Henry Ford liked to invent and on August 13, 1941, he unveiled his “plastic car”.
What grabbed the headlines was the claim the “plastic” was largely made of soybeans.
The car was immediately dubbed the “Soybean Car” by the media.
Henry said the project was a serious attempt to combine agriculture with the car industry.
He also claimed the “plastic” panels made the car safer than traditional steel cars and that the car could even roll over without being crushed.
Henry established a laboratory where scientists moulded ground soybean meal into small plastic car parts.
Robert Boyer, a chemist, oversaw a series of experiments at Greenfield Village’s Soybean Laboratory.
The car comprised a lightweight tubular steel frame on to which the “plastic” panels were bolted.
To save more weight, acrylic sheets were used for windows instead of glass.
The engine was a 60hp flathead Ford V8.
The finished product weighed less than 900kg, almost 40 per cent less than a typical American car of the era.
There has always been speculation about the exact ingredients of the “plastic” panels.
At the time, Ford was very secretive about it all.
And because the car no longer exists, it is almost impossible to accurately identify the chemical components of the “plastic”.
Some researchers say the chemical formula included soybeans, wheat, hemp and formaldehyde.
Current consensus is that the body panels were more likely a conventional plastic, with very little soybean, similar to what was used on that East German icon — the Trabant.
Ford exhibited the car at the Michigan State Fair, but then it was mysteriously destroyed by Ford styling boss Bob Gregorie.
So was the Soybean Car the beginning of a new era that simply needed more time and money to see to fruition? Or was it a folly?
Ford had reportedly invested millions of dollars in the project but 12 weeks after its release the USA was attacked by Japan.
All automobile production was suspended as the maximum effort was given to winning World War II
By the end of the war Ford’s plastic car idea had been forgotten.
Then General Motors resurrected the concept in 1954 and called it the Corvette.
By the way, the famous picture of Henry Ford hitting a car with an axe is not a picture of the soybean car.
It was actually Ford’s personal car with a plastic rear deck lid made to fit it.
Henry liked to demonstrate the strength of the plastic, and the axe he used would fly out of his hands — about 5 metres.
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