The Strange Story of John DeLorean's Snowcat Factory

PJL

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The Strange Story of John DeLorean's Snowcat Factory Is Even More Bizarre Than the DMC-12

The first DeLorean wasn't a car—it was a snowcat. And its backstory is far more important than you know.

Rob StumpfJune 8, 2021
delorean snowcats
The name DeLorean is known in all corners of the world. The former GM executive turned automobile entrepreneur made waves when he launched the gull-winged stainless steel sports car known as the DMC-12 in the early 1980s. His time in the limelight was cut short after he was arrested and instead of being known for his contributions to the auto industry, John Z. DeLorean became known as the man who was charged (though acquitted) with a conspiracy to smuggle cocaine, and the DMC-12 mainly as the time machine in 1985's Back to the Future.
Even before the famous scandal, there was another kind of snow he was interested in: the stuff falling from the sky. His passion for winter weather and vehicles that could traverse those icy conditions became one of DeLorean's main sources of post-GM income (and a significant pawn in the post-conviction DMC bankruptcy) but was somehow simultaneously his least known business endeavor. In fact, the first DeLorean wasn't the DMC-12—it was a snowcat.
The DeLorean Manufacturing Company, as it was branded—and not to be confused with the DeLorean Motor Company—was a turnkey purchase for the serial entrepreneur. The business had been building snow groomers for several decades as part of a larger multinational conglomerate Thiokol branding, and its technology started out as a research project headed up by Utah State University. Somewhat amazingly, it represented more than half of the U.S. market share for snow grooming equipment at the time.
And so, DeLorean's snowcat business was a success at first. But like his car company, the Utah-based DeLorean Manufacturing Company would become entangled with the man's legal battles until it was forced to rebrand before changing hands and dwindling into nothingness. But for a brief moment in time, John DeLorean's name didn't just mean building a car—it also meant snow groomers, aircraft tugs, skid loaders, treadmill frames, and more.

DeLorean Loved to Ski, Apparently

DeLorean's snow-machine era began with a chemical-aerospace company called Thiokol. It's since restructured several times and finally merged with Northrop Grumman, meaning it's not as relevant today. But in the 1970s, Thiokol was making everything from rocket boosters for NASA's space shuttle (a project which later resulted in the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster) to lift and grooming equipment for ski resorts. Perhaps thinking it should focus more on its core competencies—spaceflight is tricky—Thiokol started downsizing or shedding some of its ancillary concerns that decade. This included its cold weather operations; a corporation founded by two former employees acquired the ski lift portion of Thiokol, while the snowcat and groomer manufacturing business was purchased by a flashy guy who had made a name for himself at General Motors as the designer of the Pontiac GTO and Firebird: John Z. DeLorean.
 

Rob-TD

New member
Hi all,

Author here. Glad you all enjoyed this, hopefully it was educational. These forums were instrumental in kicking off some of the progress.

I spent months researching this and talking to people who worked at LMC or knew JZD personally. It's a wild story and sad to have heard how everything fizzled out in the end, but definitely an important period in time.
 

alryA

Active member
The DeLorean story is interesting. Was he a genius or a quack? I see he passed in 2005.
 
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Snowy Rivers

Well-known member
The World is full of guys like DeLorean...
Always the high roller and they suck the life out of everything and everybody they meet.

Sad to see the Thiokol, DeLorean, DMC,LMC cats gone.......The European mfgs knew how to make good machines and were not at all afraid to spend $$$$$ on R&D and to build a better "mousetrap"

Just another sordid tale of an American company gone from the scene due to greed....

Thanks for sharing the story.....
 

alryA

Active member
There are still good machines being built in the USA by smart people. I'd say the snow machine market is quite small, so they couldn't all survive. In the grooming business, we see a upstart company offering something new every 7 years, give or take.
 

redsqwrl

Bronze Member
SUPER Site Supporter
Hi all,

Author here. Glad you all enjoyed this, hopefully it was educational. These forums were instrumental in kicking off some of the progress.

I spent months researching this and talking to people who worked at LMC or knew JZD personally. It's a wild story and sad to have heard how everything fizzled out in the end, but definitely an important period in time.
The story was missing a prime opportunity to rip on the YUGO. He managed to mess up a otherwise comical piece of motoring history. I was Kind of surprised to not see the saga of the yugo in your article.
 

Snowy Rivers

Well-known member
Mention was made of GOOD MACHINES BEING BUILT IN THE USA
The private sector has many many very smart individuals that can and have built a lot of great machines.

Many are adaptations of what others have done.

The Snow machine market is such a Niche market that only the big boys are going to garner any real market share.
Original sale of a reliable piece of equipment, post sale service, warranty.......yada yada yada.....

The Thiokol machines were fairly reliable....but even in their day they could almost be classified as CRUDE.....
The machines of today are as high tech as the cars and trucks we drive.

I am not sure that all the electronics are that great....especially in the brush where a private owner does not have the resources of several cats to come and haul his broken Kitty to the shop....

Screw driver and Crescent wrench fixes are real plus out in the brush. Needing a high tech scan tool just to figure out wasssssup with a sick kitty is not gonna be in the offing for most private owners...

The tech needed to attract big time users is definitely what we see in todays cats (Bombi, Prinoth and P bully)

The same advancements has come to the heavy equipment market (Cat, Deere, Case..and others)

Your dozer quits and the check engine light flashes......Yup....Gotta have the computer to even know where to start.

DeLorean used the cat business as a cash cow....With nearly nothing put back into the bizz to do R&D and development of a better product.

And so it goes...... DeLorean was never happy....He was always on a quest for something else...."In search of Eldorado"

His quest was never satisfied and his penchant for bigger, better and more of it ended in nothing but pain and misery for many folks the he came into contact with...including himself.
He always wanted to be the High Roller.....being at the top of the pile all at once is not usually possible...and those who try to jump from 0-100 in one step most generally fail..

Even Microsoft started in a garage and worked their way up the ladder......

Got a chance this past winter to get close and personal with a big PB ....OMG..Damned things will nearly drive themselves....
Cool stuff...But it better be for the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ they get for them...
 
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alryA

Active member
Well ya, but look at automobiles, snowmobiles, farm tractors and even lawn mowers. They've all got more complicated but easier to operate and more comfortable to work in. That's how all machines go over time. Good or bad. :rolleyes:
 

Blackfoot Tucker

Well-known member
GOLD Site Supporter
Well ya, but look at automobiles, snowmobiles, farm tractors and even lawn mowers. They've all got more complicated but easier to operate and more comfortable to work in. That's how all machines go over time. Good or bad. :rolleyes:
Alry,

I think it was roughly a year ago there was a very interesting article in the WSJ about farmers paying pretty big money for low-hour, older John Deere tractors. Many of the farmers felt the new equipment, while really nice and with lots of capabilities, put the farmers at the mercy of the dealership's service departments. The new equipment requires specialized training, specialized diagnostic equipment and expensive parts when they break down. They longed for the simplicity of a previous generation that they could understand and repair themselves. I don't blame them in the slightest....

I am frequently "blown away" by parts prices, and that doesn't include dealership hourly rates. As bad as Tucker is, I suspect I'd have heart palpitations seeing what Pisten Bully charges.
 

alryA

Active member
Well ya, most of my family is in the "BIG AG" business and 90% of the implements they buy is JD. AND they have little consideration for other brands! The head on the machine you see below is 50ft wide and they own three of these machines. 600+ HP.
170820-JD-X9-c.EM_.jpg
 
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Snowy Rivers

Well-known member
The equipment we have today is absolutely marvelous...AS FAR AS WHAT IT CAN DO.
As I have mentioned.....When the electronics have a bad day...life can get very tedious....

Way out in the snowy cold mountains...miles from anywhere can be a serious issue when the cat quits.

Computers, relays and all manner of little gizmos that can give up and leave you stranded scare the hell out of me...

All fine and dandy when help and service is close by.....

The huge tractor, combine or other piece of equipment is not going to leave you where a quick call on the cell phone/Sat phone won't help much....

Don't get me wrong....I love the high tech....but it is the first thing to leave you stranded that a few tools will not get the machine AT LEAST running enough to head back to safety.

I remember back in the day....about 30 miles out in the clubs Thiokol Spryte the engine died.

A quick peek found that the points in the distributor had lost the little block that rubs on the cam lobe on the shaft.

~!@#$ ahhhhhh...now what ???

Lucky for me there was a box of junk parts under the seat.

A nasty old set of points that looked like 50 miles of death valley fire trail were in the junk.

Some scraping with my pocket knife to clean the dirt and corrosion off the contacts....A screw driver from the tool box and IT WAS RUNNING AGAIN......

Had those junk parts from the last tune up or ????? been tossed in the trash ....It would have been a serious situation.

The high tech stuff can't be fixed like this........

Creature comforts are great......Ya need a fail safe LIMP MODE THAT CAN AT LEAST GET YA HOME.

The old Thiokol 2100 had this idea to an extent.

There was an electric motor operated hydraulic pump that would run the steering cylinders so you could limp home.

Crude...but effective.

Rant off.....
 
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