Lightweight Garage #16 Bio-based plastics @ Soybean car (Ford 1941)

©The Henry FordFord Designer Lowell E. Overly in the Soybean Car, 1941, CC BY-NC-ND

The Vehicle

On 14 August 1941, the New York Times reported on page 19 about a novel vehicle concept that had been presented the day before in Dearborn, Michigan. Henry Ford had itroduced a car with plastic panelling to 10,000 interested people. Unforunately the car 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 stop this project and not to investigate the material combination 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 it was essentially made from a soybean fibre in a phenolic resin with formaldehyde. A paper in a 1941 issue of Popular Mechanics, on the other hand, describes the material as a composition of flax, wheat, hemp and wood pulp.

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

The Lightweighting Effect

From a lightweight design point of view, the lightweight material construction should be emphasised here, which led to a mass saving, as metallic claddings were 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 of the time. For comparison, the weight of the 1941 Ford was 1,344 to 1,571 kg, depending on the equipment, so that this weight saving must be put into perspective.

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

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