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Hagerty Employee

From Durkopp to Musk: The 120+ year story of aluminum in the auto industry

The most abundant material in the earth’s crust is rapidly becoming every car maker’s favorite structural element.


In case you hadn’t noticed, Elon Musk is the 21st-century’s Henry Ford. After disrupting the car business with battery-electric propulsion, he’s now on a mission to revolutionize how cars are manufactured.


Next year, Musk hopes to commence building his Model Y crossover at an innovative plant under construction near Berlin, Germany. Of course, this Tesla will be powered by AC motors supplied current by onboard batteries. Musk’s stride forward—which he acknowledges as risky—is integrating 70 separate aluminum structural components into a single aluminum die casting. While the current Tesla Model Y has a rear underbody consisting of just two elaborate castings, the next edition will use eight Italian-made 6200-ton presses to pop out 213,000 supersize castings per annum at Berlin. If this "experiment" works, Musk hopes to spread his technology to U.S. and Chinese manufacturing plants within two years.


This is highly ambitious news, moving us to dig back in time to recall previous aluminum advancements aimed at making cars lighter and more efficient. The number of examples we found surprised us.


Read the full article on


I hope Elon Musk has paid his Berlin water bill.


Don't forget the Audi A2

Intermediate Driver

I was disappointed that there was no mention of Ford's use of military grade aluminum in their trucks. 

Pit Crew

The front and rear shrouds and instrument panel are aluminum on my 1959 Austin Healey 100-6.  A steel frame and steel fenders sandwich the aluminum shrouds - so they are not moisture-friendly areas - unless you like oxidized aluminum.  The hood and the trunk lid are steel. 


It's kind of a yawner for me.  Pontiac and Alcoa built two all-Aluminum cars back in 1942.  I believe one is still around in a Museum somewhere.  I'm not sure why one would cast a body part as opposed to pressing it out of sheet metal?  Interesting thought, needing some clarity.


Wonder if the author understands the difference between die casting and stamping?  The article seems to confuse the two processes and their applications.

Metal stamping and die casting are two extremely different metal forming processes.

Die casting utilizes ingots or billets, while stamping requires sheet metal blanks or coils; metal is heated past its melting point to be die cast, while stamping is almost always a cold working process, no matter what the metal.

If Musk's plan involving "eight Italian-made 6200-ton presses to pop out 213,000 supersize castings per annum" is for some sort of sequence in metal forming, it warrants a more detailed description, since presses normally have no role in castings of whatever size.

For the. record, most of my Yellowstone Park buses -- dating to as early as 1917 used aluminum sheet panels, some stamped to conform to complex bends, others that were essentially flat.  The earliest, with bodies fabricated over wooden frames, were manufactured by the White Sewing Machine Co. cabinet makers, after the fashion of earlier carriage makers, then several body builders, notably Bender and Scott Autobody built them similarly through the late 20's, then in the 30's, first over hybrid steel and wooden body structures, then over steel body structures (all secured to steel chassis and undercarriages, but many with aluminum castings for accessory and body mounts, including die cast spring hangers which failed only after several unfortunate mechanical alterations of the Red Buses in Glacier after after over 60 years of service.

White trucks used many of the same features and conservative engineering -- leading to the eventual failure of the company since their vehicles lasted several times longer than those of the short-lived competition and were slightly more expensive to buy.


Elon. Listening?




Intermediate Driver

You forgot to include the small American company PANOZ. They built the first aluminum intensive vehicles in the U.S.  The Roadster and the Esperante.  Very well made cars!


How about the early 1953 Jaguar 120, ALL aluminum bodied cars? seems that there were some sheet aluminum metal cars in the US in the teens?
The Prowler sold over 11,000 vehicles, not exactly coach-built! Compared to  many other low volume steel cars, it was pretty good.
Not  mentioned was WHY the OEMs wanted to save weight. Cheapest way to higher mileage, to  meet the stupid US CAFE requirements. in the '20s-'30s the Miller-Offenhauser engines were all aluminum and often the race cars were bodied in it, too. Technology was well-known in aircraft, but deemed too expensive for anything else, besides race cars.
BTW, Time Magazine isn't a particularly good reference for anything! I am still waiting for their  predicted "Coming Next Ice Age" from back in 1976! Never mind the 2016 election  predictions...
Apparently, Musk has no clue about repairing an entire die-cast car. Sub frames are one thing, sheet metal attached to die castings is quite another. If and when AV (autonomous) cars ever arrive, that would preclude operator error accidents and mitigate massive insurance repair claims. Good luck with THAT.
And he is NO Henry Ford, sorry!

Intermediate Driver

My '76 Dodge Dart had aluminum hood and trunk lid. (Same car as the Feather Duster, except for the grille and tail lights.)


No mention at all of Franklin. Our 1919 Franklin has an aluminum body and an aluminum engine with a laminated ash frame. All original over 100 years later. 

Intermediate Driver

The Tampa Bay Auto Museum has a Hotchkiss-Gregoire that was produced with an aluminium frame. I don't remember the date of manufacture, but the car resembles  a '46 Ford sedan. Was found in Canada with a large log which caved in the top. If I remember correctly, the bodywork was aluminium as well.lsdaI