3D Printing Lets Manufacturers Efficiently Create Replacement Parts for Classic Cars

Fuels |  2 min. read

Maybe you’re the kind of person who knows why a ’64 Mustang is a big deal.

(That was the year Ford introduced the Mustang.)

Or the kind of person who knows what made the ’63 Chevy Corvette Sting Ray so distinctive?

(The split-window in the back.)

Or, if someone were to ask you what car Elvis bought in 1958 – you’d know the answer was a BMW 507 (which he picked up in Germany while doing his tour of duty in the Army).  This is what it looked like 5 years ago, by the way…

(Photo Courtesy of BMW)

But whatever kind of old car you like, and like to work on – we’ve got a new tool for your workshop.  A 3D printer.  Yes, a printer.

Because now, you can print parts for old cars.  In fact, when BMW was restoring Elvis’s old ride – they printed up some of those parts.  (Even BMW didn’t have parts anymore for a 507 from the ‘50s.)   And it all turned out pretty well we’d say…

(Photo Courtesy of BMW)

That’s Elvis’s car now, after the BMW mechanics (and 3D printers) worked on it.

Lots of car makers are using 3D printed parts in their new cars these days – Ford and Mercedes-Benz, Audi and GM, even Rolls Royce.  But the big deal about printing parts for older cars – is that sometimes a part just isn’t available anymore, or a replacement part would have to be custom-made ($$$).

DId you know...

If you’re curious about what materials those 3D printers are using, the answer is:  lots of different materials.  But like today’s new cars, polymers (aka plastic) are often the raw material.  That could be plastic – as in ABS, the plastic based on the petrochemicals, ethylene, propylene, butadiene and benzene – or your polypropylene gas tank made from propylene.  And that could be plastic – as in carbon-fiber composite, made from the petrochemical propylene – used to produce the body panels and structural components of a car.

We’re going to borrow a bit of the story here from the folks who cover this story regularly at 3D Printing Industry:

Talking about a Mercedes project to print replacement parts for its 1950s-era 300 SL Coupe, 3D explains:  “One of the benefits of 3D printing is that it allows manufacturing directly from CAD [Computer-Aided Design] models without the need for the task-specific toolset.

“Using old 3D designs where available or by creating new ones from old 2D drawings, Daimler Groups has manufactured the obsolete parts…”

Porsche also is using 3D printing to make spare parts for its Classic cars (meaning older cars, and older means back as far as 1948) – to avoid the cost of stockpiling extra parts for when and if they are needed, or the cost of tooling up to make a spare part long after they’ve stopped making the original car.

How far can this go?  Here’s what the motorheads at Popular Mechanic think:

“…now shops can scan entire irreplaceable cars for reference and use that information to print identical replacement parts in case of catastrophe.  This ability means that they could also choose to print all the parts to create an exact clone of a priceless gem.”

And while that’s a high-end service now, the 3D printers, the scanners, the CAD programs – it’s all out there, and it only gets less-expensive and more available.  Who knows, maybe one day, your next car buying experience will be:  “Alexa, print me a car.”