'Back to the Future' DeLorean Goes on Display

Courtesy of Petersen Automotive Museum

Universal Studios permanently loans the film's iconic DMC-12 to L.A.'s Petersen Automotive Museum.

The DeLorean that teleported Michael J. Fox in the first installment of the Back to the Future trilogy was unveiled at an event at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles Wednesday evening.

The iconic "hero," or lead car — one of three DeLoreans fabricated for the film — appeared in the original Back to the Future, released in 1985. It was restored to its onscreen condition in 2010 and had been on display at Universal Studios Hollywood, which produced the trilogy.

Ironically, the movie's time machine was originally not conceived as a car, said Bob Gale, who co-wrote Back to the Future with the film's director, Robert Zemeckis, during a panel discussion at the unveiling.

"The time machine was originally built out of a refrigerator that Doc Brown" — portrayed by Christopher Lloyd — "hauled around in the back of his pickup truck," said Gale. When the film entered production, Gale said that Zemeckis came into his office and asked, "'Wouldn't it be better for Doc to build it into a car?' Then he said, 'What if the car was a DeLorean?'"

At the time, DeLorean founder John DeLorean was in the midst of a high-profile trial and Gale said that he and Zemeckis felt that making the time machine a DeLorean would add an edgy pop culture element to the film. 

Gale added that the DeLorean was almost replaced when Universal was offered $40,000 — at the time the cost of a day's filming — if it would replace the car with a Ford Mustang. Gale said he responded, "Doc doesn't drive a f—ing Mustang." 

The DeLorean's half-finished look in the movie, painstakingly replicated in the restoration, was meant to evoke the car's shambling inventor, Gale said. 

"One of the things we insisted upon in creating the car was that it reflect Doc Brown's character," Gale said. "Doc built this thing in his garage. When you're an inventor you're in a hurry to find out if it works. The wires are all exposed, this thing looks like it could explode. That's one of the the things that makes it cool." When Fox was first shown the car, Gale said, he marveled, "'I get to drive this?'"

While in the original film the time machine's flashing lights, digital readouts and beeping sounds were added in postproduction by effects house Industrial Light & Magic, the restoration retrofitted the car with actual working hardware. The restoration team sourced the sound effects from the original digital sound files created for the film.

The three Back to Future films collectively grossed just under $1 billion worldwide at the box office. "Back to the Future is still in the domestic top 20 films of all time, and that's not adjusted for inflation," said Universal Studios Hollywood creative director John Murdy, who oversaw the restoration, during the panel discussion.

Murdy added the original film — and the DeLorean — endures because, "it was the Wizard of Oz for my generation, the perfect movie you could watch over and over again."

The unveiling Wednesday kicks off a month-long series of Back to the Future-themed events at the Petersen. The DeLorean will be displayed in the museum's lobby though this weekend and then move permanently to the Hollywood Gallery on the third floor.

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