October 21st, 2015: The Importance of DeLoreans And Time Travel

072115 Chris Banner

Marty: “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Doc, uh. . . . Are you telling me that you built a time machine . . . out of a DeLorean?”

Doc Brown: “Yes, the way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”

From The Historic Auto Attractions Museum

From The Historic Auto Attractions Museum

In the Back to the Future trilogy, the DeLorean time machine was Doctor Emmett Brown’s most successful invention. Comprised of a DeLorean DMC-12 sports car and a flux capacitor invented by Brown, the vehicle allowed Doc Brown, Marty McFly, and others to travel into the past and into the future. Today marks one of the most significant days in the trilogy—October 21st, 2015—the day that Marty and Doc Brown arrive in the future. In order to celebrate this occasion, we will take a look at the machine that made it all possible.* No—not the flux capacitor, but the iconic DeLorean automobile.

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The DeLorean DMC-12 was a sports car manufactured by the DeLorean Motor Company for the American market in 1981 and 1982. John DeLorean started the company and designed the vehicle in order to break the hold that Ford, Chrysler, and GM had on the American auto industry. As DeLorean saw it, the “Big Three” were stifling the market—and the creativity—of other American car manufacturers.

DeLorean

DeLorean

On the surface, John DeLorean epitomized the idea of an American success story. The son of a Ford factory worker, he grew up in Detroit during the Depression. DeLorean earned an engineering degree at the Lawrence Institute of Technology and worked for both Chrysler and GM. He designed the immensely popular Pontiac GTO. Before long DeLorean was in charge of GM’s North American operations.

“People either loved him or hated him,” said author J. Patrick Wright, who wrote the 1979 DeLorean memoir, On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors. DeLorean projected a larger-than-life persona. After his divorce he dated actresses Ursula Andress (the Bond Girl from 1962s Dr. No) and Raquel Welch. In 1977 he married supermodel Christina Ferrare. He boasted friendships with Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr., both who eventually invested in the DeLorean Motor Company when DeLorean quit GM to form his own company.

Interior of the DeLorean Time Machine from delorean.com

Interior of the DeLorean Time Machine from delorean.com

The first (and only) model was the DeLorean DMC-12, a sleek stainless-steel sports car with distinctive gull-wing doors. It had a 130hp Renault engine and could go from zero to 60 MPH in 8 seconds.** Production began on January, 21, 1981, and approximately 9,000 DMC-12s were made before production halted in late 1982. Critics speculate that the DMC-12 debuted at the wrong time: the company faced stiff competition from Datsun, Mazda, and Porsche sports cars. The price didn’t help sales either: A new DMC-12 cost $8,000 more than a Corvette. The US car market went through its largest slump since the 1930’s and the DeLorean Motor Company went into liquidation.

The chaos that followed could (and did) provide material for several books and movies. In order to save his company, John DeLorean needed $17 million dollars. He entered into a drug-smuggling scheme and walked right into an FBI sting operation intended to snare a cocaine smuggler named William Hetrick. In an interview with Rolling Stone‘s Aaron Latham (1983), DeLorean stated that he was attempting to secure a loan using stock in a shell company as collateral. He further claimed that he tried to back out of the deal after learning illegal drugs were involved, but Hetrick threatened the lives of his children. DeLorean suggested that the US government, under pressure by the Big Three automakers, wanted to see him fail. He also suggested that the British government or the Irish Republican Army had orchestrated the events.

In 1984, John DeLorean was acquitted of all charges after a federal judge rules that the FBI operation had been entrapment, but the damage to the company had been done. Only 8,563 DMC-12s were ever built.

DeLorean Time Machine from delorean.com

DeLorean Time Machine from delorean.com

DeLorean was already mired in legal problems by the time Robert Zemeckis chose a DMC–12 to serve as Marty McFly’s time machine in Back to the Future. Zemeckis had originally planned to use an old refrigerator instead of a car, but changed his mind at the last minute. He thought that a time machine should be mobile, and he liked the futuristic style of the DMC-12 (Zemeckis & Gale, 2002). While the DeLorean’s instant celebrity did not do much to revive its creator’s fortunes, it granted him a degree of notoriety in pop-culture history.

For Further Back to the Future Goodness:

If you are interested in buying or renting a DeLorean Time Machine replica, check out the following: DeLorean.com

If you would like to see one of the actual DeLorean vehicles used in the movies, check out the following: Historic Auto Attractions

Debuting Today! Want to see more of Doc Brown and Marty? Toyota reunited the two time travelers for a discussion on what technological developments Back to the Future correctly predicted: Outatime Spoiler Alert: Christopher Lloyd still uses a fax machine and Michael J. Fox really wants self-tying shoe laces.

From Doc Brown Saves the World by Universal

Also Debuting Today! Back to the Future: 30th Anniversary Trilogy will be released on Blu-ray and DVD with a new feature: Doc Brown Saves the World. You can see the new trailer Here

 

*I would like to thank James Pemboke, who kindly allowed me to take his regular weekly spot at The Pandora Society so that I could post this tribute article on the right day.  As many of you know, arriving on the right day is very important in regards to time travel! James is filling in for me, so be sure to catch his article on Friday. Next week we will be back to normal (whatever that might be in the world of speculative fiction.)

**In the Back to the Future trilogy Doc Brown had to reach 88 MPH in order to time travel.

References

Latham, A. (1983). Anatomy of a sting: John DeLorean tells his story. Rolling Stone Magazine.

Zemeckis, R. & Gale, B. (2002). Back to the future: The complete trilogy DVD commentary for part 1. Back to the Future. [DVD]. Universal Pictures.


 

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