This Autonomous 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 Drifts All By Itself


Drifting is hard work. What if you could have a computer do it for you?

If there's one common gripe about the scores of fully autonomous test vehicles currently on the road in the US, it's that they tend to drive a bit too conservatively, forcing everyone around them to adapt to their slow speeds and abrupt braking. If only there were a self-driving prototype that didn't drive with such an overabundance of caution.

Now, there is. Say hello to MARTY - a pure-electric, fully autonomous 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 programmed to execute spectacular drifts at up to a 40-degree slip angle. The car was ostensibly designed and built to test how a vehicle might safely control itself beyond the limits of adhesion, but we know what it was really made for: loads of tire-smoking fun.

Yvonne Tang / Jonathan Goh

As InsideEVs reports, MARTY is an acronym that stands for Multiple Actuator Research Testbed for Yaw control, but of course, it's also the name of Michael J. Fox's character in Back to the Future - a film franchise that prominently features a time-traveling DeLorean DMC-12. The quirky, iconic classic car was slated to go back into low-volume production this year, interestingly enough, although to our knowledge, no "new" DeLoreans have yet been delivered to customers.

It's an interesting chassis to use for testing this autonomous drifting system, although MARTY has been modified significantly from its factory form, ditching its original Peugeot-Renault-Volvo V6 for some electric motors that can supply up to 5,160 lb-ft of torque to each rear wheel.

Jonathan Goh
Jonathan Goh
Jonathan Goh

That powertrain, in concert with a stiffer suspension, electronically controlled brakes and steering, a pair of GPS antennae capable of tracking MARTY's position within an inch, and an especially reckless, unhinged autonomous driving system result in the crazy, precise, controlled drifting shown here on video.

MARTY's system is a fascinating one, and one that could open the door to less invasive forms of Electronic Stability Control, "by understanding how to control a vehicle beyond the stability limits," in the words of Stanford PhD graduate Jon Goh.

MARTY's Renovo-designed powertrain has "just" 350 horsepower on tap - significantly less than the GT Performance model of the forthcoming Ford Mustang Mach-E. This raises the question: were Ford to give the Mach-E a Drift Mode like the Ford Focus RS had, what might it be capable of?

Jonathan Goh
Jonathan Goh
Jonathan Goh

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