With its propensity for custom, one-off designs, it is no wonder that 3D technologies like scanning and 3D printing have been eagerly adopted by automotive restoration professionals. The technologies have literally given them the tools to bring vintage and rare cars back to their former glory, not just in look, but often also in terms of performance. Whether used to reproduce an obsolete component for a vintage model or to replicate the entire car body, 3D printing is now an intrinsic part of automotive restoration projects. Here are a few of our favorite examples from over the years that demonstrate the many ways 3D printing and 3D technologies can be used to rev up old cars.
NB: Some of the projects are true restorations, while others have utilized additive manufacturing to recreate vintage car models.
Bentley’s Team Blower
In 1929, British automotive manufacturing Bentley Motors built the famed 4½-litre Blower for racing star Sir Tim Birkin. 90 years later, Bentley decided to reproduce the iconic vehicle, manufacturing a series of 12 matching cars, marking the world’s first pre-war race car continuation series.
The reproduction process, which is still underway, consists of disassembling Bentley’s own Team Blower vehicle and subsequently 3D scanning and cataloguing each component to create a digital model of the entire car. Then, using the original 1920s molds and tooling jigs, an array of traditional hand tools and current manufacturing processes, the original parts will be recreated in 12 sets. The reproduction components will then be assembled by Bentley’s skilled heritage technicians, with only minor changes to meet modern safety requirements.
The reproduction series, undertaken by Bentley Mulliner, launched in 2019 and is expected to take two years. The new-old cars will be fully functional and road-friendly. Amazingly, even the 1929 model is still functional and Bentley plans to reassemble it so it can continue its long life on the road.
Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/3
KW Heritage, a division of UK-based engineering solutions provider KW Special Projects, utilized 3D printing in an inspiring way to restore an ultra-rare Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/3 sports car. The restored vehicle was unveiled at the Goodwood Revival automotive festival in 2018.
The 1970s Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/3 that was restored was one of only 12 models ever produced by the Italian vehicle manufacturer. It was first introduced in 1967 but it became most popular in 1971 when it participated at races in Buenos Aires, Sebring and Brands Hatch. The iconic car even had a role to play in the 1971 Steve McQueen film Le Mans.
In its restoration of the vintage car, KW Heritage used CAD, 3D scanning and 3D printing to recreate the Tipo’s engine cover – a part that had suffered from deterioration and caused ignition problems. “With key components and interfaces scanned, and the part re-designed and prototyped in just a few days, the Alfa’s engine cover shows how quickly the digital remanufacturing process can take for historic and classic vehicles with parts that have become obsolete,” said KWSP.
The Bugatti Baby
Just over a year ago, French carmaker Bugatti charmed the automotive industry by reproducing the vintage Bugatti Baby from 1926. The child-sized car, a half-scale model of the Bugatti Type 35 race car, was originally created as a birthday gift for Ettore Bugatti’s four-year-old son. At the time, the mini racing car was so popular that Bugatti put it into limited production, creating about 500 units. Today, the Bugatti Baby is highly sought after and revered by car collectors.
This legacy is what inspired today’s Bugatti engineers to recreate the small car using 3D printing. A 3D printed model of the Bugatti Baby II was unveiled in 2019 at Bugatti’s 110th anniversary. Like the original run, Bugatti plans to release 500 models of the resurrected car. (I should note that the Bugatti Baby II is actually slightly larger than the original: at 3/4 scale, adults can use it too.)
Production of the miniature cars was slated to begin last fall, and Bugatti revealed that it is using a combination of old and new technologies in the manufacturing process, including 3D scanning and printing. The car’s design is actually based on a precise digital scan of an original Type 35 race car, which was built for the 1924 French Grand Prix in Lyon.
Ruston Hornsby motor car
In 2018, England-based Siemens Industrial Turbomachinary Ltd demonstrated how effectively 3D printing can be used in the restoration of vintage cars by infusing new life into a 100-year-old Ruston Hornsby motor car. The car was originally released in 1920 by industrial equipment manufacturer Ruston & Hornsby Limited, now part of the Siemens Group.
Designed and built by Ruston & Hornsby, the motor car model was known for its solid and well-built structure. However along with this came an incredible weight, which made it very expensive. Priced between £440 and £1000 (about £18,695 to £42,490 today), the car was much costlier than other, mass-produced models on the market, which weighed significantly less and only cost about £120 to £200. Because of this, Ruston & Hornsby stopped its motor car production in 1925 after about 1,500 cars were sold.
More recently, Siemens decided to restore two of the original motor cars, which had been stored at its facility in Lincoln, which is primarily used for the design and production of small industrial gas turbines. The two car models that underwent restoration were still equipped with many of their core components—both their engines and major parts were still mostly intact. But the restoration teams struggled with finding smaller, ancillary parts and sourcing components which haven’t been in production since the 1920s. To add to the challenge, much of the manufacturing information for the motor cars had been lost.
3D printing played a critical role in the re-engineering of a steering box component, which had suffered damage and did not have any of its original drawings. The broken part was thus 3D scanned and digitally restored before being 3D printed using metal powder sintering. The impressive feat was achieved in just five days (about 2.5 years faster than if they had used an external machine shop).
1954 Jaguar XK120 SE
One of the rarest Jaguar models in existence, the Jaguar XK120 SE from 1954 underwent an incredible restoration in 2017 by Classic Motor Cars (CMC). The automotive specialists relied extensively on 3D scanning and 3D printing (both in-house and externally) in fixing up the vintage car with a unique Pininfarina body.
The car itself has an interesting history. It was produced for Max Hoffman, an Austrian-born, New York-based importer of luxury European automobiles in the 1950s. The unique coupe was unveiled in 1955 at the Geneva Motor Show and made its way to the Autocar Show later that year. From there, its public appearances largely stopped, as Hoffman reportedly wanted to take delivery of it. David Barzilay, Chairman of CMC’s operating board, said: “There is little trace of the car’s history, but we are certain that Hoffman was the supplying dealer, then first owner of the car and that there was only one XK120 by Pininfarina produced, which makes this one of the rarest Jaguars in existence.”
CMC purchased the car in 2015 from a German man who had brought it to the U.S. in the late 1970s with the intention of restoring it. This restoration never happened, for better or for worse, so the job was left up to CMC. Several parts were 3D scanned and 3D printed, including front and rear end lights, as well as smaller parts that were missing from the original. 3D scanning was also used to reproduce the rear window, which was missing. The overall project was expansive: the CMC team carried out a full body restoration including complete new front end, new rear quarter panels, inner arch panels, boot floor, sills and door skins; as well as full chassis repair and repaint; remaking the front and rear bumpers; and much more.
The ultra-rare and restored Jaguar model was unveiled in 2017 at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California.
Ferrari 365 GT 2+2
Pittsburgh-based HV3DWorks LLC is a specialist in using 3D printing for automotive restoration and customization. The company, founded in 2016 by Paul Vorbach (of Hahn-Vorbach & Associates), has used the technology (specifically ExOne’s metal binder jetting process) to reproduce many obsolete or hard to source parts in recent years.
In this case, HV3DWorks was hired to recreate a worn Weber 40 DFI-6 carburetor for a Ferrari 365 GT 2+2 V-12 engine. Using AM, Vorbach and his team were able to model, prototype, test and print the part in just 12 weeks. The final part was printed from 316 stainless steel with bronze infiltration using ExOne’s M-Flex metal binder jetting system. The part was also $1,300 cheaper than the original.
HV3DWorks also 3D printed a Corteco fuel pump body for a 1951 Alfa Romeo 6c 2500 engine using metal binder jetting. This part was delivered in just 10 weeks and saved the customer $1,500. In another job, it successfully reproduced obsolete hood latches for a 1921 Kissel Gold Bug Speedster which was set to appear at the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance in Monterey California.