while trying to launch his own company. Many of DeLorean's criticisms about the automaker's corporate culture still are cited today.
One person surprised by the book was Robert Dewey, a sharp financial man who worked with DeLorean at Chevrolet and later joined DeLorean's fledgling car company. Dewey said that DeLorean at his own company did many of the things he accused his former GM colleagues of doing. That included imposing an office dress code; demanding fealty to the boss, not the company; rigidly dictating policy from on high; relying on situational ethics; and promoting his personal interests.
Going through the book, Dewey said at the time, he saw "things that DeLorean found so offensive at GM. It seems like every other page I would pick out something and think to myself, 'How can this bother you, John? This is you.' "
There is evidence that DeLorean had compassion for his fellow man. While at GM, he preached affirmative action and other social causes.
The late Andy Court, a GM labor economist who had a good relationship with DeLorean, believed DeLorean cared about minority employees. After the civil insurrections of the late 1960s, GM started programs to hire minority employees, Court said, and John DeLorean, then general manager of Pontiac, was enthusiastic.
Many of the new employees had little work experience and weren't used to getting up and going to work in the morning. Court said: "John decided the affirmative action program was going to work at Pontiac, so he had vans sent out in the morning to pick up the workers and bring them to work on time, to make sure they wouldn't be fired for tardiness or absenteeism.''
But DeLorean also showed callousness at times.
In the spring of 1982, on the day after an unseasonably heavy snow had hit New York, DeLorean was being interviewed by two Automotive News reporters in his Manhattan office, and he joked about the storm.
"There is one thing it does, though, which is desirable,'' he said. "The bums have all started coming back, so of course the next morning they go into the park, and there are these 80 frozen bums. They load them up like logs and cart them away. It sort of gets the place cleaned up for a while."
The shining star
DeLorean and his colleagues spent nearly five years raising the money to begin his automotive project, which included shopping for the best deal they could get in local tax breaks and grants. Inevitably, every prospective investor wanted to meet the great John DeLorean. Dewey would make the arrangements.
But DeLorean grew weary. "Bob, don't overexpose me," he said. DeLorean told Dewey that he should be like the star at the top of a Christmas tree and brought out only when the deal was done.
During a meeting in Washington in the spring of 1977, DeLorean, Dewey and a couple of other lieutenants were trying to explain the details of a pending DeLorean Motor Co. stock offering to officials of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
DeLorean was in rare form, trying to dazzle the SEC officials with his grandiose view of the big picture.
"You certainly are a very glib man, Mr. DeLorean!" one official snapped impatiently.
"Thank you," DeLorean said.
The criticism was lost. To DeLorean, it was a compliment.