8 Interesting Facts About Restoring the Original DeLorean Time Machine

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It has been over 30 years since the DeLorean DMC-12 Time Machine made its onscreen debut in “Back to the Future.” Even today, the car looks futuristic and forward-thinking, yet at the same time, nostalgic. After the movie wrapped, BTTF sent its “A” car to Universal Studios, where it sat outdoors for fans to admire. It underwent a complete renovation a few years ago, went back on display at Universal in a glass box, and was eventually put in storage.

But now, it’s time for the DeLorean to find a new home. Starting this month, the car will reside at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. In celebration of a new chapter in the DeLorean’s life, we’re looking back at the most interesting facts behind renovating the special time machine.

Courtesy of Petersen Automotive Museum

It might not have been a DeLorean.

We’ve probably all heard the story by now, but it’s too good not to repeat again. The movie crew came up with the idea to use a DeLorean as the time machine due to the car’s high-profile nature at the time. John DeLorean was in legal trouble, giving the car a bit of notoriety and an intriguing counter-cultural appeal. Ford had offered to pay $75,000 — a day and a half’s worth of shooting costs — so Universal would feature a Mustang instead of a DeLorean. When pitched the idea by Universal, BTTF co-creator Bob Gale said, “Doc Brown doesn’t drive an f— Mustang.”

Left to right: Scott Mantz, John Murdy, Bob Gale, Joe Walser, and Steve Concotelli. Courtesy of Stephen Russo

The team had to pull apart every piece of the car to restore it.

Every piece of the car, including the stock DeLorean parts and parts specific to the time machine, were taken off. They even removed the wheels, leaving just a basic frame to work from at one point. After photographing and cataloging each part, project leader Joe Walser and his team began putting together the pieces.

Identifying stray parts was half the battle.

Some parts that broke during filming were swapped with parts from other DeLorean cars used in the movie. That made it difficult and time-consuming to piece the original “A” car back together.

Renovation took about two years from planning to execution.

Originally, it was estimated to be a 6-month job to restore the special 1981 DeLorean. But it actually took one year to plan out the restoration, and another to execute it. Two dozen people worked full time for a year to make it look the way it does. The team finished the car about four hours before Universal picked it back up.

It took a lot longer to renovate the car than build the original.

The original movie car took about 10 to 12 weeks to create.

Courtesy of Stephen Russo

The restored car has many more features than the original.

The original time machine didn’t actually produce the spaceship-like sounds you may remember from the film. Those were special effects made off-screen; even the buttons on the time machine weren’t functional and the time circuits didn’t light up on their own. But the restored car produces the sound effects itself, thanks to Universal getting its hands on the original audio tracks from the film. Now you can do it all. You can even input the calendar dates into the time machine, although there’s no guarantee it’ll transport you back in time.

The renovated DeLorean Time Machine was shown at an event at the Petersen Automotive Museum on April 20

The restored car keeps the exposed wires from the original.

The goal was to make it look like Doc Brown created the car in his garage, a look the original pulled off quite well. Although the exposed wires are kept intact for the renovated model, they have no function other than aesthetics. “It reflects the character of the guy who invented it, Doc Brown,” Gale said during a panel discussion at the Petersen museum. “You’re in a hurry to find out if [the car] works. So the wires are all exposed. Doc didn’t have time to put a housing on it. This thing looks like it could explode, and that’s one of the things that makes it cool.” He recalls Michael J. Fox saying about the original: “I get to drive this?”

There’s a reason Mr. Fusion is missing.

The team’s goal was to bring the car back to the condition it was in when it first rolled off Doc Brown’s truck. Since it didn’t have Mr. Fusion then, it doesn’t have it now after the restoration. Other big repairs the team had to make to keep the car true to form include fixing holes that had been drilled in the rear quarter panels and eradicating various dings and dents in the stainless steel body.

This summer, we’ll learn more about the restoration process in a new documentary called “OUTATIME: Saving the DeLorean Time Machine.”

The DeLorean time machine is on permanent loan from Universal to the Petersen museum. It will be displayed on the Cars of Film and Television exhibit in the Hollywood Gallery on the third floor.