July 29, 1974 12:00 PM

It was the Grand Prix of old-school male-chauvinist macho—6’4″, $600,000-a-year G.M. exec John DeLorean versus auto racer-wheeler dealer Roger Penske to see how many big-name beauties each could date and dump. DeLorean had racked up a Kissinger-length list—Ursula Andress, Joey Heatherton—before he spotted a shot of model Cristina Ferrare in Vogue. They first went out in mid-December of 1972, and by January she had moved in with him. Then about two months later, Cris packed up and delivered an ultimatum: “It’s now or never. Either we get married—or drop dead.” In May the once-previously-wed supermodel became the third Mrs. John Zachary DeLorean.

Since his match-up with Ferrare, DeLorean has finally, at age 49 (she is 24), learned to sublimate his swinger instincts into his business life. Just a month before their marriage, John, the odds-on heir apparent to the corporate presidency, electrified Detroit by renouncing his G.M. career for a year’s nonpaying tour as head of the National Alliance of Businessmen, an organization promoting employment opportunities for minorities. That completed, he is now a self-employed tycoon with interests everywhere: a Cadillac dealership in Florida; a piece of the New York Yankees and San Diego Chargers; an avocado ranch in California; cattle holdings in Idaho and itinerant speech-making at $4,000 a shot. Cristina, meanwhile, is still at the top of her trade, pulling in $100 an hour as a model, plus a probable $150,000 annual retainer as the Max Factor Girl. Her sideline is movies, and she costars with David Carradine in her next one, Mary, Mary, Bloody Mary, out in the fall.

Both John and Cristina came from nowhere, and the Midwest, to their present celebrity. Daughter of a Cleveland butcher, Cris was propelled into modeling by her mother at 15, got a film (The Impossible Years) at 16 and so many assignments that she never finished UCLA. John, the car-crazy son of a setup man in a Ford foundry in Detroit, earned a B.S. at Michigan’s Lawrence Institute of Technology and two master’s degrees at night school. He started as an engineer at Packard and was credited with 200 patents and participated in numerous innovations (the recessed windshield wiper, the Pontiac wide-track look) on his way to becoming, at 44, the youngest Chevrolet division boss in G.M. history.

His next promotion—to group v.p. of all car and truck production—was one of the causes of his sudden departure from G.M. “When I was running a division,” DeLorean explains, “I was a quarterback, and when I got into a staff job, I was suddenly one of the guys who owned the stadium. I felt I still had a few years of quarterback in me.” A few old-line auto executives (“the old stuffs,” Cris calls them) had already been disturbed by DeLorean’s indiscreet press statements and life-style, and did not mourn his defection.

In some Detroit circles, DeLorean came to be as welcome as Ralph Nader—whom he has begun to sound like. “Now you take some poor guy,” he says, “who spent all the money he has for a new car, and he can’t get the darn thing fixed. Then he reads that G.M. made $3 billion and the chairman earned $900,000. Well Christ, he has got to listen to the consumer advocate.” Naturally, a man of DeLorean’s ego spends some of his 12-to 14-hour workdays at the drawing board on the problem. “I’ve had the dream of someday building the ultimate, obsolescent-proof car—sort of an American Rolls or Mercedes.” He is also trying to design another dream-machine—a commuter car for under $2,000.

John’s regimen is different from what it was at G.M., for one of the other reasons he left was that the job kept him from seeing his son “Z.T.” (for Zachary Thomas). Z.T., now 2½, visits Daddy almost daily at the office, which is only five minutes from home. The boy was adopted during John’s three-year second marriage (to another model half his age, Kelly Harmon, daughter of All-American Tom Harmon). Neither John nor Cris had kids by their first marriages (his, to a secretary, lasted 14 years; hers, to her former manager, three). They plan to adopt more children and hope to have several of their own. “John is always teasing me,” says Cris, “because I’m continually taking my temperature to find out when I’m most fertile. I’ve been to the doctor, we’re using pillows—everything.” Meanwhile, they are pleased by Z.T.’s adjustment to his new mother. “He’s a different boy,” she says. “He almost never smiled before—and never with his eyes.”

His previous reputation aside, the DeLoreans have become homebodies—in four homes in four states. John is a jock and fitness nut, who jogs, golfs in the 70s with buddy Arnold Palmer and bombs around in the family’s 22 assorted cars, motorcycles and trucks. Her hobby is homemaking, and despite what she calls “this silly game, where he says, ‘I’m the boss,’ ” Cris maintains, “there is no boss. I run our house, but I run it in a way to please my man. Still I do it my way.” He calls her a “very feminine feminist” and thinks her continuing career is “good for both of us. It’s easy for the average housewife to get very dull.” Besides, he adds practically, “she supported me last year, while I worked for disadvantaged people. Now I’m going to support her for a year. Next year, we’ll decide whose turn it is.”

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