Common knowledge tells us that cars are made out of metal. Well, mostly, at least. However, that’s not for lack of trying other materials. Many a talented and brave engineer has attempted breaking the mould, usually with mixed success. Whether its cost or safety, theses usually a good reason we still use good old metal for our cars, but that being said, here are 6 cars made out of slightly more exotic stuff.
Velorex Oskar: Fake Leather
The Cold War influenced many vehicles produced in Eastern Europe, but the Velorex Oskar, produced from 1954 until 1971, is probably one of the strangest. Not for its use of a motorcycle engine, tiny power output and sluggish performance but for its choice of body material. The Oskar`s body was built out of a steel exoskeleton wrapped in a faux leather looking material called “Igelit”.
Interestingly, different parts of the body were held together with button fasteners. Of course, the body wasn’t very durable, and it was prone to scratching and ripping, but Velorex produced replacement body panels which could also be obtained from your tailor. Since it was really cheap, the Oskar actually proved to be moderately popular in `60s Czechoslovakia.
Smart ForTwo: Plastic
It is no great surprise that the body panels on the Smart ForTwo are made from plastic; producing them from metal would just increase the weight of the car unnecessarily. That said, its still quite innovative. The engineers decided to construct the body from a material called thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO).
The awesome thing about the Smart`s body is that the panels are not actually painted, but the entire panel is actually a solid colour. This means that its basically impossible to scratch, ideal for the bumps and scrapes of city driving. As well as that, Smart`s body panels are interchangeable with another ForTwo’s if you don`t like the color but unfortunately the Tridion safety cell around the car is still metal and cant be changed.
Ford Soybean Car: Soybeans
So far I’ve covered cars made from plastic and fake leather, but soybeans? Yep that’s right. In 1941, Ford introduced their concept of the Soybean car, a fully operational prototype which was built using soybeans, wheat, hemp and several other natural ingredients. The mass was pressed then dried, which resulted in pretty solid panels which were as durable as steel but 25% lighter.
Ford wanted to combine agriculture with the car industry and whilst also avoiding steel shortages due to the Second World War. Henry Ford was serious too. He owned 12,000 acres worth of soybean fields dedicated to the project. There was some controversy surrounding the material suggesting that it wasn’t quite as natural as they claimed, but in the end Ford never revealed the exact formula and the project was abandoned.
The late Colin Chapman, the man behind the Lotus car company, was a fascinating character. One of his best-known quotes was – “Simplify, then add lightness.” His ethos still lives on throughout Lotus vehicles today. How best to reduce weight? Well, the Lotus approach was in the bodywork. Lotus have never been an especially wealthy company and their reasonably priced vehicles didn’t allow for fancy aluminum bodies.
Instead they turned to fiberglass, often used in boating, especially for smaller crafts like canoes and kayaks. The key attributes of fiberglass is that its light, easy to shape and doesn’t rust. Its strength comes from the fact that its essentially long strands of glass which are pressed at high pressure into the shape you want using a resin. If crashed, it can prove costly however as instead of denting, it tends to split and tear. Wrecked lotus’s are usually dirt cheap for that reason!
BMW Gina Concept Car: Spandex
Under the controversial head of design, Chris Bangle, BMW introduced several brave cars and some even more daring concept vehicles in the early and mid `2000s. One of such cars was the unique GINA concept car. The idea behind this concept was to make a car body like human skin, which was very controversial.
BMW designed a particular frame on which Polyurethane-coated Spandex (rubber) was stretched. The car`s skeleton was electrically controllable, so if you wanted to open the bonnet, the car body will move and reveal the engine. Although very interesting and unusual, BMW Gina was too strange to be universally praised. As a design experiment, it certainly got people talking, but I’ve not seen BMW using the tech or things they learned on the project since then!
Trabant 601: Duroplast
Infamous East German economy car the Trabant might be the symbol of the Fall of the Berlin Wall but is also one of the most interesting cars ever made when it comes to bodywork. The tiny 600 cc two-door sedan has a body made entirely from “duroplast” (a composite thermosetting plastic) which was made out of recycled materials, cotton and resin. It was very durable, reliable, and cheap to make, which made it ideal for the East German car industry.
The Trabant 601 was introduced in the late `50s and sold until 1991 during by which time almost 3.7 million were made. But thats precisely the problem. The duroplast never decomposes so Germany was faced with potentially millions of non-decomposing Trabants. For any other car, this would be great but it’s a shame the Trabant is so ugly! The solution was to develop special bacteria which could eat the Trabant`s body in 20 days; some urban legends even state that Trabants could be used for feeding farm animals.
Bricklin SV-1: Bonded acrylic and fiberglass
Once regarded as the world`s safest sports car, the Bricklin SV-1 is another `70s obscurity known only by most dedicated enthusiasts. It was a brainchild of Malcolm Bricklin, an American entrepreneur who wanted to produce a sports car filled with safety features and innovative patents. The most interesting part of the car was the material of the body; bonded acrylic and fiberglass.
It sounded like a good idea at first since the combination was relatively light, durable, and cheap to produce. Sadly, after a few years, owners realized that bonded acrylic and fiberglass wasn’t such a good idea after all, being very prone to wear and discoloration. For those in hotter states like California or Nevada, it also cannot stand the heat when parked outside. The body panels bend and warp! Not ideal.
So, there you are. Did I miss out any other weird materials for cars. Let me know in the comments.