Back to the Future is one of the most popular movie trilogies of all time, and it features one of the most iconic cars ever made. Since it came out in 1985, the film has built a massive following of diehard fans. Director Robert Zemeckis made a cult classic, there’s no doubt. We all love Doc Brown and Marty McFly, but perhaps even more than them, we love Doc's car: the DeLorean DMC-12.
Known as “The Time Machine,” the DeLorean DMC-12 is a huge part of the trilogy, being important enough to be considered a character itself. It’s not a sentient car like Herbie or K.I.T.T. or anything like that, but it still has a huge personality because of its look, its purpose, and its history.
The DeLorean DMC-12 is kind of flashy, kind of junky, and brings out the child in all of us. Who hasn’t thought of time travel before? We all have. It’s as normal a part of human nature as anything else: What would we change if we went to the past, in order to change the present? What would we see if we went to the future? The possibilities are sometimes unfathomable and endless, but it’s something we’ve all thought about.
We owe the DeLorean DMC-12 for stoking our interest in such things as time travel. The DMC-12 wasn’t an iconic car represented in the film just to get more sales (in fact the company that made it was already bankrupt by the time the film came out). Instead, the DMC-12 became iconic because of the film. That’s a bit rarer.
Here are 20 facts about the DeLorean DMC-12 from Back to the Future—things you might not know unless you’re a huge fan.
20 There Are Only 6,000 Of Them, And They Aren’t Cheap
The DeLorean DMC-12 is quite rare. It wasn’t put into mass production despite its popularity after the film. Different sources state that production of the DMC-12 only numbered between 8,000 and 9,000 units.
There are approximately 6,000 of them left today, and since they’re such collector’s items, you’ll hardly see any of them on the street.
It was originally named the DMC-12 because of its intended price: $12,000. In 1981, the DMC-12 had a suggested retail price of $25,000, though, the equivalent to about $70,000 today. And if you really want one, you can buy one from the DeLorean Motor Company’s website for $45,000, though a DMC-12 recently sold on eBay for $88,000.
19 It Was Only Produced For Two Years
Even though the DeLorean DMC-12 became wildly popular after Back to the Future, it had already been out of production for three years! That just made it even more of a collector’s item. You’d think DeLorean might have put it back into production after the film’s popularity, but that wasn’t the case. This was partly because John DeLorean was facing legal problems at the time. When it came out in 1981, it was already a collector’s item (four years before Back to the Future was released). It was only produced through 1982. According to the DeLorean Museum, the car’s short lifespan was due to John DeLorean’s arrest on drug charges (which he was found not guilty), but it was too late for him to reopen the factory.
18 It’s The Company’s Only Car Model
Many movies feature popular car brands. Steve McQueen has his Mustang in Bullitt, James Bond was frequently in Aston Martins and such. But in Back to the Future, they chose a car that wasn’t as popular and immortalized it.
The production team chose the DeLorean DMC-12 for the movie because it was the only model from John DeLorean’s company.
The first prototype for the car was unveiled in 1975, and production began in 1981. The company quickly declared bankruptcy, making it the first and only car the DeLorean Motor Company ever produced. Who knows? Maybe closing the doors on the factory restrained us from getting some even crazier looking cars!
17 It Wasn’t Made Well
The DeLorean Motor Company was not an experienced, reputable car manufacturer. John DeLorean was a General Motors executive before he started his own company, true, but that didn’t help with building the DMC-12. The plan was to build the DMC-12 in a Puerto Rican factory, but instead, all the parts were assembled in Ireland, in a small neighborhood called Dunmurry. There was high unemployment in Ireland at the time, and the lack of a car industry, which meant the workers were inexperienced and undertrained. Their inexperience showed in the quality of the car they built. The DMC-12 made many customers unhappy, and by the time the company fixed those problems, it was too late and they were closing their doors.
16 It Was Very Slow
Contrary to what Back to the Future might have you believe, and despite its sleek, fast looks, it wasn’t fast at all. With its gull-wing doors, long front hood, and two-seat configuration, the DMC-12 looked like a supercar. But it was anything but that. It was intended to use a Wankel engine from Citroen/NSU, but that never took place.
Instead, it was built with a 2.85-liter V6 engine by Peugeot-Renault-Volvo, which was based on their 2.7-liter engine from the Renault hatchback.
The engine only produced 130 horsepower which, even in the ‘80s, wasn’t great. With its 5-speed manual gearbox, it took 8.8 seconds to reach 0-60 mph, and the 3-speed automatic transmission was even worse off.
15 It Was Nearly Ruined By Jimmy Carter
In Back to the Future, Marty McFly has to hit 88 mph in order to transport the DeLorean DMC-12 back into the past (or into the future). But a book about the making of the film, titled "We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy," revealed that the iconic car originally had a speedometer that went up to 85 mph! This was because in 1979 then-president Jimmy Carter signed a law that mandated car speedometers to only go up to 85 mph, in an effort to discourage speeding (source: TheNewsWheel.com). In turn, the production crew had to build a custom speedometer that went up to 95 mph, with a digital speed readout on top of the driver’s side-dash for greater accuracy.
14 The Original Was Fully Restored And Exhibited For Posterity
The original DeLorean DMC-12 became a huge part of the Hollywood legacy. Universal Studios kept the original car from the film for more than 30 years. It was exhibited outdoors at events so fans could admire it and take pictures.
Eventually, the car was taken to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, where it could be displayed prominently beside many other iconic automobiles.
A few years ago, the car was fully restored. Every body panel was taken off, broken ones were replaced, and other things were changed. Restoring the car took more than 20 people to rebuild, and it took them over a year for the restoration to be complete! Now it’s in nearly perfect condition as it was back in 1981.
13 It Wasn’t Painted
Because of the lack of experience from the car builders in Ireland who put the DeLorean DMC-12 together, when it rolled off the factory floor, the body panels of the car were brushed stainless steel. It was quite an odd look at the time and would be even odder nowadays.
At the time, however, it added to the futuristic look of the vehicle. It was mechanical and flashy looking.
Some DeLoreans were painted by the dealers before being sold to customers, and some were painted by the owners of the cars. Originally, the only DMC-12s that weren’t steel colored were gold, as part of a promotion between DeLorean and American Express. Those gold-plated cars had a price tag of $85,000, and only three were sold.
12 It Was Only The Third Car Ever With Gull-Wing Doors
There’s no doubting the DeLorean DMC-12 was a unique car for its time—and it still is today (perhaps even more so). These days, there are all sorts of different doors: Lamborghini has its scissor doors, Rolls-Royce still uses suicide doors. And many manufacturers have designed other cool ways to have their doors go up or out. When the DeLorean was introduced, however, its gull-wing doors were quite a novelty! In fact, the only other gull-wing doors at the time belonged to the Mercedes 300SL from the 1950s (another iconic vehicle) and the Bricklin SV-1. The DMC-12 doors were easy to operate, and you actually didn’t need any more space in tight spots than you did with normal-swinging doors.
11 There’s A Right-Hand-Drive Version (And It’s Very Rare)
Almost every car that manufacturers release these days is made with a right-hand-drive version. This is true even for exotic cars like Lamborghinis and Ferraris. But in the 1980s, this wasn’t the case. Most exotic cars back then didn’t have right-hand-drive vehicles readily available, and neither did the DeLorean DMC-12… except for 16 factory-built DMC-12s.
With only 16 in production, you’re more likely to see a Ferrari LaFerrari than you are a right-hand-drive DeLorean.
All of those 16 cars came as standard left-hand-drive cars but were converted to suit the UK, Australia, and Indian markets (though they apparently weren’t that popular in those markets). Only three were converted in the factory, while the other 13 were produced by the Wooler-Hodec company.
10 Only One Other Car On The Market Had The Same Engine Configuration
Unfortunately for the DeLorean DMC-12, the other car that shared its unique engine configuration was infinitely more popular. Today, almost every car model has at least one competitor—that’s why companies MAKE many of these cars, to compete with other companies. It’s hard to imagine the DeLorean as being a one of a kind, but that was the case. When it was produced, the DMC-12 was one of two rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive cars on the market. The other one? The legendary Porsche 911. The 911 was smaller, lighter, had four seats, and was much faster—it basically put the DMC-12 to shame (which is why it’s still one of the most popular sports cars today). Years after the DMC-12, the Pontiac Fiero was introduced, which shared the same engine configuration.
9 John DeLorean Planned To Make A Turbocharged Version
Because of its lack of speed, thanks to its 2.85-liter, 130-bhp engine, John DeLorean always wanted to make a faster version of the car. The DMC-12 took almost 10 seconds to get to 60 mph, and it received criticism for being just a show car.
So John signed a contract with Legend Industries with the plan to produce as many as 5,000 turbocharged DMC-12s.
There were two versions: a single and a twin-turbo setup. Prototypes ran the 0-60 sprint in under 6 seconds, a huge improvement, and did the quarter-mile in under 15 seconds. These were impressive numbers, but unfortunately, DeLorean declared bankruptcy before the serial production of these new cars, and the project was scrapped.
8 Certain Companies Will Make You Perfect Replicas
In case you ever wanted your own time machine Flux Capacitor, look no further! Yes, there are certain companies that specialize in building perfect replicas of the car from the movie. These companies will tune a good condition DMC-12 into a perfect visual representation of Doc’s time machine, and they also rent them out. It’s never been easier to be Doc or Marty for Halloween! Former radio host Adam Kontras has built a rental empire—a six-figure Back to the Future time machine business—by building perfect replicas of the car (source: FastCompany.com). Other companies will also help you do the same. Who knew it could be so lucrative to rent out time machines that can’t even time travel?
7 It Has A Popular History Thanks To The Movie
There’s no doubting that Back to the Future made the DeLorean DMC-12 really popular. People all over the world know the iconic car—a car that would have likely been kept in obscurity thanks to its short production cycle, had it not been for the film. Since then, the DMC-12 has enjoyed a popular history in other films and mediums: Steven Spielberg used the car in “Ready Player One,” as the car that Parzival uses to win the first race. Adam Young drives one in Owl City’s video for the single “Deer in the Headlights.” American Dad’s main character, Stan Smith, builds his own in season four of the show. The Time Machine is also a playable car in the 2015 video game, “Rocket League.” Macklemore drives one in his video for “Thrift Shop.”
6 You Can Rent It For Events
The guy mentioned above who makes his own replicas and rents them out has struck paydirt—there’s no doubting that. And if you think it seems like you’re seeing the DeLorean DMC-12 all over the place, in videos, movies, films, events, that’s because you are! One even pulled up into the Live with Kelly and Michael studios for Michael J. Fox’s appearance on the show “Wednesday.”
If the car seems prolific, that’s because the car stays busy with public appearances, which can be arranged through the DeLorean Motor Company itself.
Other people have started businesses renting out their DMC-12s for events and parties, mainly through the website Turo.com. (Googling the phrase “renting DeLorean DMC-12s” shows the first two entries as: “Rent Andrew’s 1981 DMC-12” and “Rent Cameron’s 1981 DMC-12”.)
5 The First Scripts Of The Film Didn’t Even Feature The Car!
Could you imagine Back to the Future without the DeLorean?! Probably not. In hindsight, it was clearly the right choice for the film, helping cement it as a cult classic.
But in some early versions of the script, there were other ideas, including the first script, which had Doc and McFly using a laser device to time travel from inside Doc’s house.
That’s right, the first script had no car at all! That idea was thankfully scratched. Next, the time machine was a device attached to a fridge, but this idea was also quickly scrapped. Then they came to the idea to use a car, but even that wasn’t set in stone…
4 The First Car Wasn’t A DeLorean
It’s crazy to think of Back to the Future with any car other than the DMC-12. But that almost happened! In today’s world, the movie industry is filled with product placement everywhere you look; cellphones, clothes, cars, drinks, and everything in between are shown thanks to placement deals between corporations.
When developing Back to the Future, director Robert Zemeckis chose the DMC-12 because it suited his vision for the film, not because of a deal.
Originally, however, the Ford Motor Company offered the studio a Mustang to use as the time machine, but the offer was refused. Screenwriter Bob Gale later said in an interview, “Does Doc Brown look like the kind of guy who would drive a Ford Mustang? I’m sorry, no.” And we agree. The Mustang is already iconic enough.
3 The Time Machine In The Film Is Nuclear Powered
Back to the Future fans will know this: the Time Machine in the film uses 1.21 gigawatts of electrical power. That kind of power is enough to light up 100 million LED light bulbs! You can’t get that kind of energy with any combustion engine in existence. For the movie, they created “Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor,” which is the satirical name of a popular brand for coffee machines at the time. The device works with plutonium and is only used for time travel (not to enhance the car’s performance, unfortunately). Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor is an important element for every replica that exists, making it one of the most distinctive features that sets the DMC-12 from the movie apart from other DMC-12s.
2 The Displays In The Car Are A Tribute
Time travel has always been a popular subject, most frequently pursued in science fiction, though that is becoming less fiction and more scientific as time progresses. There have been thousands of films and books about time traveling. The 1960s had a popular film exploring the subject, simply called "The Time Machine." It was an inspiration for Back to the Future, and the producers added a neat little tribute to the ‘60s film: The DMC-12’s displays are colored red, yellow, and green, the same colors as used in The Time Machine. The opening scenes of both movies are also similar, in case the homage wasn’t obvious enough!
1 They’re Making A New One
In 2016, DeLorean CEO Stephen Wynne received approval from the federal government to start producing the iconic DMC-12 again. The only way he could produce the car was under a low-volume manufacturing bill, and he made 300 of them. So now is your chance to own one! And even more recently, the DeLorean Motor Company has made plans to build an updated, 2019 version of the original DMC-12 (source: Polygon.com). It’s supposed to keep the iconic design, the gull-wing doors, but the engine will be massively upgraded. It will feature about 400-bhp—three times as much as its predecessor—and the interior of the car will be refreshed. It’s expected to be around $100,000.
Sources: thenewswheel.com, fastcompany.com, turo.com, polygon.com, thegeektwins.com