Throughout the trial Cristina Ferrare De Lorean, 34, had seemed a model of wifely constancy. Not perhaps as patient as Penelope, who waited 20 years for her husband, Odysseus, to get home, but more than you might expect of a modern woman whose man had been busted by the feds with $24 million worth of cocaine and faced the possibility of years in the clink. After John was acquitted on August 16, she fell into his arms, sobbing with joy. One friend called the elegant former model "John's Rock of Gibraltar," and De Lorean, 59, said he wanted to win so he could spend time with her. Yet it was apparently during the trial itself that the Rock began to crumble.

So went the official line on the couple's "trial separation" as relayed last week by Howard Weitzman, De Lorean's attorney. "The pressures apparently got too much for them," he said. "These people have stayed together under the most difficult of pressures. I don't know how they managed to do it. Cristina was there day and night. John was there day and night. They decided to take a little bit of a break."

Cristina's friends are essentially the same tight-lipped clatch of Beverly Hills wives who protected Joanna Carson when she broke with Johnny. Yet one intimate says Cristina was tagging her furniture as early as August in preparation for a move from her parents' modest home in West L.A., where John continues to reside. With their children—Zachary, 13, and Kathryn, 7—about to embark on a new school year, it was, says this intimate, "a perfect time to split." Friends say she has since leased a mock-Tudor house in the Brentwood section of L.A.

The specific reasons offered for the break are varied. One newspaper reporter, who got to know Cristina well during the trial, speculates that the De Loreans are separating for the sake of their bank books. "God knows what will happen to him in Detroit," the reporter says, alluding to De Lorean's legal entanglements involving alleged mismanagement of $17.7 million. "This way she has a clean financial slate herself."

Other intimates speak of a rift that developed when Cristina accepted her job at KABC-TV as co-host of A.M. Los Angeles. "The reason John and Cristina are separating," says a New York-based publicist, "is that he did not want her to work." Despite her husband's reservations, some early reviews suggest she's well-suited to the talk show role. Her bouncy charm compensates for a certain naiveté about current affairs. In an interview with an athlete, for instance, she needed to be told that the U.S. had boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

"The whole point," said still another friend, "is that for two years she took herself out of commission to be in the courtroom. She wants to carve out a new life." Cristina's career as a model has largely played out and her attempt to segue into showbiz did not pan out. According to Al Lowman, Cristina's literary agent and friend, her two-year ordeal as John's ever-present courtroom companion caused her "to grow up fast." He observes that "she was the one to declare the bankruptcy of De Lorean Motors while he was in jail. She was the one who was dealing like crazy to raise his bail. She saw, in fact, that she could call the shots, do what was necessary."

"There is an old Freudian notion," adds Lowman: " 'There is only growth through separation.' "

Meanwhile, according to an intimate of De Lorean, "He's taking it [the breakup] harder than the cocaine trial. His family was all John had left. The money is gone, the power and the prestige. He's got nothing, while Cristina's got everything going for her. Ever since he was arrested, people have been telling her, 'You're young, you're beautiful, you've got your whole life in front of you. What do you need him for?' "

Fourteen months ago both John and Cristina were baptized born-again Christians. According to Weitzman, "nobody's talking divorce," and both are currently receiving marriage counseling at the Beth Ariel Fellowship in Brentwood. On a recent Sunday De Lorean attended the fellowship's service in a Brentwood school auditorium. Ironies abounded, ranging from the initial hymn (My Hiding Place Is in the Lord) to the tone of the sermon (Satan's Trying to Get You). Several people rose to testify, including a man in his 20s who said he was a management trainee in the automobile business and was having a struggle to be a Christian and get promoted at the same time. John De Lorean, the former Boy Wonder of Detroit, had to chuckle.