A History of Lapple and DMC.


August Lapple GMBH were the company who produced the stainless panels for the DeLorean, from their factory in Carlow. The panels were transferred by truck to Belfast, except for the few times that DMC was badly stuck for a few panels, so they sent a helicopter down to pick up a few doors!

A DeLorean car outside the former Lapple factory in Carlow

The following is an interview with Michael O'Leary, who spent over 20 years working with Lapple, and was press shop manager at the time of DMC. We spent 3 hours talking the first night I met him - he told me on the phone beforehand that he would hardly remember any details, but once he got going it was amazing to hear him rattle off 6 digit numbers from memory which Lapple used to identify each component they manufactured for DMC!

Michael and his wife Margaret were lovely, and a pleasure to spend the evening chatting with about their memories of the late 70's and early 80's.

As I pulled up outside their house in my DeLorean, Michael and his wife came out to see the car - Michael had only ever seen a DeLorean once when DMC brought a test car down to speak about panel fit or something like that. He seemed really chuffed to see one sitting in his driveway after all these years, and it brought back a lot of memories.

We spent 15 minutes walking around the car as Michael relayed one interesting fact after another about the manufacture of the panels! Apparently one of the most difficult panels to produce (after the hood which was apparently a nightmare), was the front fenders. The area where the side crease meets the wheel arch was prone to damaging the mold/die, and often little pieces of iron from the mould would get embedded on the inside surface of the panel in this area, and rust. So, if you ever have your front fenders off your car, have a look for a spec of rust in this area - if you find it, it is one of the remaining pieces of the press-die!

Michael then brought me around the side of his house, where he had some master panels saved from his days working in Lapple. These were stainless steel DMC panels, which were inspected by a team of engineers and management from DMC, and approved to be the correct design - i.e. the quality of all future panels made by Lapple were to be of equal quality as these panels. Each panel had a sticker, denoting it to be a Master Panel, and describing what part of the car it was for, it's internal codenumber, and the name and signature of the person who inspected it and approved it.

We spent a while looking over these panels - the doors were very interesting as they were unassembled, so all the components which go into making one stainless gullwing door were laid out on the ground separately. I never realised how thick (approx 3mm) and heavy the side impact bar is in a DMC door until I picked up the master panel - it was probably as heavy as the rest of the components put together!

Michael explained that Lapple had kept one of each panel from every car they ever worked on, and hung them on the wall at the factory. Around 1990 or so, they decided to clear out this collection, and all panels were thrown in a skip, including the DMC ones. On seeing this, Michael asked the MD if he'd mind if he took the DMC ones home, to which he received no objection, so Michael climbed into the skip himself and saved the stainless panels. So, we have Michael to thank that these rare pieces of history are preserved to this day!

We then had the interview, over a few cups of coffee! Some photos of the aforementioned master panels are included below, along with a picture of Michael driving a DeLorean for the first time!

I hope you enjoy reading the interview below and that it offers a unique insight into a major part of DeLorean history that is seldom reported on.


Transcript of interview between John Dore and Michael & Margaret O'Leary (July 2008)

John: When did you join Lapple?

Michael: I joined in July1974. There was a period when we were all sent for training to various places. I went to the local regional college for machine training. We were supposed to spend 6 weeks there and then go into the plant, but we ended up spending 4 months there. Some of the more senior staff were sent to Germany, and came back as supervisors. As well as that, we had a large force of Germans – I’d say probaby 15 German toolmakers who spent 2 or 3 years with us at the beginning. The Managing Director was German, and the Plant manager was also German. Then we had a number of toolmakers all assigned to groups of Irish people in the plant. That’s how the toolmaking was setup. It was a very specialised type of toolmaking, and there would not have been any history of that kind of toolmaking in Ireland before Lapple was setup.

John: What was Lapple’s incentive to setup in Ireland?

Michael: It was an IDA (Irish Development Agency) factory, so there were lots of grants available. At that stage, the labour costs would have been much lower in Ireland than they would have been in Germany, and there was also an incentive given to the german company by the German government to expand abroad.

Michael O'Leary sitting in John's DeLorean

John: What was your job title when you started in Lapple?

Michael: I started in Machine Shop as a chargehand, making parts for the tools. At that stage, we used quite sophisticated copy milling machines, ordinary heavy milling machines, and things like sparker welding machines. I’d expect that they would have been common in big toolmaking plants, but they were very new to Ireland at the time. They sent me to Germany in 1977 for 3 months training and that was in machine processes. All to do with the actual tool room. At that stage, we didn’t have any pressing facilities – DeLorean was the first big contract we got for pressing. The parent company in Germany were heavy into pressings – they were doing Porsche, Mercedes, BMW – all the big ones. We eventually did some work for Ford also, and supplied the major Ford plants across Europe – Southhampton, halewood, gent and a small plant in portugal. Ford was the biggest contact we had after DeLorean. When DeLorean finished, we had to go out and find work. It was spares mostly for Ford – small production runs. We ended up doing a lot of work for the various models of Transit van, and we were doing that up until we closed.

John: I guess you’ve never had a Ford Transit enthusiast call to your house asking questions?!

Michael: Ha Ha, no they’re not really collectors items! Maybe someday… I didn’t bother saving any panels from Ford.

John: Can you remember how did Lapple get the contract for DMC?

Michael: The contract would have been negotiated through Germany – again because of the association between Lapple and Porsche. It’s a specialised field, and there weren’t very many pressing plants anywhere in the world capable of pressing with materials other than mild steel.

John: Did JZD visit the Lapple plant in Carlow?

Michael: No – not that I remember

John: Do you remember if any of the DMC executives came down?

Michael: We did have, but unfortunately their names escape me. They had a peculiar management structure there which changed as time went on. The British Government imposed certain conditions and put in their own consultants into DMC to monitor production, sometimes to help develop it and keep things on an even keel. I remember a guy by the name of Chapman involved.

John: Yes, he was the founder of Lotus – Lotus did a lot of the early work on development of the chassis and body. Was he over at the carlow plant?

Michael: He was, yes. His company was involved in the early stages, but later on, people from his company were sent in and embedded in DMC to monitor progress.

John: Was Michael Loasby one? I believe he was an engineer who came from Lotus.

Michael: Yes, I remember that name. There were some high-ranking engineers. We had one who stayed in Carlow for 6 months or more. He was monitoring/controlling what we did, making sure everything was running smoothly.

Margaret: Michael, sorry for interrupting you. Do you not remember John DeLorean coming down by helicopter?

Michael: No, the helicopter story was something different – that was urgent panel delivery to Belfast! That was very funny - the maintenance manager in the Lapple factory was told to go out and prepare a spot in the carpark where the helicopter could land, and there were some arguments about whether a big H should have been painted on the ground, but in the end they didn’t. It was comical what went on.

John: The cost of sending a helicopter down must have been very high…

Michael: Absolutely, and only for a handful of panels. I’d say at most 20 panels . These great big gullwing door panels were being shipped up by helicopter.

John: Can you remember if this occurred early on, or later in the project when production increased, maybe the supply of panels ran out?

Michael: It was later on, during full production, but it was due to some problem, not because they were moving too fast for us.

John: What was Lapple’s production schedule like – would you make 1 panel one day, then a different panel the next day?

Michael: I can’t remember the actual run cycles, but typically the run cycles would 300 to 500 panels, then swap the tools over. So, first of all we’d make the Right Hand side, then the left. It saved a lot of setup, because both the left and right hand panels would be identical in setup, so you wouldn’t be rejigging the presses – no need to adjust press heights, etc. So, if we were going to produce a batch of right hand front fenders, we would also produce a batch of left hand front fenders immediately afterwards. Same with the rear quarter panels, they would have had a similar production setup.

Margaret: I bet you can remember the panel numbers!

Michael: (laughs)

Margaret: He used to be able to reel them off…

Michael: sure I used to dream about them for god’s sake, or stay awake at night thinking of them!
Let me see - the customer number for DeLorean was 3022, and we had 3022-001 right up to 3022-044.

John: So you made 44 pieces for DMC?

Michael: Yes, with all the pieces which went into the doors. I remember 3022-001 and 3022-002 were the door skin panels (laughs at memories..)

Margaret: I remember you reeling them off!

Michael: I think 3022-023 and 3022-024 were the left and right front fenders. Amazing talking about it how they come back. Then 3022-043 and 3022-044 were the side intrusion beams. Those were a heavy panel to make, they were so thick. We had great difficulty even with a 100 tonne press getting down tight with the dies to bend the stainless for that part. This is the inside door panels with all the ridges in it. We used to have to take several swipes on each one to get down to the bottom of the die. The dies had what were called witness dimples in them, so the last thing to get pressed when they closed fully were these dimples, and then you’d know the press had been fully engaged and closed. We surely sent a lot of panels to Belfast without hitting the dimples! (Laughs…)

Some parts were made in presses in Germany – we had a special dispensation to allow them into Ireland without clearing customs.

John: Ah of course, this was before the open EU market.

Michael: yes, so we were allowed to bring them into Carlow and ship them onto Belfast without customs clearance, which was a great help to us.

Some of the Master Panels which Michael saved
(the pieces with surface rust are mild steel test runs)

John: Which parts came in from Germany?

Michael: We made everything in Carlow except for the main inner door panel.

John: Who applied the brushed finish to the panels – DMC, Lapple or British Steel?

Michael: the brushing was done at the steel mill by British Steel. Most panels required a draw stage at the start, to put the basic shape into the panel. Because the panels were brushed stainless, they were not really smooth enough to allow the metal to flow in the dye when it was closing, so we had to use a special type of lubrication. We experimented a lot with this. The first type was a kind of film you put over it, which had to be peeled off afterwards. That in itself was a major problem because after pressing it ended up as lots of small pieces and had to be peeled off by hand while trying not to damage the brushed finish. I can remember having really sore hands from pulling this plastic off!

John: Did you try an oil solution next?

Michael: We tried various things. We started leaving the plastic film off and as we put the die into the press we used a spray from a paint gun jig on the press, and sprayed onto the panel. This worked on some panels but not on others. We ended up using a dry lubricant on it, supplied by British Steel. It was an extra operation which British Steel had to do to the stainless sheets before they supplied it to us. That was one of the many problems we had on the DMC project.

John: What would have been the percentage of successful stampings?

Michael: You could have up to 20 percent failure, and they would have been scrapped. Once you got a split for instance, you couldn’t do anything – couldn’t weld it as the time involved in welding it and rebrushing it wasn’t worth it. You could do it with inner panels, and we did – we had a permanent rework department dealing with small splits in panels such as the inner door panels. Stainless steel is particularly difficult to press when compared to aluminum or mild steel, and it caused all kinds of splitting problems. The skin panels had to be right, and the failure rate was high on them.

John: How many set’s of panels do you think you made? Like given they only made 8000 cars in the end…

Michael: Honestly couldn’t tell you – I would have known at the time as I would have had records.

John: when DMC went under – did you scrap panels?

Michael: yes – a lot of panels were scrapped, so we could have made around 12,000 sets or even more.

The whole project was full of modifications as we went along, for saftey reasons.

John: Yes, one example is that in the very earliest panels, the indicator hole was closer to the edges of the fenders…

Michael: well we were forever moving holes and piercings. There were a lot of saftey issues as we progressed which had to be resolved which changed the position of some features, so anything pressed and still in stock at that stage would have been scrapped – part and parcel of the job.

John: From the DMC bankruptcy, there was a company in ohio called Consolidated International which bought a huge amount of DMC inventory such as panels, doors etc. These panels still exist today, now owned by a new company called DeLorean Motor Company Texas which restores DMC’s and sell original parts. Can you remember if Consolidated bought any parts from Lapple or would they have bought simply what was in the DMC Belfast inventory.

Michael: they would have bought off DMC, as the assembly on the doors was done in Belfast. There was a funny situation – long after we finished with DeLorean. We did everything to recover our losses, and part of this was we sold the tools. The tools could have been up to 25 tonnes weight – massive big lumps of cast iron.

John: Were these owned by DMC or Lapple?

Michael: As part of the deal, we ended up owning them, and could dispose of them. We sold them to a scrap steel dealer in Galway, who sold them onto the fish farms off the west coast where they were used as anchors to hold down lobster cages.

John: Do you remember how much they were sold for?

Michael: Well, they were sold by the tonne. They would have been worth 3 to 4 million – 30 or 40 tools, but we sold them at 30 pounds a tonne or something like that. We definitely made less than 100,000 on them – I think it was only 80 or 90k.

John: And so they were made from cast iron?

Michael: yes. A high quality cast iron with lots of chromium in it. It was wear resistant, and would have had a hardening process performed on the surface.

John: So, 25 years of sitting in salt water, if they were brought back up would they be any good>?

John: No – they’d be badly corroded. We would have had problems with them just keeping them in storage without constantly oiling them. If dies aren’t oiled they rust away to bits. You get pitmarks in the surface very quickly which would be detrimental to any production runs afterwards.

John: so any notions of going fishing in Galway bay would be a waste of time?

Michael: Yes, it would be cheaper to make new tools, definitely. All the sliding surfaces and guiding surfaces on the dies would be destroyed. There would have been a certain amount of dismantling done on them also. The sliding surfaces on the big dies would have had rear plates in brass, and we would have separated them and sold the brass separately.

John: Ok, so they were put beyond use even before they were dumped at sea?

Michael: Yes, they would have been damaged. I remember the big tools being hauled off, but the smaller ones would have been sent back to Germany and melted down at the foundry.

John: Would these dies have been stronger than usual to be able to produce Stainless panels?

Michael: Yes, and they would have been repaired constantly. They had to be continually welded and resurfaced on the hard edges due to wear. You would notice the actual feature line on the car start to disappear. At times, you couldn’t match an old panel with a new one because when you put them on the car they wouldn’t line up. There was a tolerance in which we had to operate and start to rework the tools as soon as quality dropped, but there would be a marked deteoration as the run went on.

John: What about the changes in the hood design – why were they done?

Michael: I never knew why they removed the gasflap feature, but I believe it was a safety issue. As well as that, it was easier to make without it, and without the lines. That panel was particularly difficult to make due to it being so flat. There were strength problems with it, and a bowing effect which continually hounded us even with the plastic backing on it.

John: One of the problems with the hood over the years is that the hood starts to show the shape of the fiberglass backing through it, so a combination of the metal sagging in the non-supported areas, and people brushing the hood too hard when polising it.

Michael: Not surprised! (laughs)…

John: Did you produce any other parts of the car, or was it just the bodypanels?

Michael: Just the panels. We would have been given the plastic models, supplied by some model making company in Germany. These would have had the definitive shape, then we would have had to work to produce tools to fit these models. Our inspection process would have compared the shape of our panel with the shape of the model. We had all these plastic models in Lapple as well – but they were all dumped. Millions of pounds worth of stuff – all that is very expensive to make.

John: I guess people never knew how collectable the cars would be someday – it was just sent to the bin.

Michael: I was aware of it happening, and it broke my heart to see this stuff going out, honestly. I knew that at some stage, they would be a part of the history of the car, but the people in power at the time were going by the book, and that’s the decision they made.

John: When DMC started getting into trouble, they cut back production and laid off a lot of staff. Eventually production shutdown. What effect did this have on Lapple? Were there layoff’s?

Michael: I don’t think there were layoff’s – I wasn’t laid off anyway! I think as DeLorean was slowing down, our work was picking up elsewhere. With DeLorean we were struggling all along anyway, constantly in a firefighting situation. It wasn’t an easy project.

A close up of one of the Master Panel Inspection stickers

John: Do you think you’d ever buy one?

Michael: A DeLorean? I’d love to have one, yeah! I thought about it at the time but didn’t have the money and didn’t pursue it. I do remember the cars being for sale in Belfast.

Margaret: It’s lovely to actually see one in the flesh here – it’s really nice. You’ll have to get a photograph sitting in it Michael…

John: Was Lapple owed money at the end?

Michael: Overall Lapple did very well. It was a lot of work, and it was good work for us. It gave us a lot of experience which led to other contracts. We would have never had a reason to have had so many presses for a start, but we were able to transfer the business to other companies. If it wasn’t for DeLorean, we would have never gone after that work in the first place, and would probably have never had so much employment in Carlow. So, we were lucky – after DeLorean it was just a matter of going out and finding work, which we did quite easily, as we had built up a good reputation. Most of the work we got after DeLorean was quite difficult – we got a lot of stainless steel work and aluminum work for others – Volvo in particular was one of the big contracts we got after DeLorean, and it was purely because we had the expertise gained through the DeLorean project.

John: It must have been great for Carlow town – at one stage you had about 350 people employed?

Michael: Yes, and the majority were employed in the tool room. At one stage we had over 120 there, which varied over the years.

John: I’ve read that the recession in the auto industry throughout the 80’s led to some layoff’s and eventual restructuring in 1993, but by 1997 you were a world leader again, with staff numbers in Carlow back up to 275 employees. So, where did it go wrong for Lapple in the end?

Michael: Yes, that’s true. I think it came down to labour costs – it was too expensive here, and we couldn’t compete with the eastern european countries. A lot of the motor manufactures we supplied to shifted their business to places like Turkey. In the press shop, we were dependent on the viability of the British car assembly plants. They went into decline, and we just couldn’t do anything about that. One after another – there was Halewood, Southampton, Iveco, etc. Iveco was actually the first contract we got after DeLorean, we made components for their cargo trucks. We had some work with a Mercedes plant in Graz, Austria – that was making their boxy 4 wheel drive ML Jeeps. They were a very difficult panel to make. But as the British motor industry went down and down, we got into trouble. The problem with panels is the massive transport cost. For example with DeLorean – you’d only fit 8 panels to a stillage and a max of 16 stillages to a trailer. So, you’d only have 128 panels for a full transport load to Belfast, which wasn’t really on. So, if you had to go further afield to an assembly plant in mainland Europe, you were really in trouble. Most panelshops locate right beside the assembly shop – for example we had our own press shop right beside the BMW assembly plant in South Africa and we had a little internal train system to supply them. So, for us in Carlow, trying to supply companies from the edge of Europe was just not economical – unless you were supplying to John DeLorean! He had plenty of money!

John: So was it always road transport to Belfast, and the occasional helicopter?

Michael: Yes, all road transport. Northern Ireland Carriers were the main transport people. We also used a local haulier called Brian Keogh. His company still operates under the same name, and he did a lot of the work for us.

Margaret: you’ve a better memory that you though you had!

John: In JZD’s autobiography, he says that the dies were destroyed under instruction from Maggie Thatcher’s government – she didn’t want any more DMC’s built so she had the dies dumped in Galway bay.

Michael: There’s no truth in that whatsoever. Maggie pulled the plug on John Delorean, stopped supplying him money, and that’s the reason why everything happened after that. They say she had had enough and that she’d handover no more taxpayers money.

John: Did you ever have any US investors trying to purchase the dies?

Michael: Not until they were well and truly under the sea. We did have an aggressive enquiry at one stage, but it was far too late.

John: Did you know they made a few gold plated DMC’s for the Amex Gold card catalog?

Michael: (laughs!). No – had nothing to do with that, we never saw any of those in the workshop!

John: What do you think of stainless steel as a metal for cars?

Michael: It’s very striking and seems to have been very long lasting. It’s a very permanent and very strong material, but the difficulties in production are horrendous. There are new welding techniques now such as laser which would work quite well on it, but again the cost is excessive. Aluminum is a much more forgiving metal – much easier to shape and press, and has the same anti-corrosion  properties. Aluminum is probably safer also, crumplewise – much nicer properties.

John: I guess the only downside to aluminum is that you couldn’t leave it bare metal – you would have oxidation on the surface.

Michael: No, you couldn’t.

John: So stainless is the only metal which would have worked for the baremetal look JZD was going for?

Michael: Absolutely.

John: What’s it like to see a DeLorean after all these years?

Michael: it’s great – I’d seen some photographs over the years and often wondered about them, but I’d never sat in one. It’s an awful prospect to imagine getting in and out of one of them every day, I think it’s a young man’s sport! But, it’s very very interesting. I’d never seen the substructure under the stainless before either.

Michael driving a DeLorean for the first time

John: So, overall is DeLorean a good memory for you?

Michael: Oh yes, but it had it’s horrendous moments. It was a very difficult project to be involved in with those kinds of production problems. Most other projects we had lasted a lot longer than DeLorean, but we were very sad to see it go. We were told that it was a very close call, that Delorean could have done very well but that due to a number of factors it went down instead of up. From what we were told, the British Government pulled the plug a bit too early. If they had held on it might have survived. There’s never been anything like it since. But, that’s the way – we got good employment out of it, and Lapple was a good employer too.

John: What do you work at now?

Michael: I setup my own business making handmade classical guitars. Thanks to Lapple, I got my training in industrial design, and a lot of contacts in the industry also. After Lapple I went to Spain and got some training from an old guitar maker. I was always into a bit of handiwork -

Margaret:  He only built this house and everything in it - he's too modest!

Michael: (laughs) Well I systematically set about designing a new kind of guitar top. Alec my youngest son was in college at the time studying classical guitar - he's a professional guitar player. There was a definite need there for a loud, sweet guitar, so I set about the process of developing a new guitar. It's all over the world now at this stage, and played by the biggest names, so it's going very well and I'm very happy with it.

John: Wow, that's great! Well that’s all my questions, it’s been very interesting to hear all those memories! Thanks so much to you and Margaret for your time.

Michael: you’re welcome – it was great to think back to those days, very enjoyable.

End of Interview.



At the end of the interview, we got a few pictures of Michael sitting in the car, and seeing as he was enjoying the car so much, I offered to let him drive the car. We drove about 10 miles around Carlow, and I think the DMC bug may have bitten Michael after the experience of finally driving a DMC after 28 years!

Michael then very generously offered his collection of Master panels to me! I was amazed at the offer, told him he should hang onto them as a keepsake, or at least think about it for a few days, but he said he'd prefer to see someone who'd appreciate them have them to mind. They had been sitting in his shed for 18 years, and he didn't mind passing them on.

Needless to say, I can't thank Michael enough for this gesture, and will mind these panels forever.

For anyone thinking about travelling to Ireland for the 30th anniversary celebrations of the first DeLorean built - Eurofest 2011 - these panels will be on display for all to see.

Hope you enjoyed this interview - check back often as new interviews are posted to our website!