August 13, 1941 Henry Ford’s Soybean Car

Henry Ford had a “thing”, for soybeans.  At the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago, Ford invited reporters to a feast where he served soybean cheese, soybean crackers, soy bread and butter, soy milk, soy ice cream… The man was a veritable Bubba Gump, of soybeans. 

The largest museum in the United States is located in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. The sprawling, 12-acre indoor-outdoor complex in the old Greenfield Village is home to JFK’s Presidential limo, the Rosa Parks bus and the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop. There you will find Abraham Lincoln’s chair from Ford’s Theater, along with Thomas Edison’s laboratory and an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. George Washington’s camp bed is there, with Igor Sikorski’s helicopter and an enormous collection of antique automobiles, locomotives and aircraft.

Sadly, one object you will not find there, is Henry Ford’s plastic car, made from soybeans.

92MI_0003Ford left the family farm outside of modern-day Detroit as a young man, never to return. His father William thought the boy would one day own the place but young Henry couldn’t stand farm work. He later wrote, “I never had any particular love for the farm—it was the mother on the farm I loved”.

Henry Ford went on to other things, but part of him never left the farm. In 1941, the now-wealthy business magnate wanted to combine industry, with agriculture.  At least, that’s what the museum says.

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George Washington Carver, at work in his library

Ford first gave the plastic car project to yacht designer Eugene Turenne Gregorie, but later turned to the Greenfield Village soybean laboratory. To the guy in charge over there, actually, a guy with some experience in tool & die making.  His name was Lowell Overly.

The car was made in Dearborn with help from the scientist and botanist George Washington Carver, (yeah, That George Washington Carver), a man born to slavery who rose to such prodigious levels accomplishment, that Time magazine labeled him the “Black Leonardo”.

The soybean car, introduced to the public this day in 1941, was made from fourteen ¼-inch thick plastic panels and plexiglass windows, attached to a tubular steel frame and weighing in at 1,900 pounds, about a third lighter than comparable automobiles of the era. The finished prototype was exhibited later that year at the Dearborn Days festival, and the Michigan State Fair Grounds.

The thing was built to run on fuel derived from industrial hemp, a related strain of the Cannibis Sativa plant beloved of stoners the world over and known simply, as “weed”.

soybean-car-chassis-skeleton-right-rearFord claimed he’d be able to “grow automobiles from the soil”, a hedge against the metal rationing of world War Two. He dedicated 120,000 acres of soybeans to experimentation, but to no end.  The total acreage devoted to “fuel” production, is unrecorded.

Another reason for a car made from soybeans, was to help American farmers.  Plus, Henry Ford seems to have had a “thing”, for soybeans.  At the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago, Ford invited reporters to a feast where he served soybean cheese, soybean crackers, soy bread and butter, soy milk, soy ice cream… The man was a veritable Bubba Gump, of soybeans.  Ford was probably one of the first in this country, to regularly drink soy milk.

Henry Ford’s own car was fitted with a soybean trunk and struck with an axe to show the material’s durability, though the axe was later revealed to have a rubber boot.

Henry-Ford-Soybean-CarHenry Ford’s experiment in making cars from soybeans never got past that first prototype, and came to a halt during WW2.  The project was never revived, though several states adopted license plates stamped out of soybeans, a solution farm animals found to be quite delicious.

The car itself was destroyed long ago, the ingredients for its manufacture unrecorded, but the thing lives on in the hearts of hemp enthusiasts, everywhere.

The New York Times claimed the car body and fenders were made from soy beans, wheat and corn.  Some sources opine that the car was made from Bakelite or some variant of Duroplast, a plant-based auto body substance produced in the millions, for the East German Trabant.

One newspaper claimed that nothing ever came from Henry Ford’s soybean experiments, except whipped cream.

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June 28, 1953 American Muscle Car

Workers at the Flint Michigan plant assembled the first Corvette on this day in 1953.  The first production car rolled off the assembly line two days later.  300 hand-built Corvettes came off the line that model year, all white.

For two years, General Motors designer Harley Earl labored to build an affordable American sports car, to compete with the MGs, Jaguars and Ferraris coming out of Europe.  The first convertible concept model appeared in early 1953, part of the GM Motorama display at the New York Auto Show held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

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Chevrolet wanted to give the new model a “non-animal” name, starting with ‘C’.  Newspaper photographer Myron Scott suggested the name of a small class of warship, the “trim, fleet naval vessel that performed heroic escort and patrol duties during World War II.”  They called this new model a Corvette.

Workers at the Flint Michigan plant assembled the first Corvette on this day in 1953.  The first production car rolled off the assembly line two days later.  300 hand-built Corvettes came off the line that model year, all white.

073012_7To keep costs down, off-the-shelf components were used whenever possible. The body was made of fiberglass to keep tooling expenses low.  The chassis and suspension came from the 1952 Chevy sedan.  The car featured an increased compression-ration version of the same in-line six “Blue Flame” block used in other models, coupled with a two-speed Power glide automatic transmission.  No manual transmission of the time could reliably handle an output of 150 HP and a 0-60 time of 11½ seconds.

GM moved production to St. Louis, Missouri the following year.  Since 1974, the car has been manufactured in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where the Corvette has become the official sports car of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Corvette evolution

Sales were disappointing in the first couple years, compared with those of European competitors.  GM refined the early design and added a V-8 in 1955, greatly improving the car’s performance.  By 1961, the Corvette had established itself as a classic American muscle car.

The second generation (C2) introduced the “Stingray” name in 1963. Still sporting fiberglass body panels, the car was smaller and lighter than previous models with a maximum output of 360 HP.  The sleek, tapered design was said to be patterned after the Mako shark caught by lead designer Bill Mitchell, on a deep sea fishing trip.

The third generation (1968–1982) featured a radically new body and interior design, and Chevy’s first use of T-top removable roof panels. The “Stingray” name was dispensed with in 1976, in 1978, the C3 became the first of 12 Corvettes to be used as Pace Cars for the Indy 500.

The radical redesign of the fourth generation Corvette was intended for the 1983 model year but, quality issues and delays from parts suppliers resulted in only 43 prototypes being built.  None of them were ever sold. Only one of the 1983 prototypes survives; it’s on display at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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When it came to quality and styling, many felt that the C4 compared poorly with Japanese competitors like the Nissan 300ZX and Mazda RX-7. The 5th generation introduced in 1997 addressed many of these issues. The production C5 had a top speed of 181 mph, while the lower drag coefficient and new, aerodynamic styling resulted in 28 mpg on the highway.

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Twenty-first century updates exposed headlights for the first time since 1962, the 7th generation becoming the first to bear the Stingray name since the 1976 model year.  Air intake grills were exposed for the first time in four generations, as the all-important 0-60 times approached the four-seconds mark.

Corvette enthusiasts criticized the aggressive, angular lines of the C7, claiming the rear end looks more like a C5 Camaro.  Others complained about the front end; with an air intake grill exposed for the first time in four generations.

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The supercharged 6.2L V8 power plant of the 2019 Z06 develops 650 horsepower, capable of accelerating from 0-60 mph in 2.95 seconds with a top end of 207.4 mph. Ain’t nobody fussing about that.

 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.