When you think of your favorite automobile, you probably think of steel, aluminum, rubber, and glass as the materials used to make them. But since the birth of the first car more than a century ago, manufacturers have turned to some strange, and at times deadly, materials to build their vehicles.
While Henry Ford stuck mostly with steel and wood for the Model T, the first automobile manufactured in the U.S., some car makers experimented over the decades with other materials for both the exterior and interior of their vehicles. Everything from the trendy bamboo to the lethal asbestos has found its way into a car.
Here are a few of the stranger things manufacturers used to build cars.
The Deadly: Asbestos
By the start of World War II, asbestos had become a popular material for manufacturers of all types of products. But its use by car makers soared after the end of World War II. It was popular in the industry because of its durability to heat and friction, making it a popular material for brakes, clutches, and gaskets.
However, the plentiful ingredient also proved deadly. If inhaled or swallowed, asbestos fibers can lead to mesothelioma, a lethal and incurable cancer, according to Asbestos.net. The material was used in dozens of automobile parts, posing a risk to vehicle owners and mechanics who weren’t aware of the dangers until the 1980s.
The Durable: Denim
It’s not enough that most drivers likely are wearing denim when they get in their cars. The fabric also made its way into the mix of several vehicles built in recent decades.
Apparently, some manufacturers thought it was a smart idea to use denim material for their car seats. There was the VW Jeans Beetle, the Fiat 500 Diesel, and the AMC Gremlin Levi edition, just to name a few. What arguably was the ugliest car built that traveled the road, the special edition Gremlin featured blue denim seats.
The Dumb: Bamboo
Safety clearly was not the first priority when bamboo was selected for the exterior frame of several vehicle models, including two out of Japan. It’s a rational idea when thinking about the creation of a light-weight alternative that would require less fuel than its steel-laden counterparts made elsewhere in the world. The only problem is the idea doesn’t seem that smart when considering what the outcome might be if the car made of bamboo collides with the car made of steel.
This wasn’t just a passing phase. Bamboo served as the main material used in an eco-friendly electric car built recently by students in India.