Flax is a fiber crop grown in cooler climates around the world, particularly in Minnesota and North Dakota in the United States. If you crush the seed pods, you end up with linseed oil. The ancient Phoenicians first figured out how to spin flax into linen as a symbol of purity in their society. Most of the time, flax doesn’t get a lot of attention from the general public. But now Porsche has learned a new, highly unconventional way to apply its properties.
When it competed in last weekend’s 24-hour grind for sports cars at the Nurburgring that we mentioned earlier, the works Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR hit the historic track wearing doors and a rear wing molded from natural-fiber composite material, with farm-grown flax as the primary ingredient. Unlike carbon fiber, the preferred lightweight, high-tensile material preferred in racing car fabrication, the natural-fiber composite is mainly blended from recyclable ingredients. The natural stuff is comparable to synthetic carbon fiber in terms of the traditional material’s main attributes, stiffness and light weight. Many of the production protocols for both materials are similar. The doors use molded skins wrapped around a balsa core, but the wing is more conventionally formulated by impregnating sheets of natural material with epoxy resin and then baked in an autoclave. If this sounds like radical environmentalism, it really isn’t. Way back when, Henry Ford was a noted acolyte of George Washington Carver, and invested heavily in researching the benefits of soybeans – not peanuts – as a steel substitute in automobile construction. There’s a famous photo of the Old Man bouncing a sledgehammer off the experimental soybean bodywork of a 1936 Ford sedan.