Lightweight garage #16 Bio-based plastics @ Soybean Car (Ford 1941)

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Lightweight garage, News
©The Henry FordFord designer Lowell E. Overly in the Soybean Car, 1941, CC BY-NC-ND

The vehicle

On August 14, 1941, the New York Times reported on page 19 about a new type of vehicle concept that had been unveiled the day before in Dearborn, Michigan. Henry Ford had presented a car with plastic panels to 10,000 interested people, which never went into series production, but nevertheless went down in history as the innovative Soybean Car.

In particular, the lack of raw materials due to the Second World War forced the Ford Motors Company to discontinue this project and not to investigate the combination of materials any further. The prototype is also considered destroyed.

The technology

The vehicle architecture was built on a tubular steel frame covered with 14 plastic panels. Although the exact composition of the plastic was not made available, one developer involved said that it was essentially made from a soybean fiber in a phenolic resin with formaldehyde. An article in a 1941 issue of Popular Mechanics, however, describes the material as a composition of flax, wheat and hemp as well as wood pulp.

Such material combinations have been researched at the Soybean Laboratory in Greenfield Village since the 1930s in order to couple synergies between the automotive industry and agriculture and improve vehicle safety. Today, bio-based plastics have a small market share but double-digit growth.

The lightweight aspect

From a lightweight construction point of view, the lightweight material construction should be emphasized here, which led to a reduction in mass, as metal cladding was replaced by plastic.

Ford itself gives the weight of the Soybean Car as 907 kg and puts the saving at 454 kg compared to a steel vehicle at the time. In comparison, the weight of the Ford Super Deluxe was 1,344 to 1,571 kg, depending on the equipment, so this weight saving must be put into perspective.

©The Henry FordFrame of the Soybean Plastic Car, 1941, CC BY-NC-ND

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