It seems to be a commonly accepted theory that the car skidded before going back to 1855. However, the car didn't really seem to skid, so much as explode. It certainly didn't appear to move in such a way that could possibly make those fire skid marks.

That said, I have a feeling the writers intended for the number 99 to be a way to pay tribute to some important event.

It might be possible that perhaps this was a tribute to Jules Verne. Michael Strogoff was publish 99 years before the movie was released. Dr. Brown's son, Jules, was also according to FuturePedia born 99 years before the first film began (Jules had a brother named Verne). However, I can't help but wonder why Back To The Future would have a reference to a book that itself wasn't even a science fiction.

Or, perhaps that was the speed the doc was moving (I guessing the faster you go, the harder it is to control the time in which the Flux Capacitor will send you, which could explain why Doc was sent to the old west). But, I can't imagine the speed would appear in backward flames like that.

Does anyone have a more solid theory?

  • The most common theory and one that TVTropes says has a word of god is that the Delorean does a backflip when the lightning strikes, resulting in the firey "99". – phantom42 Sep 16 '14 at 19:55
  • I thought my answer to this was pretty comprehensive, featuring a direct quote from the creator on the subject. Is there anything else you'd want addressing before considering an acceptance? – Valorum Feb 16 '16 at 21:13

On the official wikidot FAQ for Back to the Future II, Robert Gale (the film's co-Writer and Director) described the 99 fire trails thusly:

Q. What is the significance of the pair of "backwards 9's" of fire left behind when the DeLorean is struck by lightning?

Gale : When the big bolt of lightning hits the DeLorean, it sends the flying vehicle spinning on its axis. As we already know, the DeLorean leaves fire trails behind it when it travels through time. Since in this case, the car was spinning, the fire trails are left behind as spirals instead of the usual straight lines left behind when the car is moving straight ahead.

Q. How could the DeLorean travel through time when it gets struck by lightning if it isn't going 88 miles per hour?

Gale : The sudden rotation of the DeLorean from the lightning hit accelerates it to 88 miles per hour when it spins.

This quote appears to have been sourced (verbatim) from the Official BTTF Fan Club Magazine, Issue #3.

  • I always assumed it was a small in-joke: Western Auto (the Western Auto page doesn't have a photo) – Michael Itzoe Sep 17 '14 at 13:34
  • 1
    @MichaelItzoe - No, just bad effects. You were supposed to see a receding spiral but instead it came out looking like a 99 – Valorum Feb 16 '16 at 21:21
  • This is also the explanation given in the DVD commentary for the film. The car spun at 88 MPH, which activated the time circuits, which were shown earlier in the film to be misbehaving, setting the year to 1885. The trails left behind were therefore spirals. – John Sensebe Mar 14 '16 at 14:13

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