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The scene in Back to the Future III where the freight train destroys the DeLorean seems a bit unrealistic to me. It makes the car look like it was made of wood or cinder blocks. Maybe if the train was going 100 mph and the DeLorean's brakes were applied.

DeLorean gets wrecked by the train

Would it actually happen this way? Obviously the car would be heavily damaged but wouldn't it just crumple at the front and get pushed along the track?

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    i.stack.imgur.com/JTVYr.png – cat Aug 27 '16 at 23:51
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    Keep in mind that they probably wanted to minimize the damage to the $1 million+ locomotive, so the scene was no doubt shot undercranked, i.e., made to look faster on screen than it really was, so making it look realistic for a 60-80 mph collision would require explosives. Did they overdo it? Come on - would Hollywood overdo a train wreck? – BrightBlueJim Aug 28 '16 at 0:41
  • What, seriously? This got migrated? ?? – cde Aug 28 '16 at 2:23
  • No @cde, that was a joke that nobody found as funny as i did :( – cat Aug 29 '16 at 14:49
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Yes. A few points.

  1. Real, better cars get destroyed all the time (for instance).

  2. The DeLorean has always been known as a fairly weak car. Its construction and crash survivability is pretty low. It had a Fiberglass chassis when most cars were still fully metal. Remember in the previous movie, Marty wanted the Doc to block the tunnel with the flying DeLorean, Doc says it would be shred to pieces by a 50s Ford metal truck.

  3. The DeLorean has an unknown number of modifications, both as a time machine as well as a flying car for weight. And in the west as well. It was modified so the train could push it to 88 mph. IIRC or IMHO that probably would include ditching the now useless gas engine, again for weight.

  4. Doc used parts of it to make ice. So it's missing parts.

  5. Dead on the tracks, head on. Unlike most train on car collisions, which are T bones.

Had it been a Ford full metal truck, no. But a Fiberglass DeLorean, especially a questionably modified one, sure.

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    When the Delorean comes out of time travel, there's always "steam" or fog around it. It's always more of a condensation of ambient air hitting a cold object, from the looks of it. This tells me that time travel is an endothermic process and it looks like the car comes out in a rather super-cooled state, which would also make the fiberglass you refer to more brittle, until it warms back up. – PoloHoleSet Aug 25 '16 at 18:24
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    The car definitely becomes cold after time travel. Doc explicitly says so in the first movie after the initial test of the machine. – Ajedi32 Aug 25 '16 at 19:45
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    @xaloroud do yours. The stainless steel is body panels, not structural... fiberglass chassis underbody en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/DeLorean_DMC-12 – cde Aug 25 '16 at 22:49
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    Doc had the time machine holed up in the mine so that Marty could use it to get from 1955 to 1985. I doubt he used any significant parts of it for the ice machine. – DevSolar Aug 26 '16 at 10:58
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    @Michael Karnerfors True but the car DID crash into a barn at ~50 mph in the first movie with no damage at all. Those hay bales aren't THAT soft. – masospaghetti Aug 26 '16 at 14:49
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No, the car would probably not explode.

Cars get hit by trains all the time in reality. In general, a lot of the momentum of the train goes into moving the car -- either pushing it along the tracks or hurling it to one side, depending on the situation.

In reality, what most likely would have happened in BTTF is the Deloran would have been hurled off to one side with a huge dent in the side. Some parts would probably have fallen off (doors, windows, etc.) but the car would likely not have disintegrated. If the car was very precisely placed on the tracks, it may have been thrown forward ahead of the train, and probably hit again, in which case it would be in many more pieces. But the car itself remaining in-place and falling apart is not very realistic.

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    The DeLorean was sitting on the tracks (road tires replaced with train wheels), head-on to the train. That would make it very hard for it to get thrown to the side, and impossible to get a dent in the side. – David Yaw Aug 25 '16 at 18:24
  • If the delorean was on the track even slightly off-center... or the train itself was even slightly off-center... then the impact would cause the car to "spin" to the side that accelerated more slowly and go flying off that way. – KutuluMike Aug 25 '16 at 19:16
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    @KutuluMike But it was not off center, it was perfectly centered on the rail on its wheels, as was the train. A few mm or cm offset is not going to make a difference. – Johnny Aug 25 '16 at 20:21
  • @Johnny in a question about realism, I think it would.... Spaceships have blown up for less than a few cm difference. – djsmiley2k Aug 26 '16 at 10:24
  • What happens to a flux capacitor loaded with depleted plutonium when hit? I think it causes cars to blow up into pieces. I'm going deux ex machina on this one.... – PoloHoleSet Aug 26 '16 at 13:32
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I originally thought that this was completely possible, but after looking into how they achieved the effect, I am convinced that in real life, the DeLorean would have been crushed and would have lost a few parts, but not disintegrate to the degree that the movie DeLorean does.

This page mentions in the "Future Facts" section that the DeLorean that you see on screen was cut up and rigged with explosives so that it would explode apart when the train hit. In fact, if you look at the this clip (about 17 seconds into the video clip) you can see the explosion for a frame or two. The cut up and exploded DeLorean's body panels were actually reassembled at the Planet Hollywood Honolulu restaurant and can be seen here so you can see how the car was sliced up.

Train-car collisions definitely cause some devastating damage, but in real life you can expect more crumpling and crushing than exploding into a million pieces.

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