Why the ‘Back to the Future’ DeLorean didn’t end up in the Smithsonian

There exists an alternate universe where the DeLorean from Back to the Future is housed in the Smithsonian Institution. There also exists a much darker alternate universe where the DeLorean is a heap of rusted metal in a junkyard.

Fortunately for fans on this timeline, the DeLorean is safe and shiny in its new home in in Los Angeles.

The Hero “A” car (the primary car used in the production of the Back to the Future trilogy) seemed bound for the wrecking yard after years sitting outside, at the mercy of the elements, on the Universal Studios lot alongside the tram tour route. Now, after over a year of restoration work, it”s back to its former glory, looking just like it did when it rolled off of Doc Brown”s truck.

After briefly being on display in a glass box (indoors) at Universal, then being put into storage at the studio when that prop display facility was taken down, now the restored DeLorean is in its new home.

The “A” car was unveiled at the Petersen Automotive Museum in L.A. on Wednesday night – just barely shy of six months since we arrived in the future on the big Back to the Future Day, October 21, 2015. The Petersen reopened in December after 14 months of getting its own renovations. The car will be displayed alongside other movie cars at the museum like the VW bus from Little Miss Sunshine and the Batmobile from the 1989 Batman.

“I think the other movie cars will benefit from being around it,” Joe Walser quipped when I chatted with him at the unveiling event. “The ‘A” car, the DeLorean time machine will classy the joint up even more.”

Walser”s the guy who led the restoration team. With years of production design experience on films and with his own passion for Back to the Future and making DeLorean time machine replicas, he was the man Universal knew was right for the job of restoring the “A” car. (He also organized on the October 2015 and 2010 We”re Going Back festivities. Check out a gallery with photos from one of those events near the bottom of this post.)

The Back to the Future DeLorean “A” car before its restoration. Photo courtesy of Steve Concotelli

When weighing options of a home for the DeLorean outside Universal, early on, “it was really between the Petersen and the Smithsonian,” Walser told me.

So why didn”t the Smithsonian Institution, reputable D.C. home to many movie artifacts, score the DeLorean for its collection?

As Back to the Future trilogy writer-producer Bob Gale explained to me at Wednesday”s event, “The deal with the Smithsonian is that if you want it in the Smithsonian, you have to sign it over to the U.S. government, and that was not gonna happen.”

So the car will be a “permanent loan” from Universal to the Petersen.

Ultimately, the Petersen ended up at the “top of our list,” said Universal Studios Hollywood Creative Director John Murdy during a panel discussion at Wednesday”s event. He and others at Universal “wanted the car to be in L.A. where the film was made,” he said.

Murdy was closely involved with the restoration team – he was eager to be a part of saving the DeLorean since Back to the Future has remained special to him ever since he watched the filming of the Twin Pines Mall scenes when he was a teenager working in a toy store at Puente Hills Mall in City of Industry, CA.

The DeLorean “A” car at the Petersen Automotive Museum's unveiling event on Wednesday. Photo credit: Emily Rome

For the Petersen”s Chief Marketing Officer Adam Langsbard, getting the “A” car to into the museum”s collections marks the achievement of a longtime goal – he”s been in touch with Universal in attempts to get the car since before the restoration.

Still on Langsbard”s wish list for the Petersen: the Ferrari from Ferris Bueller”s Day Off and the Risky Business Porsche 928.

At Wednesday's event, with the “A” car, from left: Adam Langsbard, John Murdy, Steve Concotelli, and Bob Gale (and Joe Walser behind Gale). Photo credit: JD Raimer

Also revealed during the panel: where the “B” car is. The second car built for the trilogy was the one destroyed by the train, but the exterior panels of that DeLorean were welded together and put on display, hanging upside down from a ceiling at Planet Hollywood Hawaii.

The time circuits from that “B” car has a different home: the fireplace mantle in Gale”s house.

A Kickstarter-funded documentary (directed by Steve Concotelli, who also spoke on the Petersen events panel) chronicles the “A” car”s restoration. A 20-minute featurette version of that documentary is on the Back to the Future 30th anniversary Blu-ray released last October. The feature-length version of the documentary, OUTATIME: Saving the DeLorean Time Machine (in which, full disclosure, yours truly appears), will be released this July.

After Wednesday”s unveiling event, the DeLorean “A” car will debut to the public at the Petersen this Friday, April 22.

For more HitFix content about Back to the Future, check out our coverage commemorating the movie's 30th anniversary and the October 21, 2015 festivities here.