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There was a refined petroleum product called "petrol" available as far back as 1870 which was used (among other things) to kill lice nits and as a solvent. When internal combustion engines were being developed, this product, unchanged, was found to be an ideal fuel. Why couldn't Doc and Marty have bought some of that to refill the DeLorean?

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To quote Doc Brown: There's not gonna be a gas station around here until sometime in the next century. –  Oliver_C Aug 26 '13 at 17:31
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So? They could have bought the same product, only in a bottle, intended for other uses. –  JoelFan Aug 26 '13 at 17:34
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Maybe they didn't realise that petrol was the same as gasoline. We all have those moments sometimes :| –  coleopterist Aug 26 '13 at 19:48
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This is just my speculation, but I would bet Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the writers of Back To The Future III, simply didn't know petrol existed in 1885. –  druciferre Aug 26 '13 at 23:16
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@Oliver_C: Yes, gas stations appeared much later, but you could buy a lot of curious stuff at a pharmacy which is surely a long known concept. Yes, their closest pharmacy could happen to not have petrol available but they didn't even try. –  sharptooth Aug 27 '13 at 7:41
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4 Answers 4

This is all just speculation, but some points to consider:

  • How many bottles of this “petrol” would be required to get to 88 mph?
  • To what degree is this “petrol” compatible with combustion engines from 1985?
  • There were no highways back then, where could you find a place to accelerate to the required speed? (If I remember correctly, flight was not an option.)
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As to compatibility, it might be the right chemicals, but I would imagine that the refining would have been a bit crude. A 1955 junker American car could burn stuff that a Delorian, being an expensive sports car, would have found quite unpalatable. –  Donald.McLean Aug 26 '13 at 17:52
    
"This is all just speculation" - Well, no need to feel sorry, often enough such "hey, the writers didn't do their research"-plot-hole-questions just inspire answers full of mere speculation. –  Napoleon Wilson Aug 26 '13 at 18:08
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They had the flat desert for the accelaration –  JoelFan Aug 26 '13 at 18:13
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@Paulster2, they tried alcohol. Literally the strongest stuff the local bartender had to offer if I remember correctly. It caused [if I remember correctly] the intake manifold to blow out. –  druciferre Aug 26 '13 at 23:12
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@Paulster2 Then you should either use the sarcastic font or a :P –  Tobias Kienzler Aug 27 '13 at 11:14
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Because that wouldn't make a good movie.

In reality they could have burned Kerosene that no doubt has a higher octane rating (150) than petrol of the time.

With a low octane rating, they wouldn't have gotten to 88mph because the knock sensors would have cut timing and put the car in limp mode.

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Well, the first sentence sums it up perfectly. –  Napoleon Wilson Aug 27 '13 at 8:20
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Petrol wasn't invented until 1870 or 1871 and it seems likely it was a small potatoes British business. While I don't doubt that some of their product made it to the eastern U.S., it seems very unlikely it was well distributed and probably would not have made it to the Wild West, especially California.

Even if it was sold in San Francisco, what are the chances it would have made it to Hill Valley? As portrayed, the town had made it to the iron age, but that was about it.

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They were going to try alternative combustible liquids. The first they tried was alcohol. The strongest one the could buy from the local bartender if I remember correctly.

With that the intake manifold to blew out and then they just could not repair it with the technology of that time and so had to give up the idea.

Probably if they didn't blow the intake manifold they would have tried also Petrol eventually.

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