Back to the Future DeLorean is the newest member of the National Historic Vehicle Register
The National Historic Vehicle Register is devoted to recording and protecting America’s automotive past for future generations, and its newest member encompasses both in one fell swoop. The Hagerty Drivers Foundation (formally the Historic Vehicle Association) has announced that the 29th car on the register is the 1981 DeLorean “hero car” from Back to the Future. Doc Brown would be so proud.
The register was created in 2013 in collaboration with the U.S. Department of the Interior to recognize and document the country’s most historically significant automobiles, motorcycles, trucks, and commercial vehicles. The first class was introduced in January 2014.
Jonathan Klinger, Hagerty’s vice president of car culture and executive director of the Hagerty Drivers Foundation, says the Back to the Future DeLorean’s lofty place in pop cultural made it an obvious choice.
“The DeLorean Time Machine is among the world’s most recognizable and beloved automobiles,” Klinger says. “It transcends borders and generations, and it appeals to an audience far beyond the car community.”
Already an automotive legend, John Z. DeLorean launched his new automobile company in 1975. It would be six years before the DeLorean DMC-12 reached the public, but it was like nothing anyone had ever seen—a stainless-steel sports car with gullwing doors. So even after the founder of the DeLorean Motor Company ran into financial and legal trouble and shut down production in 1982, his car seemed like the ideal futuristic ride for time-traveling Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and inventor Emmett Lathrop “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd).
Marty: “Wait a minute, Doc. Ah … Are you telling me that you built a time machine … out of a DeLorean?”
Doc: “The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”
Indeed, Doc Brown’s time machine had style. It also had unique capabilities. Backed by 1.21 gigawatts of nuclear power, it could be programmed to leap backward and forward in time as soon as it reached a speed of 88 mph.
Screenwriters Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis actually conceived the basic premise for Back to the Future in 1980, a year before DeLorean went into production. By the time the film went into production, the cowriters were all-in on the DeLorean. The 1985 movie was such a huge hit that the DMC-12 became increasingly more popular—unfortunately, too late to save the automaker.
In the end, only 8500 DeLoreans were built. Without question, the most famous of all is the hero car from the Back to the Future trilogy, which is a 1981 model. After the BTTF movies were shot, the car—which is painstakingly detailed and was used for close-up shots—was placed on display at Universal Studios Hollywood. Fans could get up close and take photos, and over time the DeLorean became damaged both by admirers, who took parts as souvenirs, and the elements.
In 2012, after Bob Gale saw the hero car in disrepair, he spearheaded a restoration of the time machine and enlisted a group of volunteers led by Joe Walser, a Back to the Future Time Machine replica expert. The restoration, documented in a film whose title played on the car’s unique California license plate (OUTATIME: Saving the DeLorean Time Machine), was completed in 2013.
The Time Machine, which is still owned by Universal Studios, went on permanent display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles in 2016.
Visitors to this weekend’s Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance can see the DeLorean Time Machine in person. It’ll be inside a huge plastic box, however, so people can’t touch it. It was either that or send Biff Tannen to your house.