What some today will herald as the car of the future has already had its big debut. The innovative revelation came from Dearborn – more than 70 years ago.
On the 14th of August 1941, Henry Ford revealed his biological car, the Hemp Car. 70 percent of the cream-colored car consisted of long and short fibers made from straw, cotton, hemp and flax. The remaining 30 percent consisted of soybean and liquid bioresin filler. Various buttons, the gear knob, door handles and pedals were made of soybeans. And the tires were made of – wait for it… – rice! And it doesn’t even stop there, as the fuel tank contained a mixture of 85 percent gasoline and about 15 percent corn-derived ethanol.
The only part which was constructed using ordinary steel was the tubular chassis frame itself, to which the 14 body panels were mounted. These panels consisted of vegetable materials that were molded under high pressure. The windows were made of acrylic plastic materials and the total weight of the car was less than 900 kg.
The concept of the ecological car was brought on largely due to the rationing of steel during the Second World War and supposedly even more so through Henry Ford’s sympathy for the farmers and the tough depression which had hit the agricultural industry particularly hard. If he could build cars from agricultural goods, he could perhaps also help revive the farming industry. But perhaps not surprisingly, skepticism among the press and the public was high, and it never really received much attention. The general mood was that such a vehicle, composed of a mixture of agricultural crops and synthetic chemicals, had no future. During the presentation of the car, Ford went all out to demonstrate the strength of the body parts, which were supposedly not just lighter, but also stronger than the equivalent traditional steel panels. A bootlid made of the same plant materials had been constructed for Henry Ford’s own personal car, and he proceeded to prove his point by striking it hard with a big hammer. Despite these convincing demonstrations, people remained doubtful.
But despite all the wisdom which had lead to Ford’s Hemp Car, and despite it being the perfect vehicle to drive the American farmer out of a 20-year economic depression, nothing more came of it. With the maturation of the petrochemical industry and the revival of the American agricultural exports, the thought of a biological car was relegated to the trash bin of history.
Now, more than seventy years later, Ford’s dreams are attracting attention again. Car manufacturers, engineers and scientists work hard to integrate vegetable derived products into the production of standard road cars. And they call it progress…