This is the first car made out of plastic, and it's 78 years old today!
On August 13th, 1941, Henry Ford unveiled a car whose body panels where made entirely of plastic. The car's plastic was made from a combination of soybeans, wheat, hemp and ramie, which Henry Ford claimed made it safer than a traditional steel car, and the steel tube frame was able to support the car's weight in a rollover.
There were two significant reasons that Henry Ford chose plastic as the main material of this build, one of them being weight saving. The entire car weighed 2,000 pounds, nearly 1,000 pounds less than a traditional steel car. This of course took a lot of stress off of the flathead V8 that powered the car, which made it not only faster, but more fuel efficient as well. The V8 was also modified to be able to run on hemp fuel.
The project was created because Henry Ford wanted to integrate the agricultural industry and the automobile industry, and the Soybean Car was supposed to be the means of doing that. The car's use of plastic was the answer to a national shortage of metal at the time. Ford believed that the Soybean Car concept would catch on, but the US involvement in World War II halted all passenger car production as the nation's automakers got to work building vehicles for the war.
The car, a one-off prototype, was supposedly destroyed by the creator, Eugene Turenne Gregorie, and the project was entirely abandoned after the war.
But what if it stuck around?
Ford had the means of creating plastic body panels, a steel tube frame, a V8 powering the rear wheels, and the whole project only weighed 2,000 lbs too. They had the recipe for the Corvette years before the Corvette was even a thing, and who knows where we'd be if Ford developed the plastic car as a more practical means of transportation. I can only imagine the additional lightness would've made Ford's big race against Ferrari at Le Mans a lot easier. Not only that, but Ford would've had the fastest muscle cars in the US which would've sent sales for them through the roof.
In today's world of giant SUVs, it would make sense to use more organic materials such as soybean plastic and other lightweight materials, especially given the current state of fuel economy on some of these massive vehicles. The addition of the agricultural industry would be huge for the country as well, especially during the 70s and 80s when the US was actually making cars here.
It really makes me wonder why the project never took off, like if there were other variables that resulted in the project being destroyed and abandoned.
What do you think of Ford's Soybean Car? Should it have become the standard for the industry? Would you drive a plastic car? Comment Below!