You’re probably thinking that taking a look at stainless steel cars would focus on the DeLorean - flux capacitor not included – made famous by the movie Back to the Future and the car maker’s unfortunate demise.
The first stainless steel car was actually produced from a collaboration between the Allegheny Ludlum Steel Division and Ford Motor Company in 1936. Allegheny Ludlum approached Ford with the idea to build them a car that would be used as a focal point for the steel company’s marketing campaign of the many uses of this miracle metal that resists corrosion.
Allegheny Ludlum was the first producer of stainless steel but not the inventor. In 1913, English metallurgist Harry Brearly, while working on a project to improve rifle barrels, accidentally discovered that adding chromium to low carbon steel gives it stain resistance. It retains a stainless characteristic because of the formation of an invisible and adherent chromium-rich oxide surface film. This oxide establishes on the surface and heals itself in the presence of oxygen. Modern stainless steel may also contain other elements, such as nickel, niobium, molybdenum, and titanium that enhances the corrosion resistance of stainless steel.
The Allegheny Ludlum website has a page dedicated to the history of their stainless steel cars and in it they write:
“Of the six stainless steel cars that rolled off the Ford assembly line in Detroit in 1936, four exist today as living proof of the durability of stainless steel. One is on display at the Heinz Regional History Center in Pittsburgh, PA.
Each of the original six logged at least 200,000 miles in the hands of Allegheny Ludlum officials before "retiring" to private ownership in 1946. Thousands of additional miles have been logged on the odometers since, and the shiny bodies have outlasted most of their non-stainless steel parts.”
Allegheny Ludlum and Ford collaborated on two more stainless models; a 1960 Thunderbird and a 1967 Lincoln Continental Convertible. Of the 11 cars originally built, nine are reportedly still in use.
Unfortunately DeLorean, the first car maker to mass produce stainless steel cars, doesn’t have such a glorious story to tell. Accusations of fraud, mismanagement, political interference and even the involvement of the Irish Republican Army are part of the alleged history of John DeLorean's car company.
It didn't help that John DeLorean himself became the subject of an FBI sting operation related to drug trafficking. But the DeLorean Car Company’s biggest problem was that the operation costs well exceeded the profits, and in 1982 existing parts and cars were sold off at auction.
Interestingly, out of the 8600 DeLoreans produced, it is estimated that over 6400 still around today. So why aren’t more cars built with stainless steel?