Why the DeLorean was the wrong car to use in Back to the Future
This great movie gave the DeLorean DMC-12 icon status, but we reckon it should never have never featured in the first place. Here's what should...
Ivan has been at the sharp end of motoring journalism for the last 15 years. He's been a staffer at titles such as What Car? and Auto Trader, and these days, he plies his freelance trade for the likes of What Car? and Auto Express.
There won’t be a whole lot of argument with the notion that, as iconic movie cars go, the DeLorean from Back to the Future is about as iconic as it gets.
This 1985 family adventure movie has entertained generation after generation of viewers, and thanks to the part it played in enabling the exploits of Marty McFly and Doctor Emmett Brown, the DeLorean DMC-12 has since become instantly recognisable, effortlessly cool and hugely desirable.
But my question is this: does the car really deserve such acclaim? Take away its flux capacitor and its 1.21 gigawatts, and is there anything left about this strange-looking sports car – manufactured on the outskirts of Belfast, Northern Ireland – that’s in any way praiseworthy? And if not, would it have been fairer if another, more deserving car had been given the DeLorean’s leading role instead? And if so, which car? Well, let’s investigate, shall we?
Think back to that night-time scene in the parking lot of the Twin Pines Mall in Hill Valley, a few minutes before some enraged Libyans rock up, firing an AK47 from the sunroof of a VW Camper (another questionable car choice, but we’ll let it slide. For now).
Doc Brown has just backed his creation out of a truck and sent Einstein the dog one minute into the future to prove to Marty - and the camcorder he’s holding - that his creation works, and that time travel has indeed been invented. And sure enough, two lines of flame on the ground indicate the experiment’s success. Bingo. It’s at this point in the movie that Marty utters the immortal words: “Are you telling me you built a time machine…. out of a DeLorean?” To which the Doc replies: “The way I see it, if you’re going to build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style.”
Now, there’s the first problem. Style. It’s 1985. By 1985, the DeLorean bubble had long since burst. Spectacularly. The company had gone down the pan three years earlier after its founder – John DeLorean – had been arrested for drug trafficking. And to our minds, bankruptcy and prison cells aren’t exactly the height of glamour, are they?
The car itself, meanwhile, had become known for being poorly built and hugely overpriced, not to mention way, way slower than its slinky looks suggested. Really struggling to see that ‘style’ that the good doctor was talking about…
If anything, though, it’s the DMC-12’s lack of speed that’s arguably the biggest factor in making it unsuitable for the role bestowed upon it. As you’ll remember, Doc Brown’s time machine famously needed to hit 88mph in order to do its thing. However, the DeLorean’s V6 only made 130 horsepower. That’s it. Going from 0-60mph took a frankly pathetic 9.5 seconds. Even maxxed out, the car could only get up to 110mph for heaven’s sake. So, getting to 88mph would’ve taken ages. Surely something a bit more sprightly would’ve made for much more effective time travel? At the very least, you’d need a shorter run-up…
Now, I wouldn’t dream of presenting problems without offering solutions, so at this point I humbly propose some alternatives to the plainly-hopelessly-unsuitable DeLorean. How about, for example, the Lotus Turbo Esprit of the day: 213 horsepower, 0-60mph in 5.7 sec and a top speed of 152mph, plus all the style that our favourite lab-coated lunatic could’ve wanted. Surely that would’ve done the trick?
Granted, I can see one small pitfall with the Esprit, as you could argue it had ‘already been done’ by the Bond franchise after the car was used in both 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Fair enough, back to the drawing board...
Okay, so what about a Porsche 928 S instead? Stylish? Check. Already claimed by another movie franchise? No sir. Plus, the US-spec 4.7-litre version of a year-or-two before had a 237-horsepower V8, giving a 0-60mph dash of 6.4 seconds and a top speed of 146mph. That’s the sort of performance that any self-respecting time-traveller should reasonably expect. There you go, 928 it is. Job done.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: how dare I? The DeLorean has become an icon of cinematic history, so how dare I desecrate its memory by trying to replace it with something else, even if it is better? Well, the fact is, that I’m not the only one: even the film’s own makers considered it, albeit briefly. In a 2015 interview with Esquire, screenwriter Bob Gale told how someone in the movie’s product placement team tried to get the DeLorean replaced by a Mustang, because Ford would pay them $75,000 if they did. Gale’s response was simple: “Doc Brown doesn’t drive a f***ing Mustang!”
It’s a response he might later regret, though, as he continued: “As cool as it looks on film, it’s by no means a performance car. It broke down a lot, and little things on the car would break during a scene, and we’d have to wait for the FX guys to repair it.”
My point exactly.