One of my favorite lines in the entire Back to the Future trilogy comes in the second film when Marty and the Doc are in 1955, tailing Biff from the air in the flying DeLorean in an attempt to retrieve the sports almanac and set history straight. Marty suggests landing on Biff to cripple his car. "Marty," the Doc says, "He's in a '46 Ford, we're in a DeLorean. He'd rip through us like we were tin foil!"
So what if there's no racing, and there are precious few car chases — how can you be a gearhead and not love a movie that has a line like that?
Make no mistake, the Back to the Future films are car movies through and through. Earlier this year I wrote a story about why all of the cars in the trilogy are just absurdly great. I won't rehash it too much here, except to say once again that I think these movies are one of the reasons I'm so into cars.
These films played endlessly on VHS in my youth. The fact that the time machine wasn't just car, but also a very unique sports car with a stick shift, really stuck with me.
The Doc could have built any kind of time machine, but he made it out of a car, and decided to "do it with some style." (Of course the Doc was a car guy. That's so obvious. He drove a Packard, for crying out loud.)
Yes, the DeLorean was a low quality, underpowered joke of a sports car that had already failed long before Doc Brown fitted it with a flux capacitor. But this movie made it a star. Back to the Future is about the only reason anyone really remembers the DeLorean today, and without the movies, it would be consigned to history along with other oddballs like the Bricklin SV-1.
Here, it became one of the best hero cars in all of cinema. How can you not cheer for the DeLorean as it speeds through the Twin Pines (later Lone Pine) Mall to escape the Libyans in their Volkswagen bus? "Let's see you bastards do 90!" Marty says as he movie shifts gears and goes rocketing back in time. God, I loved that line when I was a kid. Mainly because he so brazenly used the word "bastard."
But having a car-based time machine has its disadvantages, especially when it has to hit 88 mph to break the time barrier. This is the central conundrum of the first and third movies, and when Marty arrives in 1885 and finds himself with an empty gas tank, he and the Doc come up with a solution so dangerous it makes striking the car with lightning seem like a walk in the park: they decide push the car to 88 with a train on an incomplete railroad bridge.
Good invention, gasoline. Be thankful for it.
It's not just the DeLorean that makes the trilogy great car films. There are so many other amazing rides sprinkled throughout the movies. Marty's Toyota truck. His dad's 7-Series BMW (after he punches out Biff and becomes a winner at life). Biff's aforementioned '46 Ford. The AMC Eagle Wagon driven by Jennifer's dad. There really is something here for everyone.
And then there's the year 2015, which is a who's-who of 80s concepts and road cars retrofitted for the rigors of future driving. In the future, that means cars that can take to the skies as well — something that may be Back to the Future's greatest contribution to pop culture. You hear people say it all the time now: "It's almost 2015. Where are the flying cars? When do we get our flying cars?!?"
Never mind that most people are selfish, inattentive, careless drivers on the ground. They want their cars to fly! Flying cars were science fiction fixtures long before Back to the Future, but these movies made them feel like it could happen for real someday.
And maybe it still can. Where we're going, we don't need roads, right?