A Brief History
On January 13, 1942, automobile pioneer and magnate Henry Ford of the Ford Motor Company patented the plastic automobile. This innovative car was built mostly of soybean derived plastics around a tubular metal frame, and for good measure ran on ethanol instead of gasoline!
Ford’s futuristic car was not built for production, but later cars would be made of fiberglass and plastic bodies (notably Corvette, Saturn, Lotus and Studebaker Avanti), and today we are seeing increased use of carbon fiber in auto construction. Henry Ford did not invent the automobile, but his innovations and aggressive marketing were so successful that during the 1910’s, 1920’s, and 1930’s it seemed as though Ford had a vise like grip on the auto market, with as many as half of all cars in the world bearing the Ford name for some years.
Ford’s interest in plastics led him to an association with George Washington Carver, who was a pioneer in soybean derived plastic. Ford used these plastics in various parts of his cars starting in the 1930’s. The practice was just one of the many innovations of Ford Motor Company on the automobile industry, so we will tell you of a few more such new ideas that changed the entire world of cars.
Early in his development of the Model T, Ford instituted a moving assembly line to build his cars, making his product so efficiently built that common people could afford his cars. Ford instituted an 8 hour work day with a 40 hour work week (1926) and a “living” wage of at least $5 per day (1914), incredibly generous at the time. Ford also pioneered the dealership method of selling his cars to the public, and all others were forced to follow.
Ford offered for sale the first mass production V-8 powered cars (1932), the famous “flathead V-8” that was a favorite of gangsters to out run police. Ford also was a pioneer in producing quality glass for windshields and car windows (1919), including laminated glass and even bullet proof glass offered on their Lincoln police cars (1924!). Ford continued to produce their own auto glass and refine the product throughout the years. In 1985 Ford introduced “Instaclear” and “Quickclear” windshields as an option, with thin wired embedded in the glass that could clear a windshield of frost and ice faster than any other method.
In 1964, Ford introduced an entirely new segment of cars with their Mustang, the Pony Car. Other manufacturers tried to catch up as quickly as possible. The “SYNC” hands free voice connectivity was first offered in 2008, and in 2014 Ford marketed the first aluminum bodied mass produced pick-up truck (F-150), later followed by aluminum bodied versions of their Super Duty line of light trucks.
As did many other industrial companies, Ford went into military production during World War II in a big way, producing about 40% of all Jeeps and half of the B-24 Liberator bombers made (the most produced US warplane of all time). Ford also produced 13,000 amphibious Jeeps (GPA or Seep), trucks, and numerous engines for tanks, planes and other vehicles, as well as a myriad of other products. The designation GP for the Ford produced Jeep (later GPW) gave rise to the Jeep name, and Ford unsuccessfully sued for ownership of the “Jeep” brand after the war. Ford continued with innovations of various types after the war and through to today.
Plastic bodied cars can be lighter than those with a sheet steel body, and in smaller production runs can be cheaper to build. Another advantage is the non-rusting nature of plastic. Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever owned a plastic, fiberglass, or carbon fiber car? Would you like to own one? Let us know what you think about cars with plastic bodies or other major components. What about your thoughts on the aluminum bodied Ford pick-up trucks? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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The featured image in this article, a photograph of the world’s first plastic car, is a faithful digitisation of a unique historic image, and the copyright for it is most likely held by the person who created the image or the agency employing the person. It is believed that the use of this image on an educational website to illustrate what the first plastic car looks like may qualify as fair use under the Copyright law of the United States.