DeLorean time machine

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DeLorean time machine
3/4 view of DeLorean Time Machine
Plot element from the Back to the Future film series
Publisher Amblin Entertainment
First appearance Back to the Future (1985, 1989, 1990)
Created by Robert Zemeckis
Bob Gale
Genre Sci fi
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 franchise. In the feature film series, Dr. Emmett 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) with Marty McFly, 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 is consistent throughout all three films. The operator sits inside the DeLorean (except for the first time, when a remote control is used), and turns on the time circuits, activating a unit containing multiple fourteen- and seven-segment displays that show the destination, present, and last-departed dates and times. After entering a target date, the operator accelerates the car to 88 miles per hour (141.6 km/h), which activates the flux capacitor. A m.p.h scanner shows how many miles the car has reached and it stops counting when it reaches 88. 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 exterior of 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 hinder time travel for its inhabitants; in the first film, the car has starter problems and has a hard time turning on once stopped, much to Marty's repeated frustration.[1] In the second movie, the time display malfunctions and shows random dates, which partially cause Doc to be sent to 1885.[2] In the third movie, the fuel line rips while the car is off-road, preventing the car from running under its own power.[3]


Back to the Future DeLorean Time Machine

The time machine is electrical but requires a nuclear reaction via plutonium to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity needed.[1] A lightning bolt is 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 uses garbage as fuel and is installed in place of the nuclear reactor from the first film during Doc's first journey to 2015, when he also has the hover conversion installed.[1][2]

In Back to the Future Part III, the DeLorean's fuel line is damaged; this doesn't affect Mr. Fusion which "only powers the time circuits and the flux capacitor, but the internal combustion engine runs on ordinary gasoline; it always has." Doc attempts to use alcohol in place of gasoline after the fuel line is patched, this has the effect of destroying the DeLorean's fuel injection manifold.

Doc and Marty consider options to reach the required 88mph but ultimately settle on pushing the car with a steam locomotive. For the extra power needed to push the DeLorean up to speed, Doc Brown added his own version of "Presto Logs" ("pressed wood treated with anthracite") to the locomotive's boiler and chose a location where the track was straight enough that the locomotive could get up to 88mph.[3]

The power required is pronounced in the film as one point twenty-one "jigowatts".[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. The "j" sound at the beginning of the SI prefix giga- is an acceptable pronunciation for "gigawatt."[5][6] In the DVD commentary for Back to the Future, Bob Gale states that he had thought it was pronounced this way because this was how a scientific advisor that he had for the film pronounced it.[7]


Flux capacitor[edit]

Replica DeLorean DMC-12 Time Machine's Flux Capacitor

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

As the time machine nears 88mph, light coming from the flux capacitor begins pulsing more rapidly until it becomes a steady stream. Doc originally conceived the idea for the flux capacitor on November 5, 1955 when he slipped and hit his head on the bathroom sink.[1] A similar, but more primitive, steam-powered flux capacitor is also seen in the chimney headlamp 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, which is roughly equivalent to the power produced by 15 regular jet engines.

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."

Mr. Fusion[edit]

Replica DeLorean DMC-12 Time Machine's Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor

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. It is a parody of Mr. Coffee machines, which were very popular at the time of filming.[8] The appliance from which the prop was made was actually a Krups "Coffina" model coffee grinder.[citation needed]

The Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor converts household waste to power for the time machine's flux capacitor and time circuits using nuclear fusion, presumably 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 allowing the characters to bypass the arduous power-generation requirements upon which the plot of the first film hinges.[1][2]

Curiously, the Mr. Fusion can provide enough power to the flux capacitor but is not used to power up the DeLorean itself, which makes use of an ordinary combustion engine to reach the 88 mph of speed necessary for it to time travel, a limitation that proved itself crucial in the third movie when Doc and Marty find themselves stuck in 1885 and unable to return with the DeLorean out of gas. The vehicle's hover system is powered by Mr. Fusion and is capable of bringing the DeLorean up to the required 88mph; the combustion engine was probably left on board as a backup. However, the flight systems were destroyed as a result of a lightning strike, leaving Marty to rely on the original combustion engine, which in turn is disabled.

Fictional timeline[edit]

For most of the first film, the 1.21 gigawatts are 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 is 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 becomes capable of hovering and flight, though it lost this ability at the end of the second film.[2][3]

The DeLorean returns to 1985 and proceeds to travel to October 21, 2015 to stop Marty's future son from committing a crime. While there, the DeLorean is stolen by Biff who then travels back to 1955 to give his past self a sports almanac to be used for gambling. Once Biff returns to 2015 without Doc's knowledge, the duo returns to 1985, but finds themselves in 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. The lightning creates an overload, and the original DeLorean vanishes from 1955, travelling back in time to January 1, 1885 (earlier in the film, Doc mentions that the time circuits are 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 is 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 is recovered from the mine and repaired by 1955 Doc Brown, thus restoring it to working order minus flying capabilities. Besides the damaged time circuits, the DeLorean's tires have disintegrated, requiring Doc to replace them.

In the letter 1885 Doc sends to Marty, Doc states he is happy in his new life there and requests that Marty not attempt to retrieve him; instead return to 1985 and destroy the DeLorean, believing that it has brought them nothing but disaster. However, Marty and the Doc of 1955 learn of tragedy to come Doc's way in 1885 that he will be killed by Biff's Grandfather; therefore, 1955 Doc agrees to send Marty back to the Old West to rescue 1885 Doc.

Due to a broken fuel line caused by a Native American Indian attack during Marty's re-entry and an attempt to substitute alcohol for fuel which damages the fuel delivery and ignition systems, the DeLorean's final trip from 1885 to 1985 is partially powered by a steam locomotive that has Doc's version of "Presto Logs," pressed wood treated with anthracite, added to the boiler to provide the extra power needed to push the car 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] Doc replaces the 1955-style wheels with cast iron train wheels that fit between the train track's rails. He uses the old tyres to cushion the locomotive's "cow catcher" and the car's rear end. Since each of the three "Presto Logs" fire at different intervals with increasing power, Doc installs a boiler temperature gauge inside the Delorean's cockpit, to indicate when the car will experience a sudden burst of acceleration.

Once the DeLorean makes its final trip from 1885, it arrives back in 1985 and is destroyed by an oncoming freight train running in the opposite direction. Marty is able to bail out of the car seconds before the train strikes. The Hover Train, which is Doc's second time machine, appeared in the same spot where the DeLorean was destroyed.[3]

Other elements[edit]

The time circuits in a replica Time Machine

In the films, the DeLorean time machine is a 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 number of symbols on California plates is only 7 characters.[1] When Doc returns from 2015, it is 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. An alarm clock was also set inside the cockpit near the m.p.h. scanner, which was left there by the 1955 Doc that rings to let Marty know when to speed 88 m.p.h. toward the clock tower and it still remains inside the DeLorean for the rest of the three films and video game.

DeLorean DMC-12 Time Machine

In The Animated Series, Doc builds another DeLorean into a time machine, restoring most of its features, including Mr. Fusion and the hover conversion (Doc either rebuilds the one destroyed at the end of Part III or he simply builds a new one). He also seemingly adds the capability to travel through space in addition to time (i.e., appear at a different location from the one it departed), similar to the TARDIS from Doctor Who. The cartoon DeLorean time machine has 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.

Back to the Future: The Game features a chronal duplicate of the original DeLorean, which Doc Brown recovered from the timestream after the destruction of the original. This DeLorean is created at the end of Back to the Future Part II, when the original time machine was struck by lightning: while the DeLorean itself is sent to 1885, a fully functional duplicate appears (apparently unmanned) in 2025, where Doc retrieves it with the Hover Train and taking both time machines back to the present time. He later traveled to 1931 and sent the DeLorean to 1986 to get Marty to rescue him from 1931 before he can be killed. This duplicate DeLorean is effectively the same as the Part II car, including the occasional glitches in the time controls, but with a new automatic retrieval feature that automatically brings the DeLorean to a set time and location of Doc's choosing every time Doc Brown doesn't return to the car in a fixed amount of time.[9] This DeLorean is later badly damaged and then restored by an alternate version of Doc Brown who has never developed time travel technology, having access to limited notes about the Flux Capacitor. As such, the chronal circuits of the duplicate DeLorean become even more glitchy, accumulating errors as severe as the interval of time traveled, with increasing damage with every attempt: as such, Citizen Brown, the Alternate Doc, has to install a diagnostic console made of materials available in 1931 (appearing as a plywood box with a lightbulb and several similar bulbs placed on the coils on the outer body).[10] This DeLorean is restored to its original functionality and appearance as the rightful timeline, along with the more adept Doc Brown, are restored into the continuun, and kept as Doc Brown's personal time vessel. He travels back in time where Marty is in the restored DeLorean duplicate, while the second DeLorean duplicate vanishing because of Chronal Decay (i.e., since the Alternate Doc timeline ceased to exist, the alternated Clone DeLorean was folded back with the real Clone DeLorean).[11] It's implied that the Hover Train stays with Clara, Jules and Verne, passingly mentioned as enjoying the same nomadic life around the time-stream of Doc, but it is never seen in the game.[9][11]

In Back to the Future: The Ride, Doc, who now lives in a lab, had created an 8-passenger DeLorean that can fly just like the original DeLorean and the Hover Train. Unlike the original DeLorean, the flux capacitor is in the front of the cockpit along with a small screen, the time circuits, and the m.p.h. scanner.

Behind the scenes[edit]


Inside the cabin facing front
Inside the cabin facing rear

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.[12] The specific choice of vehicle was a DeLorean DMC-12 for the purposes of it looking like an alien spaceship[13] 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.[14]

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.[13] 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 travelled 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.[15] 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 the third film, a modified-for-off-road VW Beetle frame was fitted to the DeLorean with the whitewall tires and baby moon hubcaps.[16] A seventh 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.[17]


Two DeLorean Time Machine replicas

A number of private auto customizers have built replicas of the DeLorean Time Machine. Starting with a stock DMC-12, they added most, if not all, the props used by the movie producers for the picture cars. In addition to the interior and exterior props, they feature working indicator lights and switches along with the actual sounds which duplicate the ones made by the movie car's controls when activated. These vehicles are for the most part, roadworthy DeLoreans with stock drivetrains, and are frequently driven to car shows and Back To The Future events.

In popular culture[edit]

  • In Merry Christmas, Drake & Josh, Crazy Steve drove into the Christmas parade in a DeLorean and when he drove away the license plate spun, just like in the Back to the Future films.
  • In the animated series American Dad!, it was revealed that Stan Smith had built his own DeLorean DMC-12 in the episode: ""An DeLorean-Story"", but he had never seen "Back to the Future".
  • A number of Family Guy episodes re-enact scenes from Back To The Future, including the Road To Germany episode, where Brian, Stewie, and Mort escape pursuing Nazi officers using the chase scene in the first film, where Biff's car ends up crashing into a manure truck.
  • In Owl City's music video "Deer in the Headlights" Adam Young is seen to be driving a DeLorean time machine.
  • In the 2014 movie A Million Ways to Die in the West, Doc Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd) and the DeLorean time machine make a brief appearance. When the main character Albert Stark bumps into Doc Brown he asks "what's that?" (referring to the time machine) Doc quickly covers up the time machine and explains its a "weather experiment" which is reference to the first film.[18]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Back to the Future (DVD). 1985. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Back to the Future Part II. 1989. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f 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. ^ Andersen, Kent. Saving Planet Earth: A Practical Hands-On Approach, 2008, p. 101.
  9. ^ a b Back to the Future: The Game, Chapter 1 - It's About Time
  10. ^ Back to the Future: The Game, Chapter 4 - Double Visions
  11. ^ a b Back to the Future: The Game, Chapter 5 - Outatime
  12. ^ Zemeckis, Robert; Gale, Bob (1985). The making of Back to the Future (VHS). Universal Pictures. 
  13. ^ a b Zemeckis, Robert; Gale, Bob (2002). Back to the Future: The Complete Trilogy DVD commentary for part 1 (DVD). Universal Pictures. 
  14. ^ Tales From the Future (2010 DVD/Blu-ray set documentary)
  15. ^ [Back to the Future Trilogy DVD, Production Notes]
  16. ^ 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. 
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ "A Million Ways To Die In The West Exclusive Christopher Lloyd Clip (HD)". 2014-10-07. 
Further reading
  • This Delorean Time Machine Replica is now in the UK, and attends the occasional Sci-Fi convention and car show. [1]