The De Lorean DMC-12 is a two-seater sports car that was manufactured by the De Lorean Motor Company (DMC) for the US market from 1981 to 1982. It featured gull-wing doors with a fiberglass underbody to which non-structural brushed stainless steel panels were affixed. Manufactured in Northern Ireland it is most commonly known simply as the De Lorean, as it was the only model ever produced by the company.
The first prototype appeared in March 1976, and production officially began in 1981 (with the first DMC-12 rolling off the production line on January 21) at the DMC factory in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland. Over nine thousand DMC-12s were made before production stopped in December 1982. Today, about 6,500 De Lorean Motor Cars are believed to still exist. It is perhaps best remembered when it shot to worldwide fame in the Back to the Future movie trilogy starring Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd. The car was transformed into a time machine by the eccentric scientist Doctor Emmett L. Brown - the company had ceased to exist before the first movie was ever made in 1985.
In October 1976, the first prototype De Lorean DMC-12 was completed by William T. Collins chief engineer and designer (formerly chief engineer at Pontiac). Originally, the car's rear-mounted power plant was to be a Citroën Wankel rotary engine, but was replaced with a French-designed and produced PRV (Peugeot-Renault-Volvo) fuel injected V-6 because of the poor fuel economy from the rotary engine, an important issue at a time of world-wide fuel shortages. Collins and De Lorean envisioned a chassis produced from a new and untested manufacturing technology known as Elastic Reservoir Moulding (ERM), which would contribute to the light-weight characteristics of the car while presumably lowering its production costs. This new technology, for which De Lorean had purchased patent rights, would eventually be found to be unsuitable for mass production.
These and other changes to the original concept led to considerable schedule pressures. The entire car was deemed to require almost complete re-engineering, which was turned over to engineer Colin Chapman, founder and owner of Lotus. Chapman replaced most of the unproven material and manufacturing techniques with those currently being employed by Lotus. The Backbone chassis is very similar to the Lotus Esprit. The original Giorgetto Giugiaro body design was left mostly intact, as were the distinctive stainless steel outer skin panels and gull-wing doors.
The DMC-12 would eventually be built in a factory in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland, a neighborhood a few miles from Belfast city centre. Construction on the factory began in October 1978, and although production of the DMC-12 was scheduled to start in 1979, engineering issues and budget overruns delayed production until early 1981. At the time the unemployment rate was high in Northern Ireland and there was no shortage of local residents ready to apply for jobs at the factory. The production personnel were largely inexperienced, but were paid premium wages and supplied with the best equipment available. Most quality issues were solved by 1982 and the cars were sold from dealers with a 12 month, 12,000-mile (19,300 km) warranty and an available five-year, 50,000-mile (80,000 km) service contract.
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Reception by the car buying public and automotive magazines was mixed. Although the early vehicles had impressive waiting lists of anxious consumers, the MSRP sticker price of US $25,000 was cost-prohibitive for the majority of the market - especially for what many considered to be an under-powered and impractical plaything. "It's not a barn burner..," observed Road & Track, "..with a 0-60 mph time of 10.5 seconds. Frankly, that's not quick for a sports/GT car in this price category."
The stainless steel body panels were an attractive design concept and impervious to corrosion, but in practice the sheen surface tended to show fingerprints. It also meant that the car could not be easily painted; every factory original De Lorean looked virtually identical. Some dealerships painted their cars on delivery to help make theirs more distinctive. De Lorean Motor Company was testing the use of translucent paint to help provide different color options on the cars while also allowing the stainless steel grain to show through, but no cars were sold with factory painted body panels. The only factory option initially available was an automatic transmission. A grey interior was offered later in 1981 as an alternative to the standard black interior. Several accessories including pin-striping and luggage racks helped provide further individuality.
A total of about 9,200 DMC-12s were produced between January 1981 and December 1982 (almost a fifth of these were produced in October 1981), although actual production figures are unclear and estimates differ. About 1,000 models were made between February and May 1982 but not shipped to the US. All of these cars had their Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) changed after purchase by ‘Consolidated International’ (now known as Big Lots). Originally 10XXX, 11XXX and 12XXX VINs, these were changed to 15XXX, 16XXX, and 17XXX VINs to make them appear as 1983 models.
During 1981, it was reported there were plans to have made a 4-door version of the car for 1983 - perhaps on a longer wheelbase. Again it was to have been constructed of stainless steel body panels with the familiar gull-wing doors.
The De Lorean Motor Company went bankrupt in late 1982 following John De Lorean's arrest in October of that year on drug trafficking charges. He was later found not guilty, but it was too late for the DMC-12. Approximately 100 partially assembled DMC's on the production line were completed by Consolidated International (now known as Big Lots) who had a buyback program with DMC and had bought out the remaining unsold cars. The inventory of unused parts left in the factory after the bankruptcy and the parts from the US Warranty Parts Center, as well as parts from the original suppliers that had not yet been delivered to the factory were all shipped to Columbus, Ohio in 1983–1984. A company called KAPAC sold these parts to retail and wholesale customers via mail order. In 1997, De Lorean Motor Company of Texas acquired this inventory.
The body design of the DMC-12 was a product of Giorgetto Giugiaro of Ital Design and is expressed in brushed SS304 stainless steel. Except for three cars plated in 24-karat gold, all DMC-12s left the factory uncovered by paint or clearcoat. Painted De Loreans do exist, although these were all painted after the cars were purchased from the factory. To train workers, several hundred DMCs were produced without stainless panels, and are referred to as "black cars" or "mules", in reference to their black fiberglass panels in lieu of stainless, though these were never marketed. Small scratches in the stainless steel body panels can be removed with a non-metallic scouring pad (since metal pads can leave iron particles embedded in the stainless steel which can give the appearance of the stainless "rusting"), or even sandpaper. The stainless steel panels are fixed to a glass-reinforced plastic (GRP, fiberglass) monocoque underbody. The underbody is affixed to a double-Y frame chassis, derived from the Lotus Esprit platform.
The unpainted stainless body creates challenges during restoration of the cars. With an unpainted stainless body, the stainless steel must be reworked to exactly the original shape, contour and grain. De Lorean envisioned that damaged panels would simply be replaced rather than repaired. Even today there are decades worth of new stainless panels still available in most instances.
Another novel feature of the DMC-12 is its gull-wing doors (an interesting fact about these doors is that the workers at the factory used to weld their names, or initials on the inside of the outer door panels on many of the vehicles produced. If you were to remove the outer panel you could actually find out the name of at least one of the individuals who worked on the car. The common problem of supporting the weight of gull-wing doors was solved by other manufacturers with lightweight doors in the Mercedes-Benz 300SL and an air pump in the Bricklin SV-1, although these designs had structural or convenience issues. The DMC-12 features heavy doors supported by cryogenically preset torsion bars and gas-charged struts. These torsion bars were developed by Grumman Aerospace (and built by Unbrako in the UK, a division of SPS Technologies of Jenkintown, PA) to withstand the stresses of supporting the doors. A popular misconception of the DMC-12's gull-wing doors is that they require far more side clearance to open relative to ordinary side-hinge doors, such as when parked in a parking lot. In fact, the opposite is true: the DMC-12 requires far less clearance than side-hinge doors! These doors, when opening, only require 11 inches (264 mm) clearance outside the line of the car, making opening and closing the doors in crowded parking lots relatively easy. Much like the doors fitted to the Lamborghini Countach, the DMC-12 doors featured small cutout windows, because full-sized windows would not be fully retractable within the short door panels.
The underbody and suspension of the DMC-12 were based largely on the Lotus Esprit, with a four-wheel independent suspension, coil springs, and telescopic shock absorbers. The front suspension used double wishbones, while the rear was a multi-link setup. In its original development stages, the car is said to have handled quite well. Considering that Lotus's reputation was built largely on the handling prowess of the cars the company produced, the DMC-12's smooth ride wasn't a surprise. Unfortunately, changing US government bumper height regulations required modifications to the suspension system and an increase in the vehicle's factory ride height, both of which had adverse effects on the car's handling capabilities. Many owners have subsequently replaced or modified the front springs to return the front height to the original design specification.
Steering was rack and pinion, with an overall steering ratio of 14.9:1, giving 2.65 turns lock-to-lock and a 35 ft (10.67 m) turning circle. DMC-12s were originally fitted with cast alloy wheels, measuring 14 in (356 mm) in diameter by 6 in (152 mm) wide on the front and 15 in (381 mm) in diameter by 8 in (203 mm) wide on the rear. These were fitted with Goodyear NCT steel-belted radial tires. With the engine being mounted in the very rear of the vehicle, the DMC-12 has a 35 / 65 % weight distribution.
The DMC-12 features power-assisted disc brakes on all wheels, with 10 in (254 mm) rotors front and 10.5 in (267 mm) rear.
John De Lorean had originally envisioned that the car would produce somewhere around 200 horsepower (150 kW), but eventually settled on a 170 horsepower (130 kW) output for the engine. However, United States emissions regulations required that parts such as a catalytic converters should be added to the vehicle before it could be sold there. This caused a 40 horsepower (30 kW) reduction to the vehicle's power output, a loss which seriously impeded the DMC-12's performance. When this combined with the suspension system changes, the US version was regarded as disappointing. De Lorean's comparison literature noted that the DMC-12 could achieve 0–60 mph (0–96 km/h) in 8.8 seconds, respectable for the early 1980s, but when Road & Track magazine tested the car they recorded a time of 10.5 seconds. It is possible that the factory performance numbers were achieved using a European-spec car with the origional 170 horsepower (130 kW) engine.
The car was named the DMC-12 because of its original price of $12,000. New DMC-12s had a suggested retail price of $25,000 ($650 more when equipped with an automatic transmission). There were extensive waiting lists of people willing to pay up to $10,000 above the list price, however after the collapse of the De Lorean Motor Company, unsold cars were being purchased under the retail price.
The DMC-12 was only available with two factory options including a no-cost manual transmission or automatic transmission ($650) and the choice of a grey or black interior. Several dealer options were available, including a car cover ($117); floor mats ($84); black textured accent stripes ($87); grey scotch-cal accent stripes ($55); a luggage rack ($269) and a ski-rack adapter. The standard feature list included stainless steel body panels; gull-wing doors with cryogenically-treated torsion bars; leather seats/trim; air conditioning; an AM/FM cassette stereo system; power windows, locks and mirrors; a tilt and telescopic steering wheel; tinted glass; body side mouldings; and a rear window defogger.
Right-hand drive models
Despite being produced in Northern Ireland, DMC-12s were primarily intended for the American market. Therefore, all production models were left-hand drive (designed to be driven on the right side of the road). However, evidence survives from as early as April 1981 which indicates that the DeLorean Motor Company was aware of the need to produce a right-hand drive version to supply to world markets such as Ireland, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, where traffic travels on the left. The first two markets outside of the US were to be the United Kingdom and Germany.
DeLorean knew that to sell DMC-12s in the United Kingdom would mean producing a right-hand drive configuration of the car. The company faced the choice of building right-hand drive models from scratch, or performing a post-production conversion exercise. Given the cost of new body moulds, tooling and a host of specific parts that a factory build right-hand drive configuration would require, the company opted to investigate the idea of a post-production conversion.
Only 16 right-hand drive factory authorized DeLoreans were ever produced. This handful of cars can be divided into two distinct groups:
1. The first batch, known by enthusiasts as the “Wooler-Hodec cars”,were converted by a company in the UK called Wooler-Hodec. Evidence still exists in the form of a DMC factory memo which orders 20 cars to be converted to right-hand drive. Due to the factory’s closure, this order was never completed and today a total of 13 cars survive, carrying the VIN numbers: 510, 12171–12181 & 12199. VIN# 510 is understood to be the first of this batch of cars converted and was later sold at the factory auction in 1984. The other twelve cars were auctioned off by the receivers in early 1983. As a result, several of these cars were registered at the same time and have the Northern Irish registration (licence) number "SIJ xxxx". This entire first batch of cars had a black interior and all had manual transmission except VIN# 12175. This car is the world’s only right-hand drive black interior automatic car.
2. The second batch were registered and used by the factory in Northern Ireland, with registration numbers (license plates), AXI 1697, AXI 1698, AXI 1699 and are referred to by enthusiasts as the “AXI cars”. These three cars (VINs 5565, 5592 and 5638) differ from the Wooler-Hodec cars in several ways. These three cars all had roof mounted radio aerials, very small round front side marker lights, no rear side marker lights, white forward-facing door lights, fog-light switch, and textured body rubstrips on the stainless steel panels. No catalytic converters or Lambda equipment were fitted as British legislation did not require them. The car with the registration number AXI 1697 was reputedly a fully UK homologated example which would have been shown at the British motor show at Birmingham, UK in October 1982.
Recent research has revealed that VINs 752 and 758, once thought to be factory authorized right-hand drive cars, are post-factory conversions carried out by private individuals. Some of the right-hand drive cars have speedometers reading to 140 mph (230 km/h), instead of the US-specification 85 mph (137 km/h).
Changes in Production
Although there were no typical "yearly" updates to the De Lorean, several changes were made to the De Lorean during production. John De Lorean believed that model years were primarily a gimmick used by automobile companies to sell more cars. Instead of making massive changes at the end of the model year, he implemented changes mid-production. This resulted in no clear distinction between the 1981, 1982, and 1983 model years, but with subtle changes taking place almost continuously throughout the life of the De Lorean. The most visible of these changes related to the hood style.
• Hood (Bonnet)
The original hood of the De Lorean had grooves running down both sides which included a gas flap to simplify fuel filling. The gas flap was built so that the trunk could be added to the total cargo area of the De Lorean. These cars typically had a locking gas cap to prevent siphoning. In 1981, the gas flap was removed from the hood of the cars although the hood creases stayed -this style was retained well into 1982. Based on production numbers for all three years, this hood style is probably the most common. After the supply of locking gas caps were exhausted, the company switched to a non-locking version resulting in at least 500 cars with no gas flap but with locking gas caps. The final styling for the hood included the addition of a De Lorean logo and the removal of the grooves, the result was a completely flat hood. All changes to the hood were made not to alter the aesthetics of the car but for a much more practical reason: production of the groove less design was both faster and more reliable - as the stainless steel would often crack in the process of forming the grooves.
Although the styling of the De Lorean's wheels remained unchanged, the wheels of early-model 1981 vehicles were painted grey. These wheels sported matching grey center caps with an embossed DMC logo. Early into the 1981 production run, these were changed to a polished silver look, with a contrasting black center cap. The embossed logo on the centre caps was painted silver to add contrast.
The original Ducellier alternator supplied with the early production DMC-12s could not provide enough current to supply the car when all lights and electrical options were on - as a result the battery would gradually discharge. Later cars were fitted from the factory with a higher output Motorola alternator which solved the problem. This also is believed to be the reason behind the improvement in the sound quality of the horn - earlier models emitted a weak sound, not loud or strong enough to be effective in normal traffic.
• Pull Straps
John De Lorean was 6'4" (193 cm) tall, and he designed the car to comfortably fit someone of his stature. For shorter people, the addition of a pull strap made closing the doors much easier from the inside. Pull straps which attached to the existing door handles were manufactured as an add-on for the earlier vehicles. Late-model 1981 cars, and all cars from 1982 and 1983 have doors with the integrated pull straps.
• Side Bolster
The side bolstering in the De Lorean was originally separate from the main interior pieces. There was a tendency to place pressure on this when entering and exiting the car. This eventually caused the bolstering to become separated from the trim panel. To alleviate this problem cars built in and after late 1981 have one solid trim piece with this bolster permanently attached.
• Foot Rest
One of the few changes tied directly to a model year is the addition of a foot rest or “dead pedal” – an unusable pedal that was added to the cars to help prevent fatigue whilst driving. These can only be found in cars from 1982 onward.
The first 2,200 cars produced used a windshield-embedded antenna. This type of antenna proved to be inadequate for most motoring needs, so a standard whip antenna was added to the outside of the front right quarter panel. While improving radio reception this resulted in a hole in the stainless steel, and an unsightly antenna. As a result the antenna was again moved, this time to the rear of the car. Automatic antennas were installed under the grills behind the rear driver's-side window. While giving the reception quality of a whip antenna, these completely disappear from view when not in use.
In 1981 the De Lorean came stocked with a Craig radio; Since the Craig did not have a built-in clock, one was installed in front of the gear shift on the center console. De Lorean switched to an ASI stereo in the middle of the 1982 production which featured an on-board clock - the car’s on-board clock was removed at the same time.
• Sun Visor
The small sun visors on the De Lorean have vinyl on one side, and headline fabric on the other side. Originally these were installed such that the headliner side would be on the bottom when not in use. Later on in 1981, they were reversed so that the vinyl side would be on the bottom.
A very large number of the original cars are still on the road after over 25 years; most estimates put it at 6,500 cars surviving out of just over 9,000 built. There is a very active enthusiast community around the cars, with strong owners' clubs. There were a number of commercial enterprises set up after the demise of the De Lorean Motor Company to provide parts and service, and most of those are still in existence today with most parts being reasonably priced and still readily available. The DeLorean Motor Company of Texas now own the large remaining original parts stock from the factory. This is an entirely new ownership which acquired the original company's name and some of the logos as the trademark registration for these had lapsed. Texas entrepreneur Stephen Wynne is the current owner of Delorean Motor Company.
Many aftermarket improvements have been offered over time to address some of the flaws in the original production cars, and to improve performance. A common opinion of the car is that in stock form it is somewhat underpowered. A variety of solutions have been implemented to counteract this from complete engine swaps, either to a larger PRV (Peugeot-Renault-Volvo) engine, or to completely different engine such as the Cadillac Northstar.
Prices for DMC-12s vary widely and are of course dependent upon supply and demand. In 2008 a De Lorean in good to excellent condition can be had for around $20 to $30,000. Mint-condition cars can fetch up to $50,000. Only 16 factory authorized right-hand drive prototype models were made for use in the United Kingdom. As of 2008 these cars are valued in the region of $50,000 - $60,000.
Return to production
Due to the continued demand for the DMC-12, the DeLorean Motor Company of Texas has returned the car into a limited production run. The newly produced cars will have a base price of around $60,000 and have new stainless steel frames and lighter fiberglass underbodies, with optional extras such as GPS and an enhanced "Stage 2" 197 bhp engine. CLICK HERE for full details.
De Lorean, DeLorean, Delorean, deLorean or de Lorean?
De Lorean is more often seen spelled without the space: DeLorean. However, typewritten company documents universally use the space, so this is clearly the company's chosen (and correct) form. In typeset documents, a half space, not a full space, appears between the two portions, and the same is visible in more stylistic representations, as on the automobiles themselves. This use of a half space probably influenced many people to see no space there.
The company's founder originally spelled his name as John Delorean. At some point in his life he began using the more Dutch-looking De Lorean instead. During the period the DeLorean Motor Company was operating, he used a space exclusively when spelling his name in the course of business.
The spelling of the name with an intercap L is a form of compromise between the two forms. Some people capitalize the L and leave the D uncapitalized, spelling the name 'deLorean' and some even add the space while leaving the D uncapitalized to form the name as 'de Lorean', following French usage.
The De Lorean Motor Company (DMC) was a short-lived automobile manufacturer formed by automobile industry executive John De Lorean in 1975. It is remembered for the one model it produced – the distinctive stainless steel De Lorean DMC-12 sports car featuring gull-wing doors. The company had a brief but somewhat turbulent history, ending in receivership and bankruptcy in 1982. Near the end, in a desperate attempt to raise the funds his company needed to survive, John De Lorean was filmed appearing to accept money to take part in drug trafficking, but was subsequently acquitted of charges brought against him on the basis of entrapment.
John De Lorean founded the De Lorean Motor Company (DMC) in Detroit, Michigan on October 24, 1975. He was already well known in the automobile industry as a capable engineer, business innovator, and youngest person to become a General Motors executive. Investment capital came primarily in the form of business loans from the Bank of America and from the formation of partnerships and private investment from select parties, including The Tonight Show host Johnny Carson. Money was also gained later through a dealer investment program in which those dealerships offering De Lorean's cars for sale were made shareholders in the company.
John De Lorean also sought lucrative incentives from various government and economic organizations to pay for constructing the company's automobile manufacturing facilities. To gain these, he looked to build his first factory in a country or area where unemployment was particularly high. One candidate was the Republic of Ireland, although the country's then Minister for Industry and Commerce Des O'Malley decided not to support the project. A deal in Puerto Rico was about to be agreed when De Lorean took up a last-minute offer from the Northern Ireland's Industrial Development Board (IDB). The British government was very keen to create jobs in Northern Ireland to reduce sectarian violence by reducing unemployment. As part of this offer, De Lorean was apparently under the impression that the British government would provide his company with Export Credit financing. This would provide a loan of 80% of the wholesale cost of the vehicles (US$20,000) upon completion and delivery for shipping.
In October 1978, construction of the 6-building, 660,000 square foot (61,000 m²) manufacturing plant began in Northern Ireland and was completed in 16 months by Farrans McLaughlin & Harvey. Officially known as DMCL (De Lorean Motor Company Ltd), the facility was located in Dunmurry, a suburb of Lisburn. It was situated on an interface between two communities with differing religions; Twinbrook (Catholic), and Dunmurry (Protestant). The facility had separate entrances for each side, but this was more of a geographic convenience than it was for religious segregation.
Unit production was scheduled to begin in 1979, but engineering delays and budget overruns caused the assembly lines to start in early 1981. Workers at the factory were generally inexperienced; many never had jobs before joining DMC. This may have contributed to the reported quality issues attributed to the early production vehicles and the subsequent establishment of Quality Assurance Centers (QAC) located at various delivery locations. QACs were set up in California, New Jersey and Michigan where some of the quality issues were to be addressed and resolved before delivery to dealerships. Some of the issues related to the fitting of body panels, higher-output alternators, and the adjustment of the gullwing doors.
The combined efforts of quality assurance improvements at the factory and the post-production quality assurance done at the QACs were generally successful. The 1981 De Loreans were delivered with a 12 month, 12,000-mile (19,000 km) warranty and an available five-year, 50,000-mile (80,000 km) service contract, however workmanship complaints would still occasionally arise. By 1982, improvements in components and the more experienced workforce meant that production quality was vastly improved. Disputes between dealerships and customers arose later because many dealerships refused to complete any warranty work required because they were not being reimbursed.
The lack of demand, cost overruns, and unfavorable exchange rates began to take their toll on DMC's cash flow in late 1981. The company had estimated their break-even point to be between 10,000 and 12,000 units, but the limiting demand factors precipitated a falloff in sales to somewhere around 6,000. In response to the income shortfall De Lorean was experiencing, a restructuring plan was devised where a new "DeLorean Motors Holding Company" would be formed. This in turn would have become corporate parent to the DeLorean Motor Company and each of its subsidiaries: DeLorean Motor Cars Limited (manufacturer), DeLorean Motor Cars of America (distributor in the U.S.) and DeLorean Research Partnership (a research and development company). In January 1982, due to SEC questions about the company's viability, the company was forced to cancel the stock issue for the holding company that DeLorean had hoped would raise about $27 million.
John De Lorean himself then lobbied the British government for aid, but was refused unless he was able to find a matching amount from other investors. What followed is a matter of debate between the British government, the FBI, the DEA, De Lorean, his investors, and the US court system. At some point in 1982, John De Lorean became the target of an FBI sting operation designed to arrest drug trafficking criminals. He was arrested in October 1982 and charged with conspiring to smuggle $24 million worth of cocaine into the US. The key element of evidence for the prosecution was a videotape showing DeLorean discussing the drugs deal with undercover FBI agents Benedict (Ben) Tisa and West. However De Lorean's attorney Howard Weitzman successfully demonstrated to the court that he was coerced into participation in the deal by the agents who initially approached him as legitimate investors. He was acquitted of all charges, but his reputation was forever tarnished. After his trial and subsequent acquittal, De Lorean quipped, "Would you buy a used car from me?"
In the end, sufficient funds could not be raised to keep the company alive. The De Lorean Motor Company went bust in 1982, taking with it 2,500 jobs and over US $100 million in investments. The British government attempted to revive some usable remnants of the manufacturing facility without success, and the Dunmurry factory was closed. De Lorean himself retired in New Jersey, and the dream with which he had mesmerized Britain's Labour government, of industry rising out of the ashes of Northern Ireland's sectarian conflict, was shattered. He claimed that the DMCL was deliberately closed for political reasons, and at the time of closing was a solidly viable company with millions of dollars in the bank and two years of dealer orders on the books.
Despite being cleared of all drug trafficking charges, DeLorean still had to battle many legal cases (stemming from the company's bankruptcy) well into the 1990s. He personally declared bankruptcy in September 1999 and was evicted from his 434-acre estate in New Jersey in March of 2000. He passed away on March 19th, 2005, of stroke complications at age 80.