Ford Soybean Car

While "Soybean car" is not the best name (I would have preferred the "Mongoose Civique"), Henry Ford showed this vehicle back in 1941 and—as many of you know—it's a pretty well-documented prototype.

If you'd like a great overview of the car, head over to Hemmings—Kurt Ernst wrote a great piece on it back in 2013. (Or just follow the link to The Henry Ford's article about it in the sources below.)

When I write about Henry Ford, it's with as much awestruck confusion as historians do. Here is a man who invested huge amounts of money into alternative construction methods and fuels, a man who built recycling, sustainability, and thriftiness into his factories—and a man who hired goons to police his workers at their homes, not to mention helped fund an anti-semitic newspaper.

If the world revolved around me like it did Henry Ford, I hope I'd be nicer to my fellow man, something he tried to do…but sometimes fell short of. (To say nothing of how he treated his son Edsel!) See, when Ford was at the top of his game, there were, in some ways, two Henry Fords: one, the father of the Model T, who offered great pay for his workers, and who was more in tune with ecology than your local botanist.

The second Ford was content to build planned communities—read this book on Fordlândia if you haven't already—where workers were required to do all sorts of extra stuff, like tend to a garden, send their kids to Ford-supported schools, and even sing old timey hymns. This may not sound terrible to you, but these requirements were often policed with the same fervor directed at all other aspects of the Ford Motor Company.

I have an opinion that if he were alive today, he'd be ashamed at how things have gone, because above all else, he was one of the few early industrialists who understood ecology and the life cycle of things.

The assembly line was a by-product of this concern for every aspect of producing a consumer product—actually, his cars were almost a by-product of his from-the-cradle-to-the-grave process as well. I mean, this is a guy who not only expected his cars to be fuelled by ethanol but who tried to aspired to control his own plantations for the production of rubber. 

What do you think he would have said about his name on the back of an Excursion SUV?

These days, it doesn't matter much to me if this car had panels made from Doritos, hemp, cocaine, soy, or recycled kazoos—the point is that it was willed into existence by an industrialist who didn't need to give a shit about ecology.

An engineering project led by one of Ford's research labs, the car was a simple tubular steel frame that 14 plastic panels were bolted to. Powered by a flathead V-8, the car would have been quite the performer, as it weighed less than 900 kg (2,000 lbs), a reduction of something like 25 per cent over a comparable production model.

Shown twice in 1941 at local Detroit events, a number of factors conspired to see the Soybean Car destroyed, for good—leaving lots of unanswered questions in its wake.

Sources