DeLorean time machine

DeLorean time machine
DeLorean time machine

A side view of the DeLorean outside Back to the Future: The Ride
Plot element from the Back to the Future film series
Publisher Amblin Entertainment
First appearance Back to the Future (1985)
Created by Robert Zemeckis
Genre Science fiction
In-story information
Type Time machine
Function Allows the occupants to travel through time along with the car.

The DeLorean time machine is a fictional automobile-based time travel device featured in the Back to the Future trilogy. In the feature film series, Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown builds a time machine from a DeLorean DMC-12 with the intent of gaining insights into history and the future but instead winds up using it to travel across 130 years of Hill Valley history (from 1885 to 2015) undoing the negative effects of time travel. One of the cars used in filming is currently on display in the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood.



The operation of the DeLorean time machine was consistent throughout all three films. The operator sat inside the DeLorean, (except for the first time when a remote control was used), and turned on the time circuits, activating a unit containing multiple seven-segment displays which showed the destination, present, and last-departed dates and times. After entering a target date, the operator accelerated the car to 88 miles per hour (141.6 km/h) which activated the flux capacitor. As it accelerates, several rails around the body of the car glow blue. Surrounded by large sparks, the whole car vanishes in a flash of blue light seconds later, leaving a pair of fire trails where the vehicle's tires will pass arriving at the destination time. Observers outside the vehicle see an implosion of plasma as the vehicle disappears, while occupants within the vehicle see a quick flash of light and instantaneously arrive at the target time in the same spatial location (relative to the Earth) as when it departed. In the destination time, immediately before the car's arrival, three large and loud flashes issue forth from the point from which the car emerges from its time travel. After the trip, the DeLorean is extremely cold, and frost forms from atmospheric moisture all over the car's body.[1]

A few technical glitches with the DeLorean hindered time travel for its inhabitants; in the original film, the car had starter problems and had a hard time turning over once stopped, much to Marty's repeated frustration.[1] (However, although the car started almost 10 seconds after the alarm Doc set had gone off, the DeLorean still made it to the wire at the exact moment the lightning struck. This may be due to Doc's miscalculation, or the alarm was set too early). In the second movie the time display would act up and show random dates, which partially caused Doc to be sent to 1885.[2] In the third movie the fuel line ripped while driving off-road and the car could not run under its own power (see below).[3]


The time circuits

In Back to the Future, Doc stated that the time machine was electrical but that he needed a nuclear reaction (produced by plutonium stolen from a group of Libyan terrorists) to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity needed.[1] A bolt of lightning was used to power the flux capacitor twice in the series, once with a large pole and hook rigged up to the car to help Marty get back to 1985,[1] and again accidentally in flight to send Doc to 1885.[2] The Mr. Fusion model fusion generator, made by Fusion Industries, which uses garbage as fuel, was installed in place of the nuclear reactor from the first film during Doc's first journey thirty years into the future, 2015, when he also had the hover conversion installed.[1][2] The power source of the flying components is stated in Back to the Future Part III to also be "Mr. Fusion", but the gas engine appears to be running when the car flies. Also a different flying car can be seen getting some type of fuel pumped into it on the roof of a Texaco in 2015 in the second film.[2] In Back to the Future Part III, the DeLorean's fuel line was damaged while fleeing from Indians in 1885, and Doc and Marty's only supply of gasoline was lost. It is stated by Doc that "Mr. Fusion only powers the time circuits and the flux capacitor, but the internal combustion engine runs on ordinary gasoline; it always has." In a desperate attempt to get home, alcohol was used in place of gasoline after the fuel line was patched, destroying the DeLorean's fuel injection manifold. The car never traveled under its own power again, but was pulled by a team of horses and later pushed by an 1880s locomotive.[3]

The power required is pronounced in the film as "one point twenty-one jiggawatts."[1] While the closed-captioning in home video versions spells the word as it appears in the script, jigowatt,[4] the actual spelling matches the standard prefix and the term for power of "one billion watts" : gigawatt. Though obscure, the "j" sound at the beginning of the SI prefix giga- is the correct pronunciation for "gigawatt."[5][6] In the DVD commentary for Back to the Future, Robert Zemeckis stated that he had thought it was pronounced this way because this was how the scientific advisor that he had for the film pronounced it.[7]


Flux capacitor

The flux capacitor, which consisted of a regularly squared compartment with three flashing Geissler style-tubes (arranged in a "Y" configuration), was described by Doc as "what makes time travel possible." The device is the core component of the time machine.[1]

The device was located between the headrests behind the seats and, as the time machine neared 88 mph, light coming from the flux capacitor began pulsing (or as Marty said in the first movie, "fluxing") more rapidly until it became a steady stream. Doc originally conceived the idea for the flux capacitor on November 5, 1955 when he slipped and hit his head on his bathroom sink while standing on the toilet to hang a clock.[1] He presumably worked for the next 30 years acquiring materials and working out the theories of what eventually became the DeLorean time machine in 1985. A similar, but more primitive, flux capacitor is also seen in the front of Doc's second time machine, the Time Train, at the end of Back to the Future Part III.[3]

Although the films do not describe exactly how the flux capacitor works, Doc mentions at one point that the stainless steel body of the DeLorean has a direct and influential effect on the "flux dispersal," but he is interrupted before he can finish the explanation.[1] The flux capacitor requires 1.21 gigawatts of electrical power to operate,[1] equal to 1,210,000,000 watts which, to give a sense of scale, is approximately the output of a single pressurized water reactor at a nuclear power plant.

The instruction manual for the AMT/ERTL Delorean model kit says: "Because the car's stainless steel body improves the flux dispersal generated by the flux capacitor, and this in turn allows the vehicle smooth passage through the space time continuum."[verification needed]

Mr. Fusion

The Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor is the name of a power source used by the DeLorean time machine in the Back to the Future trilogy. It can be seen at the end of Back to the Future when "Doc" Emmett Brown pulls into the McFlys' driveway after a trip to the year 2015, and is an obvious parody of Mr. Coffee machines, which were very popular at the time of filming. The appliance from which the prop was made was actually a Krups "Coffina" model coffee grinder.

The Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor converts household waste to power for the time machine's flux capacitor and time circuits using nuclear fusion (specifically cold fusion). In the film, Mr. Fusion allows the DeLorean time machine to generate the required 1.21 gigawatts needed to travel to any point in time. The energy produced by Mr. Fusion replaces plutonium as the primary power source of the DeLorean's time travel and flight capabilities, allowing the characters to bypass the arduous power-generation requirements upon which the plot of the first film hinged.[1][2] It is never mentioned what Doc Brown did with the remaining plutonium, or if he used it all during unseen trips after he leaves Marty near the end of Back to the Future.

When the DeLorean is parked in a 2015 alleyway, a "Fusion Industries" machine is briefly seen.[2]

Fictional timeline

For most of the first film, the 1.21 gigawatts were supplied by a plutonium-powered nuclear reactor and, with the absence of plutonium, a bolt of lightning channeled directly into the flux capacitor by a long pole and hook in the film's climactic sequence.[1] At the end of the first film, and for the remainder of the trilogy, the plutonium nuclear reactor was replaced by a "Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor" generator possibly acquired in 2015.[2] The "Mr. Fusion" device apparently converts household waste into electrical power. Due to a "hover conversion" made in 2015, the car also became capable of hovering and flight, though it lost this ability at the end of the second film.[2][3]

The DeLorean returned to 1985 and proceeded to travel to October 21, 2015 to stop Marty's future son from committing a crime. While there, the DeLorean was stolen by Biff who then traveled back to November 12, 1955 to give his past self a sports almanac to be used for gambling. Once Biff returned to 2015 without Doc's knowledge, the duo returned to 1985, but found it was an alternate timeline where Hill Valley is ruled by Biff that Doc described as 1985A. The DeLorean then travels back to 1955 to restore the timeline[2], but in the aftermath, it was struck by lightning again in the very same electrical storm, this time by accident, causing it to malfunction, activating the flux capacitor, leaving a twisted fire trail behind. According to the video game adaptation of the series, when the DeLorean was struck by lightning, a temporal duplicate of the car was created unbeknownst to Doc and Marty at the time. This car was flung into the future only to be rescued by Doc on one of his offscreen trips to the future. Doc refers to this duplicate as being "for all intents and purposes the same vehicle as the first." The lightning created an overload and the original DeLorean vanished from 1955, traveling back in time to January 1, 1885 (earlier in the film, Doc had mentioned that the time circuits were not functioning correctly; several instances in the film that show the time circuit display showed 1885 as the destination when the time circuits malfunctioned).[2]

Once in 1885, the DeLorean was then hidden in the Delgado mine for 70 years because suitable replacement parts to replace the DeLorean's destroyed microchip would not be invented until 1947. The DeLorean was recovered from the mine on November 14, 1955 and repaired by Doc Brown's 1955 counterpart, thus restoring it to working order using 1955 components which unfortunately could not restore the Delorean's flying capabilities. While Doc stated he was happy in his new life in 1885 and informed Marty that he was not to attempt to retrieve him, Marty and the Doc of 1955 learn of tragedy to come Doc's way in 1885; therefore, the 1955 Doc agrees to send Marty back to the Old West. Due to a broken fuel line caused by a Native American attack during Marty's re-entry and an attempt to substitute alcohol for fuel which destroyed the fuel injectors, the DeLorean's final trip from September 7, 1885 to October 27, 1985 was partially powered by a steam locomotive pushing the vehicle up to 88 mph while using Mr. Fusion to generate the 1.21 gigawatts required to activate the flux capacitor and break the time barrier.[3]

On October 27, 1985, once the DeLorean made its final trip from 1885, it was destroyed by an oncoming freight train running the opposite direction. Marty was able to bail out of the car moments before the train struck.[3]

Other elements

In the films, the DeLorean time machine was a fictional licensed, registered vehicle in the state of California, where the films take place. The vanity license plate used in the film reads "OUTATIME," a deliberate anomaly, as the maximum digital display on California plates is only 7 digits.[1] When Doc returned from 2015, it was a barcode license plate,[1][2] which implied that by that year license plates have moved to other more sophisticated means of tracking and registering.

Rear view

Although the DeLorean was destroyed at the end of the trilogy, Doc used a steam locomotive, and created a new flux capacitor to create a time machine train, enabling him to return to 1985 (after at least 10 years of work) to see with Clara and their two sons, Jules and Verne, that Marty returned safely. Unlike its predecessor, the Time Train's flux capacitor was steam-powered and located on the front of the vehicle rather than within the passenger area. The locomotive also has the ability to fly and hover after lots of trips, including one back to the future for the hover conversion.[3]

In The Animated Series, Doc built another DeLorean into a time machine, restoring most of its features, including Mr. Fusion and the hover conversion (Doc either rebuilt the one destroyed at the end of part III or he simply built a new one). He also seemingly added the capability to travel through space in addition to time (i. e., appear at a different location than the one it departed), similar to the TARDIS from Doctor Who. The cartoon DeLorean time machine had many add-ons, including a back seat in normal two-door mode, the ability to transform into a four-door, a pop-out covered wagon top, a blimp, a rear video screen, and a voice activated time input.

Behind the scenes


The time machine went through several variations during production of the first film, Back to the Future. In the first draft of the screenplay, the time machine was a laser device that was housed in a room. At the end of the first draft the device was attached to a refrigerator and taken to an atomic bomb test site. Director Robert Zemeckis said in an interview that the idea was scrapped because he did not want children to start climbing into refrigerators and getting trapped inside. In the third draft of the film the time machine was a car, as Zemeckis reasoned that if you were going to make a time machine, you would want it to be mobile.[8] The specific choice of vehicle was a DeLorean DMC-12 for the purposes of it looking like an alien spaceship[9] due to its characteristic gullwing doors. However, in order to send Marty back to the future, the vehicle had to drive into a nuclear test site. Ultimately this concept was considered too expensive to film, so the power source was changed to lightning.[10]

Inside the cabin

When the filmmakers arrived at the point where the time machine would be built into a car, the art department was instructed to come up with designs for the DeLorean. Andrew Probert was the first artist to explore the subject, (before Ron Cobb joined the production), but his designs were deemed "too perfect" for the look the producers wanted, which was to make it look as if it had been built in a garage by Doc Brown. The idea was that it had been constructed with parts found in a hardware and electronics store, so it couldn’t look too sophisticated. It also had to look dangerous, as Producer Bob Gale noted in the DVD commentary for Back to the Future.[9] The task was undertaken by Ron Cobb who added the coils to the back of the vehicle. The nuclear reactor was also a design choice made by Cobb. This choice proved to be important, given the direction the script had taken. Cobb complemented the nuclear reactor with one vent on the back of the car, since it was generally known at the time that nuclear reactors had vents. Once Cobb had left the production, the producers wanted to balance the design with another vent, keeping a symmetrical aesthetic. Probert was asked to step in and he brought the design to its final form. At the end of the first film of the trilogy these vents become the propulsion system for the improved DeLorean, which now had hovering abilities and could reach the time-traveling speed of 88 miles per hour flying. The production design team added other buttons and lights inside the car to make it look more appealing and complex in order for the audience to have something attractive to look at.

Different parts from three 1981 DeLoreans were used in the first film.[citation needed] Liquid nitrogen was poured onto the car for scenes after it had traveled through time to give the impression that it was cold. The base for the nuclear reactor was made from the hubcap from a Dodge Polara. Aircraft parts and blinking lights were added for effect. In one of the first scenes, carbon dioxide extinguishers were hidden inside the DeLorean to simulate the exhaust effect.[11] Ultimately, five real DeLoreans were used in the filming of the trilogy; plus one 'process' car built for interior shots. In the off-road scenes in part III a modified-for-off-road VW Beetle frame was fitted to the DeLorean with the whitewall tires and baby moon hubcaps.[12] A 7th DeLorean was also used in the filming, however, this one was merely a full-sized, fiberglass model used for exterior shots where the vehicle hovers above the set as well as when the actors interact with the vehicle.[13]

Cameos in popular culture

  • The DeLorean time machine makes a cameo in an episode of The Fairly OddParents called, "The Secret Origin of Denzel Crocker!". It is seen departing to some point in time a few seconds before Timmy, Cosmo, and Wanda arrive in the 80's (with the help of a time-traveling scooter). Also in the episode, it reveals that March 15, 1972 is the worst day of Mr. Crocker's life. March 15, 1973 (one year later), is the date that Marty's father, George was murdered by Biff (altered timeline) and rewarded (proper timeline) in Back to the Future Part II.
  • Swedish singer Robyn mentions the DeLorean time machine in her song "Time Machine." The lyric is "All I want is a DeLorean."
  • The future Beastie Boys visit their younger selves using the DeLorean in the short film Fight For Your Right Revisited.
  • The DeLorean and Doc Brown were mentioned in the movie "Knocked Up." Seth Rogan was saying that with the DeLorean he could change the facts and not be due to become a parent.
  • In the cult film Donnie Darko, a film that uses time travel as a key theme, there is a scene between Donnie and his science teacher when they are discussing the possibility of time travel, and Donnie cheekily refers to the DeLorean.
  • In an episode of The Chasers War on Everything, the team berate former Australian Prime Minister John Howard after a political decision by saying that he should go back in time in the DeLorean time machine and change his mind.
  • Mattel's Hot Wheels toy line has created two toy replicas of the time machine: first, as a Japan-only exclusive that was released in 2001; and second, as part of their main toy line in 2011.
  • Kanye West mentions the time machine in his song, 'Good Morning.' "Look at the valedictorians, scared of the future while I hop in the DeLorean."
  • It is featured in the Owl City music video for the single 'Deer in the Headlights'
  • It also appeared behind Lil Wayne in the music video "Look At Me Now."
  • It also appeared in the 2011 remake of "Arthur" starring Russell Brand.
  • In the visual novel Steins;Gate and its anime adaptation, in which the main characters discover a way to send text messages back in time, the messages are dubbed 'DeLorean Mails' or 'D-Mails' for short.
  • The DeLorean makes an appearance in the season 4 episode of American Dad - Delorean Story, and is driven by a 'Back to the Future' fan dressed as Marty McFly racing against Stan for the Gull Wing door.
  • In Driver San Francisco, the DeLorean DMC-12 is an unlockable car. When driven at 88 mph, the camera zooms out and a secret challenge map is unlocked.
  • In Car Town, the DeLorean DMC-12 can be available in 3 configurations, including stock model and Time Machine configurations. The Time Machine configuration can be bought directly from the car dealer or upgraded from stock model.
  • Burnout Paradise features a DeLorean DMC-12 mock up called the Jansen P12 88 Special.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Back to the Future (DVD). 1985. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Back to the Future Part II. 1989. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Back to the Future Part III. 1990. 
  4. ^ "Back to The Future Script" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  5. ^ "definition and pronunciation of gigawatt". Merriam-Webster Feb 2008. 2007-04-25. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  6. ^ "A Practical Guide to the International System of Units, U.S. Metric Association, Feb 2008". 2006-04-05. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  7. ^ Chang, Richard S. "You Say Gigawatt, I Say Jigowatt." The New York Times blog, April 8, 2008.
  8. ^ Zemeckis, Robert; Gale, Bob (1985). The making of Back to the Future (VHS). Universal Pictures. 
  9. ^ a b Zemeckis, Robert; Gale, Bob (2002). Back to the Future: The Complete Trilogy DVD commentary for part 1 (DVD). Universal Pictures. 
  10. ^ Tales From the Future (2010 DVD/Blu-Ray set documentary)
  11. ^ [Back to the Future Trilogy DVD, Production Notes]
  12. ^ Klastorin, Michael; Hibbin, Sally (1990). Back to The Future: The Official Book of The Complete Movie Trilogy. Hamlyn. p. 40. ISBN 0-600-57104-1. "6 DeLoreans, including one 'process' car which can be dismantled for easy access, and a lightweight fiberglass model, were used in the filming." 
  13. ^ Klastorin, Michael; Hibbin, Sally (1990). Back to The Future: The Official Book of The Complete Movie Trilogy. Hamlyn. p. 43. ISBN 0-600-57104-1. "A lightweight, full-size fibreglass DeLorean was built, complete with radio-controlled wheels. This DeLorean was flown by wires with the aid of a crane." 

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