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 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 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. 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.
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 over once stopped, much to Marty's repeated frustration. (However, although the car starts almost 10 seconds after the alarm Doc set had gone off, the DeLorean still makes it to the wire at the exact moment the lightning struck. This may be due to Doc's miscalculation, or the alarm being set too early, or Marty driving faster than Doc expected). In the second movie, the time display malfunctions and shows random dates, which partially cause Doc to be sent to 1885. In the third movie, the fuel line rips while the car is off-road, preventing the car from running under its own power (see below).
In Back to the Future, Doc states that the time machine is electrical but that he needs a nuclear reaction (produced by plutonium stolen from a group of Libyan terrorists) to generate the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity needed. A bolt of lightning 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, and again accidentally in flight to send Doc to 1885. The Mr. Fusion model fusion generator, made by Fusion Industries, which uses garbage as fuel, is 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 has the hover conversion installed. 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. In Back to the Future Part III, the DeLorean's fuel line is damaged while fleeing from Indians in 1885, and Doc and Marty's only supply of gasoline is 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 is used in place of gasoline after the fuel line is patched, destroying the DeLorean's fuel injection manifold. The car never travels under its own power again but is pulled by a team of horses and later pushed by an 1880s locomotive.
The power required is pronounced in the film as "one point twenty-one jiggawatts." While the closed-captioning in home video versions spells the word as it appears in the script, jigowatt, 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 an acceptable pronunciation for "gigawatt." In the DVD commentary for Back to the Future, Robert Zemeckis states that he had thought it was pronounced this way because this was how the scientific advisor that he had for the film pronounced it.
The flux capacitor, which consists of a regularly squared 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.
The device was located between the headrests behind the seats and, as the time machine nears 88 mph, light coming from the flux capacitor begins pulsing (or as Marty said in the first movie, "fluxing") 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 his bathroom sink while standing on the toilet to hang a clock. 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.
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. The flux capacitor requires 1.21 gigawatts of electrical power to operate, 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. It equates to around 1.6 million horsepower.
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."
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 it 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 hinges. It is never mentioned what Doc Brown does with the remaining plutonium, or if he uses it all during unseen trips after he leaves Marty near the end of Back to the Future.
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. 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. 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 loses this ability at the end of the second film.
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 November 12, 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, 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. The lightning creates an overload, and the original DeLorean vanishes from 1955, traveling 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).
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 on November 14, 1955 and repaired by Doc Brown's 1955 counterpart, thus restoring it to working order using 1955 components, which could not restore the Delorean's flying capabilities. While Doc states he is happy in his new life in 1885 and requests that Marty not 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 destroys the fuel injectors, the DeLorean's final trip from September 7, 1885 to October 27, 1985 is 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.
On October 27, 1985, once the DeLorean makes its final trip from 1885, it is destroyed by an oncoming freight train running the opposite direction. Marty is able to bail out of the car moments before the train strikes.
In the films, the DeLorean time machine is 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 characters.
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 than 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. 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. 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). 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 continuum, and kept as Doc Brown's personal time vessel, with the second DeLorean duplicate vanishing because of Chronal Decay (i.e., since the Alternate Doc timeline ceased to exist, the alterated Clone DeLorean was folded back with the Clone DeLorean). It's inferred that the Hover Train stays with Clara, Jules and Verne, passingly mentioned as enjoying the same nomadic life around the time-stream of Doc. In one of the episodes of Garfield ,The Delorean Time Machine makes a cameo appearance as Space Travel Delorean with slight modifications to it to do Space Travel by removing the four wheels,ect. it still has the Flux Compacitor however the Space Traveler appeared to alien version of Doc.brown, the alien Doc.Brown has a device that acts like Auto Time retriever, he say with this push of this button it will call The Space Travel Delorean anywhere at anytime to the exact location where the device transmitting from
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. The specific choice of vehicle was a DeLorean DMC-12 for the purposes of it looking like an alien spaceship 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.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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.