Ford: one of the world’s biggest automotive companies, and one that isn’t afraid to try new things—even if they involve soybeans. Yes, that’s right. Based partially on his desire to replace metal car materials with plastic alternatives based from soybeans (and probably in part because of Henry Ford’s love for soy in general), the soybean car was unveiled to the public in August 1941 at the Dearborn Days festival in Michigan. However, the rise of World War II caused its development to grind to a halt.
But how did the idea for the soybean car come about? And why didn’t its development go very far? If you’re studying to become an auto mechanic, here’s a rundown of the soybean car’s history.
A Look at the Car’s Materials for Students in a Mechanic Program
One of the major reasons behind Ford’s invention of the soybean car was not only to marry the automotive industry to agriculture, but also that the plastic material used for the soybean car’s parts would replace metal, as there was a metal shortage during that time period.
Ford had also planted over 12,000 acres of farmland with soybeans, and thought up ways they could be used for purposes other than for food. However, although the car’s body was comprised of soy-based plastic, other parts—namely its engine and frame—were metal-based. Regardless, imagine what things would be like if soy-based plastic wound up being the dominant material through which cars were made!
Not only did the use of soybean-based materials make the car body lighter and improve its fuel economy, but Henry Ford made the car to help improve the lives of farmers. Having grown up on a farm himself, Ford saw an opportunity to cater to soybean farmers by using those soybeans to make cars.
What Specs Did the Soybean Car Have?
Students in a mechanic program might be most interested in what was under the hood of this strange car. On the inside, the soybean car was a lot like the Ford 60. It had a flathead V8 engine capable of 60hp, and a chassis and wheels made of metal.
While the car had a steel frame, the body’s 14 panels were all made of plastic. Yes, the soybean car is also known as the world’s first plastic car. Having already used soy-based parts such as gear shift knobs and switches in other cars he’d made, Ford claimed the plastic materials used on the car’s panels were safer than traditional, steel-based vehicles. In a famous example of him demonstrating this, Ford struck an axe against his personal vehicle (not the soybean car) made of plastic materials. The axe would rebound each time, a testament to the plastic’s strength and durability. In fact, even today some carmakers are looking into using plastic to make engines and other car parts.
The Car’s Development Was Stifled by World War II, and Later Destroyed
Although Ford had already found success with the Model T, aka the world’s first affordable car, he ultimately would not find the same kind of traction with the soybean car, albeit through no fault of his own. The car did not even make it into the production phase, as World War II was ongoing, which would end automobile production throughout the United States during that time.
Despite a second unit of the car being in development at that time, the efforts would later be abandoned and the soybean car project would fall by the wayside. As a result, you won’t see any soybean cars once you become a mechanic. According to Lowell Overly, one of the main figures behind the car’s creation, the soybean car was eventually destroyed by car designer Eugene T. “Bob” Gregorie. It made only two public appearances, first at the Dearborn Days festival and the Michigan State Fair, both in 1941.
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