Last weekend, the weather in the District of Columbia was rainy, gross and cold, as it often is this time of year. So I did what any freedom-loving American man would do: I stayed inside and watched the Back to the Future trilogy. And right after Marty wandered into the 1955 version Hill Valley for the first time, this realization dawned on me: Damn, there are some seriously great cars in these movies.
Honestly, I don’t know how it took me this long to figure that out. I’ve been watching these movies since I was a kid. I think I’ve seen each entry in the trilogy more times than I’ve seen any other movie.
That early exposure to Back to the Future is one of the many reasons I'm a car guy. The filmmakers could have made Doc Brown’s time machine out of anything, but they made it out of a car. And not just any car, a very cool-looking sportscar with a stick shift. What’s not to love?
But the DeLorean isn’t just the only awesome car running around the various eras of Hill Valley. If you look closely, you’ll see that there are tons of great rides in the trilogy (mainly the first two, for obvious reasons.)
These are all the ones I could come up with. Feel free to add your own, I’m sure I missed some. Now why don’t you make like a tree and check out these awesome cars?
1981 DeLorean DMC-12
Here’s the obvious pick. You can’t talk about Back to the Future without talking about John Z.’s failed masterpiece.
Doc Brown says he picked the DeLorean for his time machine to “do it with some style,” and because the stainless steel body helped with flux dispersal or some such science-y nonsense. I’m just glad he picked one without the slushbox, because the stick makes it that much cooler. (Did you still have to shift gears when it was flying?)
A few folks on the Internet have claimed that the DeLoreans used in Part 2 and Part 3 had some kind of Porsche motor swapped in to replace the anemic PRV V6, possibly the V8 from the 928. I haven’t seen any confirmation of that. Anyone have any leads? I do love the fact that it ends up with whitewall tires in the third movie.
Keep in mind that when the first movie came out in 1985, the DeLorean had been out of production for two years, and the car’s demise was tied to a huge scandal, so using it as the time machine was kind of a joke. Instead, the trilogy made the car into an icon, and it’s probably the main reason anyone remembers it today.
Still, I love the DeLorean and I always have, even if it was unable to outrun a Volkswagen Bus in a parking lot without resorting to time travel. It had character, and character means a lot.
Biff Tannen’s 1946 Ford Super De Luxe
Biff may have been one of the biggest assholes in cinematic history, but he had great taste in cars. His ‘46 Ford is a real looker, at least until it gets trashed by manure twice in a matter of days in 1955. He absolutely had it coming though. (One of the main plot elements of all three movies was Biff and his family getting their much-deserved comeuppance throughout history.) It must have had a tricky clutch or something, since only Biff and Old Biff from the future could start it.
Biff’s car also gives us a great line from Doc in the second film, when Marty suggests the flying DeLorean land on it so they can seize the almanac. "Marty," Doc says, "He's in a '46 Ford. We're in a DeLorean. He'd rip through us like we were tin foil." Classic.
Doc Brown’s 1948 Packard Custom Eight Victoria
Of course the Doc had a Packard! He’s all about style, man, no matter what era he’s in. It shows up in a couple scenes in the films, including when Marty borrows it to take his mother to the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance. Then he comes close to making out with her, which is probably the most unpleasant experience anyone could ever have in a car.
Marty’s 1985 Toyota Xtra Cab 4x4
After Marty changes the past, his family in 1985 doesn’t suck anymore. By teaching his father to stick up for himself and go for his dreams, they all seem much better off than before. Marty even opens the garage to find his own, brand-new Toyota pickup truck, perfect for taking either of the actresses who plays his girlfriend up to the lake for the weekend.
This truck is also tied pretty closely to Marty’s own fate, as it’s the truck he wrecked in a drag race against Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers some dude named Needles. That crash ruins his music career and relegates him to a lame middle-management job he gets fired from in 2015. Fortunately, he’s able to avoid that in the climax of the third movie.
Marty lucked out with this one. That’s a nice-looking truck, and probably tough as hell too. Also, the truck that was used in the third film is getting restored, which is awesome.
George McFly’s 1984 BMW 733i
Before Marty changes his family’s future, George McFly was a loser who drives a crappy old Chevy Nova that Biff promptly wrecks in the first movie. Not anymore! Imbued with self-confidence, the new George is a successful author who rolls around in a freaking E23 7-Series, one of the baddest (and most expensive) German luxobarges of its era.
George is now so awesome that he has Biff detail his Bimmer at the end of the first movie, even though he has to threaten Biff with another 1955-style ass-beating to make sure there’s two coats of wax on it. Well done, McFly!
Griff Tannen’s BMW 633 CSi
In the future, we will all drive horribly modified BMWs! I could never figure out if Griff’s car was supposed to be what a BMW would look like in 2015, or if it was an old car he bought and then put a bunch of crap on. I’m guessing the latter, because the tail end is primered, making it look like a work in progress. At any rate, what’s a guy like Griff — who’s even angrier and stupider than his grandfather — doing driving a classy car like a BMW? (Side note: a few years ago, Matt wrote about a guy who was restoring one of these movie cars. I wonder how that went.)
The cars of the “future” are kind of hilarious when you figure out what they really are. A couple are 1980s concept cars, one is a very gussied-up Ford Probe, and one is a Citröen DS. I’ve seen those pop up in a few movies as a “futuristic” car, which is a true testament to the timelessness of the DS’ design. Oh, and in Back to the Future II's version of 2015, Pontiac dealerships are still around. Ha!
Just about any car from 1955
One of the first signs that Marty is truly in a different time in the first film is all of the classic cars driving around. Generally, they're all awesome. The city is filled with a fantastic collection of old Plymouths, Mercurys, DeSotos, Buicks, and other marques from the 1940s and 50s. It’s a great salute to the best era of American style.
Jennifer’s Dad’s 1984 AMC Eagle 4WD Wagon
We only see him briefly in one scene, but the father of Marty's girlfriend Jennifer drives an awesomely American car, so it's totally worth mentioning here. The old 4x4 AMC wagon is one of the granddaddies of the modern crossover SUV. Whoever Jennifer's dad was, he had good taste in wagons.
The Libyan Terrorists' Volkswagen Bus (Type 2)
Doc Brown's time machine needs plutonium to operate (until it gets Mr. Fusion, anyway!), so he acquires some in the safest and most ramification-free method he can think of: cheating it out of some pissed-off terrorists from Libya. Shockingly, the Libyans aren't too happy that the Doc ripped them off, so they come after him and Marty in a Volkswagen bus.
This leads us to a great Bus vs. DeLorean chase scene, even if it's a bit unrealistic. The DeLorean hit 90 mph in a parking lot, but it still couldn't outrun an ancient Type 2? Okay, sure. That PRV V6 wasn't good for much anyway. The chase ends with Marty back in 1955 and the VW crashing into a Fox Photo stand (remember those?) No word on whether the terrorists survived the wreck, but who cares? They're terrorists, and that makes them bad people.
Photos credit Universal via IMCDB.org