The cocaine, the lies, the hopes betrayed, the families broken, the reputations ruined -- all of it in the headlines, on the TV screens, year after year -- seem by now to have reduced John DeLorean's spectacular fall to the trivial proportions of some prime-time soap opera.

But yesterday, when DeLorean pleaded not guilty in Detroit to a second set of criminal charges arising from the 1982 collapse of his renowned car company (he was acquitted of the first charges a year ago), a new episode of the tale began to unfold. And at last its numb public can see beyond the cocaine to the real poison at the core. It is the poison of two ambitious men, once close, who have for years been trying to tear each other apart.

In books, in television interviews, to virtually anyone who will listen, they recite their conflicting versions of the feud -- and make accusations so vehement, it is difficult to know whom to believe.

"He's a guy who basically would do anything for money," says John DeLorean of William Haddad. "So I think clearly he belongs to the first circle [of hell]."

"He was cruel. He was vindictive," says Haddad, a former DeLorean Motor Co. executive and the man perhaps most responsible for the federal charges now pending against his one-time mentor. "He tried to discredit me."

The immediate causes of this confrontation are legal and literary. A few weeks ago, just as he was preparing to launch a national tour to promote his new autobiography, "DeLorean," the once-exalted auto magnate was indicted on racketeering, mail fraud and tax evasion charges. Meanwhile, Haddad published his own book, "Hard Driving: My Years With John DeLorean," and himself embarked on a cross-country publicity junket.

Both speak eloquently and bitterly about the collapse of their shared dream. But of the pair, it is Haddad who most clearly articulates the contamination still lingering in his and other lives three years since DeLorean was first arrested and his company declared bankrupt.

"There's no pleasure in this," Haddad said in a recent interview, after talking with growing passion for two hours about the web of charges and countercharges at issue between himself and John DeLorean. "I cried when I saw John in handcuffs. When my wife told me how John looked on television [the other day], I'm glad I didn't see it. I don't feel comfortable being the antagonist. I don't feel comfortable being on the book tour. I really don't. I'm not going to lie about it . . .

"What great social purpose is going to come of this? I mean, if I wrote a book about changing something, it would be different . . . But what the hell is putting John in jail going to do? It's not going to solve anything."

The irony is that John DeLorean and William Haddad first joined forces precisely because they wanted to change the world.

An intense, disheveled man whose street savvy and blunt profanity contrast sharply with DeLorean's jet-set persona, Haddad was a devotee of the Great Society -- a former investigative reporter, soldier in the war on poverty, associate director of the Peace Corps, and campaign aide to Robert F. Kennedy who had moved back and forth during the late 1960s and early '70s between careers in journalism, business and politics.

He was mesmerized by the dashing, 6-foot 4-inch DeLorean, who resigned from his position as a high-ranking General Motors executive in 1973 and announced startling plans to build on his own a gull-winged, high-performance, "ethical" sports car. DeLorean was both playboy and populist: He cavorted in Hollywood and married a starlet 20 years his junior, declaring at the same time that "the automotive industry has lost its masculinity." He criticized General Motors and other bastions of the corporate establishment for discriminating against minorities, ignoring safety, and placing short-term profits before long-term business planning.

"John sold us our dreams," Haddad recalls. "He stuck his tongue out at GM. He really busted his ass and risked his career to do things for minorities . . . I watched John pay for his liberalism. I watched a guy put his career where his words were, which was so much different from my circle of northern liberal friends who at a cocktail party would write out a $25 check."

So when DeLorean announced that he was going to do what no businessman had dared to do before -- that he was going to build his new DeLorean factory in impoverished West Belfast, at the axis of sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland -- Haddad quit his job as an investigative reporter for the New York Post and joined DeLorean as his vice president in charge of planning and public relations.

"John changed [West Belfast]," Haddad says, his eyes and voice excited by the memory of what once was good and honorable about DeLorean Motor Co. "There was a bog, then there was a factory, then there were jobs. You had fathers and sons who had jobs for the first time . . . It was really exciting as hell. I couldn't think of anything more challenging, other than the Peace Corps, in my life. I tell you, I was flying."

At first, the company soared as well. DeLorean's Belfast factory was mercifully exempted from violent attack. Two thousand jobs were created; Catholics worked the assembly line side by side with Protestants. Haddad and DeLorean were exhilarated by the miracle they had worked. They drew six-figure salaries and counted the stock options that would make them enormously rich if the company ever became successful enough to sell shares to the public.

"John had a way," Haddad says. "If only he had done it, step by step by step. He had a fabulous concept -- get the money from governments that wanted jobs, put your project where it's going to solve social problems . . . He could have been -- can you imagine it?"

But by 1980, Haddad says, he began to see a side of John DeLorean that he had failed to see before. And no matter whose version one believes about what happened next, it was then that the seeds of DeLorean's dramatic collapse were sown.

John DeLorean argues that William Haddad was from the beginning an undercover intelligence agent sent by a foreign government to destroy his company.

"I mean, that's very clear now," he says. Precisely which foreign power sent Haddad to undermine him, DeLorean does not say, though he makes it plain that he sees Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in Great Britain as a leading suspect. (Haddad says in response, "It's difficult to answer such a fantasy question. I'm not involved in intelligence. I loved that company. I wanted it to work.")

DeLorean, the once-proud corporate mogul, remains a striking and commanding figure: silver-haired, deeply tanned, immaculately dressed. There is about him the air of a man accustomed to deference and respect. As he spoke about his enemies and his failings and his future in a posh New York hotel room recently, his familiar thick black eyebrows rose and fell like the synchronized staffs of a cavalry general. When a photographer snapped his picture, he pointed to the more attractive side of his face and joked that despite his reputation as a socialite and womanizer, he hasn't had a date in more than a year.

For DeLorean, the recollection of his early relationship with Haddad, during the time when all of Northern Ireland seemed alive with the promise of his car company, evokes only bitterness. "Haddad fooled me," he says. He remembers Haddad calling him "almost the day we signed our agreement with Northern Ireland" and bragging that his close relationship with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) would help smooth DeLorean's dealings with Belfast's Catholics. DeLorean says that Haddad told him, "Ted Kennedy calls me every day for advice."

"It never occurred to me to check him out," DeLorean recalls. "I wanted to believe him so much and it seemed like a possibility. I didn't know what I was going into."

Haddad says that he never overstated to DeLorean his relationship with the Kennedys. He says that he worked for the Kennedy administration for three years, and although "I've known him since he was a kid . . . I would never say that about Teddy."

The crucial break came, Haddad writes in his book, on Dec. 26, 1980, the day he wrote a private memo to DeLorean in which he stated his growing concern about a list of financial irregularities he saw inside the company.

DeLorean claims that the memo was typed up by Haddad sometime after the date given. "I wrote that damn memo on Dec. 26," Haddad counters vehemently. "Ellen typed the damn thing . . . She put it on his goddam desk." Ellen Kugler, Haddad's assistant, confirms that she typed the memo as Haddad claims.

The memo set off a chain of events leading eventually to the bankruptcy of DeLorean Motor Co. (and ultimately, to DeLorean's own arrest on cocaine trafficking charges while trying desperately to raise money). A few months after Haddad says he wrote it, the memo landed in the hands of the British government when a disaffected DeLorean secretary took a shopping bag full of documents from her boss' office and flew to England to tell all. Some of the transactions it described are contained in the 15-count indictment handed down against DeLorean last month.

The memo cuts to the heart of DeLorean and Haddad's contentious dispute over why DeLorean's company sank so quickly into financial ruin.

Haddad contends in his book and in interviews that the company "was a scam from the beginning," that before the factory was even built DeLorean had personally siphoned off millions from the American tax partnerships and British grants that funded the venture. As a result, Haddad says, "There was no way a third party could rescue that company" when it got in trouble -- "no way, because anybody who got in the books would see what DeLorean had done . He had to save himself. Whatever he did or tried to do was not to save the company but to save himself."

DeLorean denies that he manipulated his company's books or stole any money. He portrays himself as victim, not villain, arguing that between Haddad's work on the inside and the Thatcher government's policies on the outside, his company was deliberately bankrupted -- thus pushing him into such an agitated, desperate state that he eventually wound up in a Los Angeles hotel room with a pair of federal drug agents and a suitcase full of cocaine.

"When the British government changed and the Conservatives came in, it was obvious they weren't going to support the project anymore," DeLorean explains. "They were concerned that substantial income paid to Catholic families [who worked in his factory] could somehow end up in the hands of the Irish Republican Army in terms of weapons. That's how that all came about."

His own "egomania," he concedes, contributed to his fall. "The minute the British government said, 'We're not going to honor this agreement,' I should have said, 'Hey, there isn't a chance in the world now to succeed. We're going to take a walk.' . . . That's what I should have done, but my ego wouldn't let me."

According to Haddad, however, it was not Thatcher but DeLorean himself who created "this hostile relationship" between the company and the British government.

"Nobody could have started this company but John," Haddad says. "But John destroyed it."

At times, the venomous history of DeLorean and Haddad moves deep into the realm of subterfuge and dirty tricks and begins to sound like some kind of automotive Watergate.

There is, for example, the matter of a confidential personal file on DeLorean compiled by General Motors and purchased by Haddad in 1981 from a Detroit private detective. DeLorean and Haddad agree that Haddad bought the file with a DeLorean Motor Co. check while he was still in the company's employ. What they disagree about is whether Haddad acquired the report in order to destroy DeLorean's reputation with the British government.

Around the time that DeLorean left GM, he made a stinging speech critical of the company's management. The talk was meant to be confidential, but its text was leaked to the press, angering GM executives. DeLorean suggested that GM hire a private detective to discover the source of the leak, but the investigation was eventually transformed into one of DeLorean himself. After DeLorean left the company, the file from that investigation sat dormant in the offices of a Detroit detective agency.

Haddad says that he received a call from an intermediary in 1981 asking if DeLorean might like to buy the file from a detective named C.J. Pickrell. He says that he asked DeLorean what to do, and that DeLorean instructed him to make the purchase. "I went to John. He asked me to get it. He not only asked me to get it . . . he pushed me on it. I never gave it to anybody [except John]." Haddad refers in his book to memos that he alleges support his contention.

DeLorean, however, says that he never authorized Haddad to buy the file, and that he suspects Haddad was in cahoots with GM to destroy DeLorean Motor Co. "All of a sudden Haddad came up with [the file]," says DeLorean. "Now, where did he hear about it? He doesn't know anybody in Detroit. Obviously, GM led him to it. Then he, without my permission, took a company check, he paid the guy, bought the report. And ultimately, he supplied it to the British government, again, with the thought of somehow discrediting me . . . He did this while we thought he was a loyal employe."

Then, too, there is a document that Haddad himself still carries with him, a four-page, single-spaced memo on blank paper stamped "Confidential" and titled, "Background Profile of William Haddad."

The memo purports to list a number of instances during Haddad's career when he has informed on his associates and employers. It also includes personal credit information about Haddad. He denies the memo's allegations. Haddad says that DeLorean compiled the document and has distributed it to reporters, a charge that DeLorean, in turn, denies.

In West Belfast, across from the dreary Twinbrook flats that are home to thousands of working-class Catholics, the DeLorean Motor Co.'s once cheering factory is today a rusting shell. "People don't hope in Belfast anymore," says Haddad. "I mean, nobody's draggin' around all day long. But there's not hope, there's no vision, there's no future."

DeLorean, too, says, "I think the victims are those poor workers. They needed the jobs so badly."

Hurt, too, were DeLorean's two children, Zachary and Kathryn. As all the world must know by now, DeLorean's third wife, fashion model and actress Cristina Ferrare, filed for divorce immediately after her husband's acquittal on cocaine charges a year ago. She moved in shortly thereafter with a television executive with whom, DeLorean writes in his book, Cristina had been having an affair during the last months of his trial. DeLorean says that his children "are a basket case . . . It's been a tremendous emotional strain and a drain on them."

Asked if he thinks they will eventually recover, DeLorean, a self-proclaimed born-again Christian, paraphrases Nietzsche: "Anything that does not kill you makes you stronger. And that literally is true."

"It's a human tragedy for himself and his children particularly," Haddad concedes. "You know, what do you say to your son? I wish he would just 'fess up, get it all over with, start all over again, really be 'born again.' "

Haddad says that he and his family have suffered, too -- that investigating the charges against DeLorean contained in his book, and writing the book itself, were not acts of vengeance, but of survival. He feels vindicated by DeLorean's second indictment, because when he first charged DeLorean with financial manipulations, few would listen to him. In the midst of their feud, Haddad says, DeLorean "went up to Belfast and said that my papers were fraudulent, and forgeries . . . A lot of people I knew, when I talked to them -- it may have been me -- but I felt the relationships had changed. And I didn't have any forum, I didn't have any institution. The book became the opportunity to collect the facts."

DeLorean's book paints the story of his rise and fall as Shakespearean in scope and theme, with the source of its human carnage to be found in his own tragic flaw, "egomania." He writes powerfully about his conversion to Christianity while confined to the federal prison at Terminal Island. "I was living a lie. I was an egomaniac, out of control . . . " he writes. "I was a broken man, struck down, a humbled man with no place to turn."

Even now, as he awaits trial in relative comfort -- living, while not on his book tour, in his luxurious Manhattan apartment or at his 430-acre, $3.5 million New Jersey estate -- he says, convincingly, that he is but a "shadow of my former shadow."

Then he shifts the blame from himself to his persecutors in the Justice Department. "They've totally destroyed me," he says. "Everything I own in the world essentially has either been taken away from me or tied up. I've got nothing. And here they go, they take a couple of their rich friends like E.F. Hutton and Jackie Presser . . . and they're excused. And they take some poor little schmo -- even if I am guilty of something, I've already paid the price three times over."

In the end, however, what is most poignant about John DeLorean's plight is not his view of himself as a "poor little schmo," however accurate that view may be. What is more interesting, and more touching, is his struggle to survive, to live in dignity with himself until the end of his days. In some ways, it is a struggle Haddad and DeLorean share, and the bitterness they express is part of it. But DeLorean is also searching privately for peace -- through the physical touch of strangers.

Last spring, he joined a new church in Van Nuys, Calif. He did it not because he was dissatisfied with his former parish; rather, he needed what the Church on the Way could offer him. In his book, he describes the church as "a group of believers that does a lot of loving and hugging and praying for each other, which has become especially meaningful to me, a man encased for so long in a shell that would not permit me to feel, love, or care to any deep measure."

"It's hard to explain now," DeLorean says, clearly concerned that his listener might not understand. "But when you talk to people, some people have a tendency to put their hand on you. And that always bothered me all my life, when somebody did that.

"All of a sudden, now I'm in the middle of a church where we're all hugging each other, people you don't know. You're telling your innermost secrets to little old ladies. It's incredible . . . And I feel so comfortable there."