In cars

As early as the 1930s and 1940s car manufacturers have experimented with plastic in car construction. Henry Ford’s investigations in the 1940s resulted in a vehicle described as a ‘plastic car made from soybeans.’ The car’s body was a frame of tubular steel with 14 plastic panels attached and weighed half that of a steel bodied car. Plastics have been used in a variety of ways in cars ever since.

Phenol formaldehyde (PF) has a high moisture and chemical resistance as well as high heat resistance making it a useful material for parts used within the engine bay. The rocker-box cover (1) is from a Morris car of the 1950s and was used to protect the inner moving components of the engine from debris and to keep oil from contaminating other parts.


The 1960s TVR Grantura sports car (2-5) was manufactured by Layton Sports Cars Ltd, and was capable of speeds in excess of 100 mph. It was designed to combine the comfort of the larger type of saloon car with a machine capable of competing favourably in racing competitions. The bodywork, flooring and over 20 separate parts were made from glass fibre reinforced polyester resin made by Bakelite Xylonite Ltd.


The Smart car (6) was inspired by the Swatch watch of the 1980s and 1990s. The company behind the watch brand started to develop an idea for a small car with customisable panels which could be personalised like the watch. It started life as the Swatchmobile. Nicholas Hayek, the CEO of SMH, the makers of Swatch, started working with Volkswagen, but the project was terminated in 1993. Hayek then began to work with Daimler, the makers of Mercedes Benz, in 1994 and created the Micro Compact Car AG. The name of the vehicle was changed from Swatchmobile to Smart Car which derives from Swatch Mercedes Art.


The look of a car, both internally and externally, can be changed using plastic trim. The gear stick facias (7-8) and the wheel trim (9) use acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) to add decorative features to the interior and the exterior of the car. Carbon fibre composite has been used to create a luxury look to the radiator grill for the BMW G06 X6 (10).