- So much plastic is in our cars
- A car made from soybeans
- Dream car with starting problems
- Volvo’s plastic car flopped
- Plastics are indispensable today
So much plastic is in our cars
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BMW Z1 (1989 to 1991) – a car with a lot of plastic: While the flaps were made of glass fiber reinforced plastic (GRP), there were side walls, doors, fenders and bumpers…catch thermoplastic plastic for use.
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The Renault Espace, which was produced from 1984 onwards, was the first European MPV with a completely new body design: a load-bearing structure was made of hot-dip galvanized…Inkt steel clad with plastic panels.
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In Europe it was initially beach cars in particular that achieved six-digit numbers with plastic bodies. For example the Citroën Mehari launched in 1968.
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One of the most famous cars with a plastic body is the Chevrolet Corvette. The fiberglass runabout was introduced in 1953 as America’s first real sports car. His …However, it was only successful when it got a more powerful engine.
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In 1941, Henry Ford presented a plastic vehicle with a high-strength body made from renewable raw materials. This so-called soybean car with plastic parts made from a soy bean…nen-Phenyl-Mix weighed 50 percent less than a conventional sedan and achieved correspondingly low fuel consumption. But after the USA entered the war, Ford was unable to realize its production plans.
What sounds like junk goods is a serious approach to the development of car bodies: plastics offer many advantages over steel. The first experiments began 75 years ago.
S.he is one of the popular superstars of all auto shows: exclusive coupes and convertibles, regardless of whether the Corvette from 1953, Lotus Elite (1957), McLaren F1 (1993), Porsche Carrera GT (2003) or BMW i8 (2014). What often remains in the background, however, is that these cars are innovative not only because of their design, but also because of the materials used.
They advance the development of new plastics, carbon and composite materials for the body and chassis faster than staid sedans. Because especially small series can be realized more cheaply through the use of plastics.
And accident researchers are now even demanding components from the chemical laboratory, because these often offer better occupant protection than steel. A development that began back in 1939 – at a time when the all-steel body was only just beginning to establish itself.
A car made from soybeans
In 1938/39, for example, the DKW works in Zwickau produced car bodies from contiguous paper webs interspersed with phenolic resins and compacted under heat and high pressure. The DKW sedans of the type F7 clad with it impressed in crash tests with their higher torsional rigidity and lower deformation than vehicles with metal bodies.
Series production was only prevented by the Second World War, a fate that befell the second sensational plastic construction. In 1941, Henry Ford presented a plastic vehicle with a high-strength body made from renewable raw materials. This so-called soybean car with plastic parts made from a soybean-phenyl mix weighed 50 percent less empty than a conventional sedan and achieved correspondingly low consumption values. But after the USA entered the war, Ford was also unable to realize its production plans.
As a result, General Motors, Ford’s toughest rival, succeeded in the pioneering achievement of putting a plastic car into series production with the Corvette. When the Corvette celebrated its world premiere in January 1953, the hitherto sportiest Chevrolet of all time was cheered by the public.
Dream car with starting problems
America finally had its own sports car, with a world first with an excitingly shaped fiberglass body. However, the plastic body should be one of the triggers that initially turned the dream car into a nightmare, when the production of the fiberglass-reinforced synthetic resin was still too complex and tedious.
The tapes started running on June 30, 1953 in Flint, Michigan. By the end of the year, however, there were only 314 Corvettes, which was how problematic production was. The second bad news for Chevrolet was the catastrophically poor incoming orders for the 152 hp sports car, which lacked the eight-cylinder in line with its standing. In the first year, Chevrolet couldn’t even sell half of its production.
The end of America’s sports car hope was looming in 1955: Almost 700 Corvettes left the new production facilities in St. Louis, Missouri, and perhaps only to fly the flag when Ford successfully launched its first two-seater sports car, the Thunderbird. Within ten days, Ford was able to sell 3500 units from this top performer, mostly with a 212 hp V8 engine and also with an elegant hardtop made of futuristic-looking composite materials.
A new chief engineer brought the Corvette to the rescue: Zora Arkus-Duntov. The former racing driver demonstrated to GM officials what was missing from the fiberglass car. With a 197 hp V8 engine, Duntov accelerated the Corvette in Daytona to 150 miles (241 km / h) and thus laid the basis for a successful relaunch of the racer.
Volvo’s plastic car flopped
The fate of the Volvo Sport P 1900 was contrary to this. The Swede made history in 1954 as the first European roadster with a fiberglass body. However, fiberglass was too expensive for Volvo and was developed in too short a time. Especially since competitor Saab prepared his Sonett sports car thoroughly. The result of the hasty Volvo development were massive quality problems and therefore the end for the P 1900 after only 68 copies.
The Trabant P50 was launched in 1958 as a real mass model. This ancestor of the legendary GDR people’s car Trabant 601 (1964 to 1990) already had a body that was clad with duroplast. For this purpose, cotton fibers were compressed into fleece mats and mixed with phenolic resin. The mats were then shaped in hot presses and assembled.
In contrast, from 1950 onwards, only the plywood bodies of the "Leukoplast bombers", Lloyd small cars from the Borgward Group, were covered with synthetic leather. On the other hand, design milestones such as the American Studebaker Avanti with a body made of composite materials and the Porsche 904 GTS as a roadworthy racing car demonstrated in 1963 which automotive works of art can be created from innovative plastic.
Apart from the Corvette, however, it was initially beach cars in the western world that achieved numbers in the six-digit range with plastic bodies. For example the Citroën Mehari launched in 1968. Or the legendary buggy. The French, English and Americans especially loved plastic cars.
Plastics are indispensable today
In 1984 there were two milestones to celebrate: The Pontiac Fiero sports car was the first vehicle with a body made of composite materials to go into large-scale production. And the Renault Espace started as the first European MPV with a completely new body design: a load-bearing structure made of hot-dip galvanized steel was clad with plastic panels.
Nine years later, recycling SMC was used for the first time, in the interior of the Corvette and the Dodge Ram Van. New components made of carbon and titanium were also used on a large scale early on in the Corvette (generation C5, from 1997). In contrast, from 1998 the Smart City Coupe tried to make fashion with interchangeable body panels made of colorful plastics.
The first production vehicle with a monocoque and subframe made entirely of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) was the Porsche Carrera GT super sports car from 2003. Plastics have long been indispensable as components of various types in order to reduce vehicle weight and thus consumption figures, but also thanks to their potential for passive vehicle safety. The plug-in hybrid Volkswagen XL1 with CFRP for body and chassis and a consumption of 0.9 liters per 100 kilometers currently shows where the journey could lead.
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