Attorneys for sports car manufacturer John Z. De Lorean said today the federal government may have tried to frighten away legitimate investors in his foundering automobile company so that it could entrap him in a $24 million cocaine deal.

In a 48-page motion filed in U.S. District Court here late today, the attorneys said De Lorean's arrest Oct. 19 on drug trafficking charges was the result of "the extraordinary and illegal efforts of the government informant James Hoffman." They demanded that the government turn over exhaustive information about Hoffman -- allegedly the man De Lorean first contacted seeking drug-trade profits to save his company -- including Hoffman's personal telephone records, bank records, tax returns and the results of any polygraph tests given him.

The discovery motion filed on De Lorean's behalf admitted that he had been "lured into what has been characterized as an ongoing narcotics undercover operation" but said he had done so "unknowingly and unwittingly." De Lorean's attorney said he would defend his client against the nine drug counts on which he has been indicted by arguing illegal government "entrapment and . . . outrageous government conduct."

Besides demanding all government documents and audio and video tapes concerning the case, De Lorean's attorneys said they wanted information "concerning any contacts between the U.S. government and any business associates of defendant, or the De Lorean Motor Co. in Northern Ireland."

"In point of fact, any involvement of defendant De Lorean with the undercover agents in this case was non-criminal, and was designed to obtain funding for the De Lorean Motor Co.," the motion said. "There is a substantial indication that the government may have attempted to induce legitimate sources of income not to deal with De Lorean, in an effort to force him into what the government perceived as a compromising situation with the undercover operatives."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Williams III said tonight the government would respond to the charges in a later filing with the court.

Sources in Britain have indicated that the British government was informed several hours in advance that De Lorean would be arrested. The government had already threatened to close the plant that manufactured De Lorean's unique, stainless steel body sports car in Northern Ireland for unpaid debts, and did so the day of his arrest.

The De Lorean motion also indicated great interest in the role played by the chief government prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney James P. Walsh.

Government sources have said Walsh ordered that De Lorean be put in contact with suspected drug trafficker William Morgan Hetrick, who was also the target of an investigation involving Hoffman; De Lorean, Hetrick and a Hetrick aide named Stephen Lee Arrington were later arrested in what was said to be a scheme to bring $24 million in cocaine into California.

"It appears substantially probable that Mr. Walsh may have been percipient to some of the investigative activities, and thus may be a potential witness in the case," the motion said. "In addition, defendant questions whether the government in this case followed the appropriate procedures for obtaining sting, informant or taping authorizations. Therefore, information is sought concerning the involvement of Mr. Walsh in authorizing these activities."

De Lorean's wife, Cristina Ferrare, said recently in People magazine that De Lorean knew Hoffman because the two were neighbors in northern San Diego County and their children had played together. At the time De Lorean allegedly approached Hoffman in July, Hoffman had already been convicted of drug-trafficking charges and put on probation, and had been an informant in at least two other major drug cases.

Attorneys have said, however, that he had admitted to perjuring himself in an earlier civil case and had been unable to persuade a jury in another major drug case to convict a Lebanese businessman on hashish-trafficking charges.

The motion charged that Hoffman had been criticized by Justice Department officials for his tactics in these cases and often misled both the government and criminal suspects by making innocuous videotaped conversation "appear sinister and illegal."