Friday, December 30, 2016

Original file drawer
What a fascinating source!  I wonder if Adolf Rosenberger appears in the first order book or other surviving materials! 

Written by Dieter Landenberger

The history of the Porsche automobile brand began in 1948, but the groundwork for the company was laid 
in the design office of Professor Ferdinand Porsche. The first order book 
in 1930 recorded the start-up phase of a legend in the making.

It sits unremarkably in a gray safe in a climate-controlled room: the first ledger of the Porsche design office, stored in a fireproof room in the archive of the Porsche Museum. In the timeworn ledger one can find order number 1, placed on August 21, 1930. The job involved manufacturing individual components for a “Hesselmann engine,” a cross between a diesel and a gas engine—a sign of the company’s innovative spirit since its inception. Order number 7 was of another dimension altogether. “Small-car project,” reads the description in the ledger. The Wanderer company planned to motorize the masses and needed a concept with which it could economically and inexpensively develop what was then considered a luxury item into a Volks-Wagen—a car for the people. A clever idea, as history would demonstrate. The order book provides an illuminating look at how Ferdinand Porsche and his small team of just nineteen employees embodied the vision of design creativity.
On April 25, 1931, Professor Porsche had his company officially entered in the commercial register. From that day forward, “Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche GmbH, Konstruktionen und Beratung für Motoren und Fahrzeuge,” based in Stuttgart, was officially on the books. The first five projects were started in 1930 in St. Ulrich, Austria. The drawing board was in the bedroom of Porsche’s son Ferry. But the office moved to Stuttgart at the beginning of 1931, initially renting space in the city center. The idea of a neutral design office was still unheard of in the automotive world. Ferdinand Porsche did not, at the time, harbor the intention of building his own cars. His aim was to carry out technical projects for a variety of clients as well as charge licensing fees and patent royalties. The first order book illustrates in impressive fashion how the Porsche office became a hotbed of innovation for the German automotive industry.

Porsche’s vision had begun to take shape

In 1932, Porsche received the commission to develop a small car for the Zündapp motorcycle manufacturer. The car was intended to deliver a shot in the arm to the struggling manufacturer of two-wheelers. With the revival of fortunes in the motorcycle market, however, the project was put on ice. The work on the Type 12 had not been in vain, however. For the first time, the idea for the later Volkswagen (the Type 60) manifested itself. Porsche’s vision had begun to take shape, and on April 27, 1934, Erwin Komenda completed the first drawing for the Type 60, as the “Volkswagen Project” entry shows.

The first order book of Ferdinand Porsche in 1930

In early 1933, the Porsche design office received a commission from Auto Union to develop a sixteen-cylinder race car according to the rules of the 1,650-pound racing formula. In December of 1932, months before concluding the contract, the Porsche team began work on the Type 22 mid-engine P race car. The legendary Auto Union Grand Prix car set new standards.

Ferry Porsche turned the design office into the Porsche automobile company

For company historians, the first “sketchbook” and the following four notebooks are the most important sources shedding light on the early history of the company. They document the years 1930 to 1945. The ledgers contain some 300 projects. The “Porsche” signature first appears on January 30, 1931. A youthful hand recorded “Connecting rod with screw and bolt”—entry number 9, penned by apprentice Ferry Porsche, who would later turn the design office into the Porsche automobile company.
Whereas the initial five projects were completed in Austria, the first Stuttgart-based job was order number 6: a “duo-servo drum brake.” This, too, was a comparatively small job, especially when compared to order number 7, a small-car project that would later make automotive history as the Wanderer W21/22. In Ferdinand Porsche’s original file drawer, the address can still be found under “W.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Can Anyone Tell Me About Hans Reimann's MotorBummel durch den Orient?

Ok folks -- and I am hoping some German auto historians pick up on this post -- can shed some light on a book that I picked up several years ago and am curious about.  I have leafed through my copy but have yet to put lots of time in reading it. From what I understand this book was based on a trip taken between 1931 and 1933 by three men in a Ford.  It was published in 1935 and then again in 1942.  Why the 1942 issue?  Related to WWII and North Africa and the Middle East?

I am interested in Germans who take long road trips during the Interwar period.  At a time when so few Germans own cars let alone travel beyond German borders, trips like Reimann took were extraordinary. What about trips that took Germans back to the lost colonies, especially in Africa?

Any general information would be most appreciated.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Early Christian Responses to the Coming of the Automobile: Would Jesus Drive or Prefer to Walk?

An Answer to Prayer or Something to Pray About?
With the widespread sales of the Model T in rural areas of America after 1908, it was soon recognized that the automobile had a profound influence upon patterns of religious worship and beliefs. In terms of church worship, small rural congregations were displaced by the migration of believers to more central locations in larger towns and cities. More serious, perhaps, were the many sermons that called attention to young people who would forego Sunday services for the joys of the open road. And then there were those who somehow lost faith due to the modernism that the automobile brought to American society.1 For example, the following young woman’s recollection took place either in 1919 or 1920:
            Our little Christian Endeavor flock of five high school boys and girls was returning for a religious retreat sheparded by our minister. The road home led up Pine Canyon from the Columbia River to Waterville [Washington]. It was a long steep grade of four miles or so. The day was hot. We were not yet halfway up when the minister’s Model T balked. The radiator boiled and the motor failed. Our good minister suggested that we call for God’s help so all six of us knelt in the road on the shady side of the car and prayed. The radiator soon ceased to boil, and we got underway again. Our prayers were answered but momentarily. Stops became frequent, and prayers increased in length. Three or four prayers later, the Model T topped the hill, and we were profoundly impressed with our convincing demonstration of the power of prayer.
            Imagine the shock to my newly demonstrated convictions at what we learned from the owner of the service station in Waterville where we stopped to replace the radiator water which had boiled away and for gas. On hearing of our difficulties on the Pine Canyon Grade, he commented that all Model T’s behaved similarly on that hill. The customary and necessary way to get a Model T up that hill or any other which overheated the motor, he declared, was to stop at the instant the radiator boiled and wait to let the heated motor cool off as the Ford thermo-syphon cooling operated too slowly on hills to keep the motor at a safe operating temperature. When I learned that our prayers had merely provided the time for the thermo-syphon to overcome the motor heat, I was crushed. My faith in prayer suffered a mortal blow.2
            Within Catholic and Protestant contexts, strands of serious discussion about the automobile and its social consequences can be traced back to at least the 1920s. Literature of that era contained a consistent thread of critical commentary related to automobile issues that included safety, organized labor, economics, and social justice. While this stream of articles often reflected topics similar to those voiced in the secular mainstream, what made the material in the Christian literature distinctive was that a moral and at times biblical voice was often injected into an ethical debate concerning what should be the proper relationship between technology and society.3 
            As shall be discussed, the Catholic viewpoint differed from that of the Protestant in both its emphasis on certain subjects at the expense of others, and surprisingly, perhaps, in terms of the intensity of its overall scriptural tone. Mainline Catholic literature tended to the practical and biblical; Protestant contributions were more idealistic while at the same time in language approached the secular. In both subcultures, however, authors attempted to solve difficult social problems created by the automobile during the Machine Age.
            The automobile first became an issue for many American Catholics during the late 1920s, as the primary market shifted from rural to urban, and as city dwellers, many for the first time, began to contemplate purchasing vehicles. While the Catholic working class living in the largest of urban centers like New York City often would not purchase a car until after WWII, in the smaller cities and towns, like that of the Lynd’s Middletown – Muncie, Indiana – the family car came home by 1929.4
            To be sure, the automobile had been a topic in the Catholic literature of the first three decades of the twentieth century, but it was especially in the 1930s that it was frequently mentioned in the pages of The Commonweal, America, Columbia, Ave Maria, and GK’s Weekly. Although these essays and commentaries reflected similar articles also found in the secular literature, they often paid scant attention to those issues that Protestants characteristically echoed in their Middletown interviews; namely, discourses on how the Sunday auto trip was now a threat to Church attendance never appear in the Catholic literature. Seemingly, for Catholics, the car did not prevent parishioners from attending mass regularly. Nor was alcohol nearly as significant a topic for Catholic authors and editors as for their Protestant counterparts.
            For example, an overwhelming number of articles appearing in nondenominational Protestant Christian Century during the 1930s railed against drinking and driving.5 Prohibition had been repealed by the mid-1930s, and one commentator after another linked the rising national auto accident and fatality rates with the “almost complete absence of regulation of strong liquor traffic.”6 It was more than a shrill attack on drunkenness, for it was argued that the consumption any amount of alcohol substantially increased the risks behind the wheel; therefore, for the responsible driver, the only safe course was temperance. Thus if it was sin, it was never mentioned in theological terms in these articles; rather, the evil was materially identifiable and liquid, with the simple remedy of abstinence. While far less frequently mentioned in the Catholic press, the practice of driving and drinking often resulted in an indignant diatribe despite the fact that Depression-era newspapers and secular periodicals normally ignored or hushed this type of news for a variety of complex reasons.7
            Protestants and Catholics found common ground, however, on the issue of what speed was doing to Americans, subtly and psychologically. And while on the whole, much of what was said in the Catholic press dealt more with practical than spiritually abstract matters, the latter was occasionally dealt with in surprising fashion. Such was the case of Theodore Maynard’s essay entitled “On Driving a Car,” that appeared in a 1931 issue of The Commonweal.8 The author fancied himself as a spirit-filled poet whose senses were now deadened by the automobile and speed. Sensing that his driving led to “a definite decrease in spirituality,” coupled with an increase in “a hard, dry, positive frame of mind,” Maynard had little or no inclination to learn about the technology he was saddled with, preferring to “think about it [the automobile] as little as possible.” Indeed, he looked forward to a time when he could give up the car, since then he would be “set free from the tyranny of speed, [and] I can take my pipe and stick and walk again through the quiet fields.” This tyranny of speed was part and parcel of the new world of the automobile. Increasingly, time and space were compressed. While technology had freed people from time-consuming chores and increased the pace of transportation, life was far more rushed and constrained than before. And this need for speed was apparently insatiable, as at times it was truly irrational, given the ever-increasing fatality statistics. Unlike Catholic writers who saw speed as an issue of personal responsibility and a moral decision, the editor of The Christian Century called for the installation of governors on all cars manufactured in Detroit. Clearly, responsibility was placed in the hands of the Big Three and the federal government, the latter acting as a countervailing force.9 It was more than just horsepower and sheer highway speed, however. As one Protestant minister remarked in a Middletown interview, speed had resulted in demands for sermons that did not run over, so church could end no later than noon. High noon marked the time “to hit the road.”
            For all his acute insights, Maynard reflected a romantic strain of thought critical of the automobile, one in which it was thought that the car was a passing fad and that more eternal and simple values would ultimately prevail. According to this view, then, there was to be no American love affair with the car, for it was posited that the public would tire of accidents, and “a great ebbing of the tide of public interest in riding may set in. The novelty of speeding around in a car which has grown during the last thirty years into the great national pastime, may wear off, and people will stay at home more and tend gardens or otherwise occupy themselves in quiet and safety.”10 This writer, however, misjudged the power of the automobile over the individual; in contrast, as early as 1916 one astute priest remarked that “the automobile was here to stay.”  The automobile may have been here to stay, but as Maynard’s essay suggests many Americans did not fall for Motordom’s incessant media campaign concerning the love affair with the automobile. Many Americans never saw the automobile as more than an appliance or tool simply to get around.  The rejection of the commonly held notion of a near total American love affair with the automobile remains a topic that awaits the well-prepared student of history.
            Most of the Catholic literature of the early 1930s did not concern itself with deep matters related to human beings and their relationship to the machine, however, but rather the effects of the automobile on everyday, common lives, especially in terms of the alarming rate of fatal accidents. There was a sharp increase in fatalities during the 1920s, as automobile accident deaths rose from 15,000 in 1922 to 33,000 in 1930.11 What most concerned Catholic writers about these statistics was the large number of pedestrians, especially the young and the old, who ranked disproportionately high on casualty lists. Authors made light of the fact that the automobile was killing more Americans than war, and that numbers were on a marked rise, despite the fact that the Great Depression had curtailed the number of miles driven.12 One essay equated the situation as akin to that of Herod and his slaughter of innocent children, for “It will suffice to face the central fact – that every day from one to a hundred little ones get in the path of speeding cars, are crushed to death or maimed for life. Such a toll summons to mind ancient and terrible images of gods to whom babes were tossed in sacrifice”13 Apparently for some it was sport, according to G. K. Chesterton:
Let me take the case of a very queer moral twist, about which this paper [G. K.’s Weekly] has often made protests; and often been practically alone in making them; the case of a motorist, clearly beholding somebody walking across the road, who drives straight at him, and knocks him down in a way that is more than likely than not to kill him.14
            Statistics aside, the topic of accidents was dealt with either by an exploration of causes – drivers, speed, the vehicles themselves, or highways – or remedies that included driver education and stricter licensing laws, better enforcement of speed restrictions, the construction of walking paths and better roads.15 Above all, it was a discussion about responsibility, and here fingers were pointed at mothers, manufacturers, government, but above all inexperienced or dangerous drivers. In the Lynd’ s followup to Middletown, Middletown in Transition, published in 1937, the complaints concerning the automobile and its threats towards child pedestrians were quite similar to those mentioned in Catholic articles, but with one important difference – responsibility and moral matters were never grappled with.16
            One article from the secular press that held sway in Catholic circles was Curtis Billings’ “The Nut that Holds the Wheel,” published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1932.17 Billings argued that many drivers were unprepared for the faster speeds now experienced, and that one needed to be properly taught to drive and maintain the car. He concluded, “It is time for us to learn that the automobile is no longer a novel toy, that it is a tremendous social force, mainly for good, but certainly for terrific evil unless it is sanely used.”18 
            Between the 1930s and the 1950s, the frightful nature of automobile accidents remained a central theme. However, one issue quickly gained importance during the second half of the 1930s   – the tensions between organized labor and the Big Three. Until 1935, it was totally absent from the Catholic Periodical and Literature Index and Readers’ Guide. But between then and the coming of World War II, a substantial number of articles can be found in both the Catholic and Protestant press that demonized capitalists while sympathetically portraying the plight of the working classes. One Catholic author who railed against capital and management was Fr. Paul L. Blakely, S.J., who characterized the condition of autoworkers as “differing little from that of slavery.”19 Blakely righteously blasted the automakers, asserting that
this huge and inhuman industry has grown up within the last thirty years, is sad evidence of the world’s inability to understand the message of Leo XIII in his Labor Encyclical. But the message was simply the message of Jesus Christ, and his name is not in reverence in our modern world. Decidedly, there is something rotten at the heart of our alleged civilization, something that cannot be healed or excused by the forces which have been at work in the body politic for more than a quarter of a century.20
            Blakely followed with an essay on spies that had infiltrated the unions, assigning to management the name of Satan.21 Clearly, a wing of American Catholicism had taken on matters of social justice and there was no better stage than that of Detroit auto factories during the mid-to-late 1930s. Given the ethnicity and class of many churchgoers of the decade, and in the wake of such horrific episodes as the “Battle of the Overpass” involving bullies from Ford and the Reuther brothers, labor relations in Detroit was one topic that apparently was of interest to many readers. And indeed at least until the 1960s labor-management relations would form one important cluster of writing that appeared in the Catholic literature.22
            Protestant literature also covered union-management issues during the 1930s and beyond, but with little of the fierce intensity and biblical ire that characterized Catholic writing.23 Indeed, Protestant reporting was coldly analytical, with the only bit of emotion coming when describing the life of the first UAW president, Homer Martin, a former Baptist minister from Kansas City. Martin, “who was forced out of that Church in Kansas City has by his change of pulpits become a kind of Paul, who has taken away some of the profits of Demetrius and the Ephesian silversmiths, who has been in jail for his convictions, but whose cause is so just that not even the wealth of Dives can prevail against him.”24

            In sum, Church literature reflected sincere and sensitive concerns about the automobile and human purposes. The numerous essays and editorials revealed that Catholic writers recognized that the automobile possessed a Janus-like two faces, and that despite all of its conveniences, cars not only could maim and kill, but also subtly alter the human spirit. Thus, these writings mirrored a struggle that was associated with the rise of automobility during the first half of the twentieth century. It was serious stuff to debate thoughtfully, and profound questions concerning contemporary culture surfaced. Would a technology become the master of a society rather than a mere utilitarian tool subordinate to human purposes? Were humans somehow less important than machinery? In what ways were we inwardly changing to accommodate patterns of automobile use? These and more tensions were a part of a dialogue that was never fully addressed then or now, as evidenced by the fact that most people remain entranced by and dependent upon a machine that changed the world, both for better and for worse.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Present to Remember: The Visible V-8 Engine

Hi folks -- I had a number of memorable Christmas presents when younger, including the Visible V-8 Engine model kit.  As I remember it, the degree of difficulty was more than I could handle, so my older cousin George built it for me. I just had the enjoyment of running the battery-powered starter motor that turned the engine over.  It was mesmerizing!

As I remember it, the kit was a small block Chevy 283 cubic inch engine. When it turned over the pistons, cams, valve lifters all moved, and spark plugs lit up.  But much of my memory of that wonderful toy is now lost in aged neuron synapses that don't fire like they used to.

A great toy and memories of snowy Christmas eves past while growing up in Kenmore, NY. Only the ghosts survive on Stillwell Avenue tonight.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Women Mechanics -- the Real Deal

This photo taken in 1927.  Unlike previous post, the above three images represent reality and the real deal. You have to admire these women for what they did. They took on a technology almost exclusively connected with men. To hear their stories would be most significant in reconstructing the past. 

girl mechanics

Some photos I ran across on the internet. To my knowledge, I have never had a girl mechanic. And I certainly would remember any of those depicted in this post.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Mercedes-Benz W 124 Coupes -- 1987-1996

It was almost 30 years ago, in March 1987, that Mercedes-Benz brought out the coupé variant of the mid-sized 124 model series. This means that, from 2017, in Germany for example, the first vehicles will be ripe for the coveted H (historic) licence plate. Yet the coupé models have long been classics – for some aficionados, they have held that status since their very debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1987.
Stuttgart. "The new coupés of the mid-sized Mercedes class  a harmonious blend of exclusive form and powerful performance, ground-breaking technology, high safety and economy. The flair of the exceptional with the relaxing comfort of a vehicle that one drives every day and also uses on long journeys. The external lines: sporty elegance – distinct styling, perfectly designed in every detail." This was how the first brochure from 1987 described the series 124 Mercedes-Benz coupé. Looked at today, these words are still appropriate. The only thing one might add is that these are precisely the characteristics that make the coupé a sought-after classic of the brand.
230 CE and 300 CE – these were the names of the debutants 30 years ago. Then as now, the coupé has a lot going for it. One of its principal attributes is the design of the two-door models: elegant, distinctive and yet closely related to the other vehicles of the 124 model series. A characteristic design element that highlights the distinctiveness of the coupés in comparison with the other body variants is the rub strips with integral longitudinal door-sill panels. Positioned between the wheel cutouts on a level with the bumpers, they form the visual link between the front and rear aprons and, like these, are painted in contrasting colours.
Of course, the coupés also featured all the technical details of the saloon and estate variants, such as the high safety standard, sophisticated suspension and the (then already standard) closed-loop emission control system with three-way catalytic converter. The 300 CE even came as standard with an anti-lock braking system (ABS). The sum total of their characteristics has for many years made these vehicles sought-after young classics. The fact that they now qualify in Germany for the H (historic) licence plate even further ennobles the status of these vehicles as classics in that country.
In their further history, the coupés benefited from all the facelifts of the 124 model series. For instance, from 1989 they were optionally available with the "Sportline" package, which was already familiar from the compact models. Launched in the same year, the top-of-the-line model was the 300 CE-24, which was powered by a four-valve six-cylinder engine rated at  162 kW (220 hp). From June 1993, the model designations conformed to the new nomenclature with a prefixed letter to denote membership of the E-Class. The 320 CE thus became the E 320 Coupé. Over the years, there were various four- and six-cylinder engine variants. Launched in September 1993, the most potent coupé variant was the E 36 AMG, which was powered by a  195 kW (265 hp) 3.6-litre four-valve AMG engine. It was also one of the first models to be jointly developed by AMG and Mercedes-Benz after the two companies signed a cooperation agreement in 1990. In total, 141,498 units were manufactured of all series 124 coupés between 1987 and 1996 at the Sindelfingen plant.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

GM Plans to Build Self-Driving Vehicles

General Motors Co Chief Executive Mary Barra said on Thursday the automaker will expand testing of self-driving vehicles to Michigan, and will build its next generation of self-driving cars in the Michigan plant that builds the Chevrolet Bolt electric car.
Separately, Barra declined to discuss a statement by a Chinese government official that a U.S. automaker could be subject to penalties for price-fixing.
"I don't think anyone benefits from speculating on that," Barra told reporters at the event in GM's downtown Detroit headquarters. 
China is GM's largest single market, accounting for 37.6 percent of the automaker's global vehicle sales during the first nine months of 2016, compared with 31 percent for the United States. 
Chinese officials did not name the automaker in their comments to the official China Daily. 
Investors sold down shares of GM and rival Ford Motor Co(F.N) on Wednesday after the statement, which was seen by analysts and foreign policy experts as a warning by Beijing to President-elect Donald Trump not to upset the status quo in relations between the two countries.

GM has been accelerating its efforts to deploy self-driving cars, earlier this year buying autonomous driving startup Cruise Automation. GM and Cruise engineers have been testing self-driving prototypes in Arizona and California. 
Rivals, including Ford Motor Co, Uber Technologies  and Alphabet Inc's Waymo self-driving car unit, are also testing autonomous vehicles on public roads in various states and countries.
Barra used a press conference at the company's Detroit headquarters to show off an electric Chevrolet Bolt equipped with roof-top sensors designed to enable autonomous driving.
GM executives have said the automaker could eventually deploy self driving electric cars in fleets managed by its ride services partner, Lyft. However, Barra did not address Lyft in her remarks Thursday.
GM said it will start building a "next generation" of autonomous vehicles at the factory in Orion Township, Michigan north of Detroit early next year. That factory builds Chevrolet Bolts and Chevrolet Sonic subcompact cars.

(Reporting By Joseph White and Bernie Woodall; Editing by Bernard Orr)
From Reuters:

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Can anyone provide information on George Barris' Esso 67-X?

Can anyone help Dale out?  Please contract him directly!
I am an automotive journalist, and I am working on an article about a car that was created by George Barris in 1967. It was a stretched and customized Oldsmobile Toronado. It was called the Esso 67-X, and was built as a prize giveaway by Esso gas stations in Canada during Canada’s 100th birthday in 1967. 

Only four of these cars were made, and just three of them remain. I have spoken to the three current owners, and I know about the four original owners from archival newspaper clippings.

Now I am trying to find out where these cars were from the time they were won in 1967 to today.

Several articles said two or three of these cars were on display for a time in car museums in the United States. This would have likely been sometime between 1968 and 1980.

I have contacted some museums, but so far no one remembers this rare car. I thought I would see if anyone in the Society of Automotive Historians might remember this rare car.   Please pass this note along to anyone who might know about the 67-X.

I am attaching a couple of pictures of the car, which was known in Canada as the Esso ’67-X, or more simply the 67-X. In the U.S. it was sometimes referred to as the ’70-X.  The color pictures are of a 67-X that I saw earlier this month in Victoria, British Columbia.

I appreciate your help with this. Next year marks Canada’s 150th birthday - and the 50th birthday of this very special car, the 67-X.

Thank you,

Dale Johnson
2658 Philip Road
Regina, SK.
S4V 2A9


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Henry Ford and the Plastic Car -- a contribution from Leland Merling

Hi folks -- Leland wrote this paper for my HST 344 "The Automobile and American Life" class. Excellent work!
Henry Ford and the Plastic Car
“Considerable interest has been aroused [in Detroit] about reports of experiments conducted by the Ford Motor Company with plastic materials for automobile bodies” reads a New York Times article in 1940 (Callahan). What an exciting time at Ford with this potential major change in its manufacturing process. With these new cars, any color could be chosen for the body, the plastics would be see-through, and safety would be higher than ever before, or so proclaimed the media. The predictions of the new car on the market would turn out to be empty promises, and the project would eventually be scrapped post-WW2. Why is this car made of soybeans, hemp, and other crops so important then? Henry Ford with his “plastic car,” while ultimately failing, provides key insights to the past, present, and future of the automobile industry, as well as its use of agricultural products in production.
Henry Ford’s ties with agriculture begins with his birth to a relatively prosperous farmer named William Ford in Dearborn Michigan in 1863. His childhood was filled with both farm life duties as well as mechanical devices such as watches and steam engines (“Soybean Car”, 2016). From this childhood sprouted the lifelong familiarity with and love for agriculture which Ford would later incorporate into his automobile empire. Furthermore, his ingenuity and innovation with mechanical devices and tools would couple perfectly with his market foresight in helping him pave the way for his Model T. James Flink, automobile historian, captures the historical magnitude of Ford’s impact in using the opening of Ford’s Highland Park plant in 1910 as a stage marker in defining America’s automobile consciousness. With its opening, Flink argues, America’s attitudinal and institutional adjustments to the automobile came to full fruition (1972, p. 452). There was no going back; the automobile would be here to stay. The question was, how would it evolve? Ford’s creative mind would not stop with just his singular innovative success, though, and he would later aspire to invent a car made from agricultural products – a plastic car.
The widespread use of automobiles, as begun in the 1910s by Ford, was both harmful and beneficial to farmers. While allowing them the freedom to bring their own goods to market, it also ultimately killed the small family farm through the need for expensive machinery and fertilizers to compete with large agriculture (Flink, 1972, pp. 456, 457, & 466). By the 1930s, however, Ford’s production of the automobile was still friendly to agriculture, and Ford had plenty of investments in the industry. In 1931, Ford bought over 3000 acres of Michigan farm land, for the use of the crops as raw materials. This land usage was increased in 1932 when Ford was planting a variety of crops in over 12,000 acres of purchased land (Shurtleff, 2011, p. 27). This seems to mark the beginning of Ford’s investments into agriculture for relatively heavy use in automobile production. In 1933, the production of the Ford Eight, for example, used phenolic molded parts in ignition systems, horn buttons, hand throttle parts, and other parts of the car (Shurtleff, 2011, p. 33). In 1935, “from the fields, Ford [would] use 69 million lb of cotton, 500,000 bushels of corn, 2.4 million lb of linseed oil, [and] 2.5 million gallons of molasses from sugar cane” (Shurtleff, 2011, p. 47). These materials were used for a variety of applications, but most prominent among them was plastic molding, as would be necessary for creating plastic panels. It was then no paradigm shift for Ford when he wanted to utilize these same materials, but on a larger scale, for a plastic-body automobile in the early 1940s. Innovative, yes, but on the whole not outlandish or fundamentally unviable.
            Leading up to the 1940s were a few years of growth for the plastics industry. “Somewhere between 1935 and 1940 the infant U.S. plastics industry turned a key corner. During those 5 years production nearly doubled, and the number of plastics increased from 5 to 10.” (Shurtleff, 2011, p. 105). Good news for Ford and his use of plastics in automobiles; however, with the coming of the early 40s also came World War 2. This was a bit of a blessing in disguise for the plastic car, in that the scarcity of metal forged another motivation for using plastics in place of metal in automobiles. “The latest step is timely,” William Callahan mentions about Ford’s foray into plastics in his 1941 New York Times article, “since there has been some question as to whether or not demands for steel for defense purposes and to fill foreign war orders would not deplete the supply and cause a curtailment in steel for automobiles” (Callahan, 1940). However, this motivational boost for plastics would turn out to be sour, for on February 22, 1942, the production of automobiles ceased as the American industry focused its attention on total war against the axis powers (Heitmann, 2009, p. 119). No more automobiles meant no more plastics research for automobiles either, as attention was turned to the production of war-time machinery and weaponry. As it would later prove, the plastic car project would not be picked up again after the war, and so Ford would die in 1947 without his project ever reaching production.
What was this plastic car of Ford’s, foretold to be “lighter, safer, and less expensive,” and which, in production of 1,000,000 cars, would consume 170,000 tons of agricultural products? (“Plastic Ford Lighter,” 1941; “The Plastic Car,” 1941). The design was structured on a patented tubular steel chassis, which would serve as the base for the plastic molded body (Ford, 1942). The plastic panels, as demonstrated by Ford famously bouncing an axe off of them, would be comprised of refined farm products. The fiber panel tested by Ford, in fact, “[weighed] about one-half the steel panel, of the same pattern. It [was] composed of 70 per cent fiber and 30 per cent soy resin binder. The fibrous element [was] compounded of 50 per cent southern flash pine fiber; 30 per cent field cereal straw; 10 per cent cotton; and 10 per cent hemp.” (Shurtleff, 2011, p. 107). A car built of such a material would be durable indeed, and would incorporate the agricultural products promised.
Ford’s vision of a production model plastic car fell short, however, leaving historians and enthusiasts wondering why more “soybean” cars were not built. According the Ford Museum, the reasons were mainly the aforementioned outbreak of World War 2 and its suspension of auto production, as well as post-war recovery efforts leading to the project falling through the cracks. But, is there more to the story? Was the plastic car actually viable, or just an engineering nightmare? Was Henry Ford nearing the end of his era, leaving his enthusiasm for agriculture unpassed to his successors? New York Times author and SAE member Herbert Chase gave insight to the former, as he was skeptical of the feasibility of plastics even in March 1941. He claimed “there is little experience with really large moldings and what there is leads to serious doubts. . . We know how to make steel bodies which are low in cost and quite satisfactory for our purpose. . . Why shift to something so problematical as a plastic body, especially as it is likely to cost more?” Indeed, without a metal shortage post-WW2, the economics of using plastic no longer worked out for Ford. Additionally, the economics of raw materials would hardly be the only obstacle, as public acceptance, conversion of manufacturing equipment, and a plethora of testing and design details would need to be worked out as well. Taken together, the capital costs, lack of interest besides Ford, and manufacturing issues with a brand new material took down the plastic car. In the end, there were no real savings to be gotten from using plastic for the automobile.
Does the plastic car have a foreseeable future in the auto industry today? It might have a shot with advancing technology; however, the same issues apply today as in the 40s, with manufacturing capital costs, public acceptance, and working out design and material details. Additionally, the cars would need to meet today’s higher standards for safety. For example, while durable, stiff plastic panels are unsafe for crashes, as crumple zones are necessary to reduce the impact force on passengers. These factors reveal an underlying answer: the plastic car will not be seen in the world of today. All hope for agricultural use in the auto industry is not lost, though. Bioplastics and biofuels are edging their way into industry, with innovations in polyethylene production as an example. One company, Braskem, has found a way to produce “green polyethylene” – sourced from sugarcane – that could serve as an alternative to petroleum-based polyethylene. “The major application [of polyethylene] will be in the automotive industry, where the bioplastic will be used in injection and blow molding” (Phillips, 2008). Although not exactly a complete plastic car, the use of agriculture-based plastics is a step toward Ford’s vision for agricultural use for manufacturing. “And though the technology is still new and the number of plants small, some companies are also using catalysts or microwaves to convert the polymers into gasoline or diesel,” giving another application, in recycling, for green plastics (Phillips, 2008). Although as Ford once stated “There's enough alcohol in one year's yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for one hundred years,” using food crops as a fuel source may not be the best use of the nutrition with world hunger rampant (El-Mansi, 2011, p. 226). Instead of using food crops for fuel, using sugarcane as a source (as with Braskem), and even recycling the plastics for fuel would provide strength in diversifying fuel sources for power-hungry Americans. With these emerging technologies, perhaps Ford’s relationship attempts with agriculture and the auto industry may end in marriage after all.
The Henry Ford plastic car may not have been a success, but it certainly serves as a historical example of how scarcity and constraints are amazing drivers of innovation. As American automobile manufacturers drudged their feet throughout the second half of the 20th century with regard to innovation, Henry Ford stood up to the emerging status quo of laziness with his plastics research. And as an important driver, the expected shortage of metal due to WW2 pushed him to explore new possibilities. Imagine the results from what the automobile industry could have done with the everyday car given the right constraints and encouragement. Perhaps today’s emissions and safety issues would be somewhat alleviated. No matter the perspective, Henry Ford should be lauded for his efforts in researching and improving the automobile, as he has provided key insights into the past, present, and future of the automobile industry, and its potential marriage to agriculture, despite his cars’ failure due to WW2, capital costs, and public apprehension.

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El-Mansi, E.M.T., Bryce, C.F.A., Dahhou, B., Sanchez, S., Demain, A.L., and Allman, A.R. (2011). Fermentation microbiology and biotechnology (3rd ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
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Shurtleff, W., and Aoyagi, A. (2011). Henry Ford and his Researchers – History of Their Work with Soybeans, Soyfoods and Chemurgy (1928-2011): Extensively Annotated Bibliography and Sourcebook. Lafayette, CA: Soyinfo Center.

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