Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


YESTERDAY, IN PART 1, livestock and we savored tidbits of soy ranging from soy meal to soy sauce to edamame to tofu to faux meat to the challenge of food versus fuel. Today in Part 2, we take another automotive turn.

Henry Ford’s Soybean Car. Henry Ford, founder of the company, had a fondness for industrial integration, bringing together all aspects of production. His charcoal briquets made from Model T scrap wood was one example.

Other examples were Ford’s Soybean Laboratory, its 12,000 acres of the legume, and his 1941 Soybean Car.

The Soybean Car had a steel tubular framework on which was mounted a body of 14 panels, described as “a plastic car made with soybeans.”

The Soybean Car’s steel tubular structure and running gear. This and the following image from

Ford’s goal with the Soybean Car was threefold: It would fulfill his dream of combining industry with agriculture. It would reduce the need for traditional metals. And, so it was claimed, the car’s plastic panels would make it safer than a conventional car.

The Ford Soybean Car, unveiled on August 13, 1941, at Dearborn Days, Dearborn, Michigan. The car’s designer, Lowell Overly, is at the wheel.

Soybean or Plastic? The actual formulation of the plastic is lost to history. Perhaps it included, among many other ingredients, soybeans, hemp, flax, and ramie (a nettle plant native to Eastern Asia). According to, Lowell E. Overly, the car’s principal designer, said it was “soybean fiber in a phenolic resin with formaldehyde used in the impregnation.”

By contrast, Mac’s Motor City Garage published “The Truth About Henry Ford’s Soybean Car,” updated online on March 5, 2015: “Plastic engineers today scoff at the claim, skeptical that the plastic contained any significant soy material at all. The body panels were more likely a conventional phenolic plastic similar to the stuff we know as Bakelite.”

The article also shares a World War II tidbit: Several states tried making license plates from pressed soybeans, only to find that “barnyard animals found the plates delicious and would eat them right off the cars.”

Henry Ford Took an Axe, and Gave his Trunk Lid…. Well, sort of. According to Wikipedia, a photo of Henry Ford taking an axe to the trunk lid of a car doesn’t show, as is often identified, the Soybean Car.

It’s actually Ford’s personal car fitted with a lid of similar plastic material. Also, Ford’s axe had a rubber boot placed on its sharp end. In the narration of a 1941 film hyping the Soybean Car, it’s not clear when the narration segues from one car to the other. Nor does it cite the rubber boot’s effect on rebounding off the trunk lid.

A Hit of Hemp Too. To pile hype upon hype, a video by hemp proponents making the Internet rounds these days enhances this myth. To quote Mac’s Motor City Garage, “Makes you wonder what they’ve been smoking.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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