The Mystery of the Hemp Car


Overview

Published: 06/09/2014

by Elissa Kinsey

Photos

Hemp Fueled Cars

The story was pretty amazing the first time I heard it. Henry Ford's model T was originally intended to run on hemp. As I began to look around for more sources of information about this amazing story, I found site after site on the subject. The articles I read were complete with photos of a car that shamed the image in my head of the Cheech and Chong weed van. 
According to most sources in 1941 Henry Ford created a car with plastic panels made from hemp. They were also said to be stronger than steel. The articles then boasted that Henry Ford had dreams that hemp bio fuel would be the fuel of the future.

 
These were amazing claims, I was so excited to play detective and find out what happened. Why has no one taken the research any further. Why aren't we driving hemp cars that run on hemp fuel?


Like I said there were a lot of sites that told this fascinating story. The only problem, they were all sites like, hemp bio fuel, cannabis culture, which is fine but I don't know these guys and I wanted to find one source I recognised. None of the reliable sources I checked had anything about a hemp car... or pot car.... or even a weed car. Then finally after going to the Henry ford Museum website I found something. Though it was not a hemp car, it turned out to really be a Soybean car. 
According to Benson Ford Research center, in 1940 Henry Ford was experimenting with making plastic car parts for the auto bodies. Due to WW2 causing a shortage with metal, Henry Ford hoped he could replace metal with his new plastic material. 
Truly believing his new plastic was safer and stronger than metal, Henry Ford claimed that the car could even roll over with out being crushed. Another big reason Henry Ford created the car was his attempt to find a way to combine industry with agriculture (grow the car parts, then build it).

 
The finished car weighed 2000lbs as compared to a steel car that weighs 3000lbs. The exact formula for the plastic did not survive over the years, so no one really knows for sure what they were made of. Many articles claimed they were made from a chemical formula that included soybeans, wheat, hemp, flax and ramie. One man who helped in the creation of the car, Lowell E. Overly, was quoted describing the plastic to be "soybean fiber in a phenolic resin with formaldehyde used in the impregnation".(what ever that means)  The car was put on display at the Dear borne days in 1941, then it was shown at the Michigan State Fairgrounds later that year.


A little disappointing that it was not the WEED car that I was expecting, maybe the fuel was still made from hemp. The mission to find a legitimate story about Henry Ford believing hemp was the future of fuel, started off the same way as the car. I found lots of sources, but none that I know to be reputable. While the many sites claimed Henry Ford stated that hemp was the fuel of the future, the only quote I could find that was credible, quoted him making this statement to a New York Times reporter in 1925, "Ethyl alcohol is the fuel of the future. The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumac out by the road, or by apples, weeds, sawdust, almost anything (this probably included hemp but he never stated this specifically).

 There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. There is enough alcohol in one years yield of potato's, to drive the machines necessary to cultivate the fields for 100 years!"


And where is the soybean car now? The soybean car no longer exists today, After the war, Ford was back to building pure metal, American, muscle cars. The need for the plastic car simply died off. According to Lowell Overly, the car was destroyed by E.T. Gregorie.

 
It would be so cool if Henry Ford really did build a 'made from hemp and runs from hemp car', with visions of "hemp fuel in the future" dancing around in his head. Unfortunately none of the credible sources supported this claim. And this is why ladies and gentleman you always site your sources. Even I was convinced in the beginning, I was going to write an article about it!


Can they or do they manufacture hemp ethanol? Yes they can. 
'Well awesome', You might be thinking, 'start production, call the Middle East and tell them its been nice but peace out...' but before you get all excited, from what I found, nobody has really researched the subject. The problem was explained as a financial hurdle.


Hemp farmers are not really interested in selling hemp seed oil for ethanol production. They get much more return on their crops when it is sold for nutritional purposes then when they are selling it for ethanol. As well as the fact that corn ethanol right now, is cheaper to make.


 Really the big mystery here is why they would destroy the car! Surly a one of a kind piece like this could have benefited a museum, one of a kind car show, or an auto engineering class, how did no one see the historical, unique value in the car its self?

Sources: 
      Ford and Diesel never intended cars to use gasoline, center for research on globalisation-Canada
      The Soybean Car, the Benson Ford research center
      Henry Ford's Soybean Car, Motor City garage
      Henry Ford and His Soybean Car, Moment of Science