As humans, we have the unique capacity to cherish history. Not only in some intangible way of reverence but also physically in a sense. We keep mementos, build monuments, and also place value on things of old. One such example is our love for classic cars.

Of course, people enjoy vintage autos for various reasons. If you talk to them though, almost all of them have a sense of respect for the car’s past. We cannot really say classics are objectively better than modern vehicles. And yet… it often feels like they are, even if it is in a sense that we cannot describe.

So, as it is with anything sacred, modernizing it will always be controversial. We explored part of that with our article on cars that have the classic look with a modern heart. However, it is still not clear: how can you preserve those vehicles? Is any modern solution going to work? Should we even want it to work? Join me in exploring just one such solution to see if saving the classics is an impossible task!

An introduction to vehicle-related 3D printing

The uses of 3D printing have spread across multiple domains already. It was only a matter of time before they also hit the car industry. And yet, most people have a pretty skewed view of 3D printing. We have been bombarded with examples of 3D-printed plastic objects, so we assume this is all there is to it. Not the case!

Firstly, 3D printing can now use a large variety of materials. Secondly, when we talk about 3D printing use in cars, we do not mean printing out an entire car. While likely viable in the future, the practical uses of 3D printing are currently a bit different.

Instead of producing an entire car, 3D printing takes on a simpler task. Through it, we can print out parts or even pieces of parts that are necessary to manufacture a vehicle. This is especially useful in situations, where a car manufacturer has no financial incentive to keep producing parts for their older vehicles. Though it goes even further than that.

Here are some examples of how 3D printing is currently being used by auto manufacturers:

  • Faster prototyping. To anyone familiar with the vehicle design process, prototyping is one of the key steps. In the past, it happened fairly slowly and had many drawbacks. Nowadays, it allows for much faster vehicle development through the help of 3D-printed prototypes (often up to scale!)
  • Experimenting with specialized parts. To cut down on costs, manufacturers have to re-use platforms and parts throughout their lineup. With 3D printing that may become unnecessary. Right now, they are mainly employing it for high-performance small-batch parts, but it can one day be extended to virtually all vehicle components.
  • Custom vehicle additions. 3D printing gives us the freedom to fit an already existing car with custom parts. Or in other words – it allows for easy bodywork tunings. Considering how much we care about customizing our vehicles, it will probably become a serious selling point soon.
  • Metal artwork. Believe it or not, manufacturers are relying on 3D printing to create pieces of art. Bentley EXP 10 Speed 6 is a concept model that serves as the perfect example. Many of its decorative pieces have been impossible to make prior to 3D printing in metal.
  • Making manufacturing easier. Aside from printing out components, manufacturers also print out tools for manufacturing. This is one step removed from actually affecting the cars, but still allows for cheaper construction.

Obviously, 3D printing goes beyond what most of us have seen. We can easily recognize its merits in modern-day manufacturing. The issue comes when such practices become commonplace when dealing with classics. Let’s have a look!

How 3D printing can affect classic cars

What makes the classic car market special is the scarcity. Not only of the vehicles but also of the parts. That requires you to think twice about how you treat your vintage car. You cannot simply drive it around in bad weather with complete disregard for it. Or at least you should not.

Sadly, regardless of how careful you are, parts eventually break. Through a bit of ingenuity, people have come up with solutions for many such occasions. Sometimes it comes down to salvaging parts from other cars. At other times experts would tweak things a bit to make a different part work with your model. No matter what you do though, you are not relying on newly made components. Until now.

With 3D printing, we can virtually stop worrying about any given part breaking. We can print everything – from the biggest bumper to the smallest bolt. Has your classic car been hit? No worries, print out a new fender. The brakes are acting up? You have 3D printing for that. Vehicle maintenance has never been easier!

This has plenty of positives about it. It makes the classics niche more accessible to people. No longer does it need to be such an exclusive hobby. As for the veteran enthusiasts – they get to enjoy their cars without having to worry too much about them. Sadly though, as with many other things, this also has its dark sides.

When 3D printing devalues vintage cars

Knowing that your classic vehicle has a chance to live another day is exciting. It shaves away the subtle worry that something might happen to it. Even if it does, now you can easily take care of it. Sure, it may cost you a bit, but so what? At least you have your car back!

However, that begs the question: how far can we go with that? At some point, we are bound to cross the line of manufacturing a completely new “classic”. What does that say about the future of automotive history? If we can fabricate vintage cars so easily, their value becomes less apparent.

If you have a nice old Studebaker you know those cars will no longer be made. That makes it special, even more so than when it came out. In fact, cars that have been considered “duds” are now an excellent addition to any classic car collection. Yet with such an easy way to get them anew… Will they remain special?

Even if you put eccentric examples aside, the same applies to any old automobile. I imagine that at some point we will have to put in some legislation to keep things in line. It should not be hard to justify it either, considering car design is also intellectual property. Yet even if we do not print out entire vehicles, there is one more giant problem coming…

Does 3D printing jeopardize the authenticity of classic cars?

When such issues occur, many people like to play the nonchalance card. They may enjoy the classic car niche, but see nothing wrong with what people do with their cars. Fair enough. However, we do not live in a vacuum.

If you think that using such technologies will not become an issue, you may be wrong. You can learn how to use 3D printing to save our classic cars. So can anybody else, even if you do not want to personally engage in such things. What does that mean? The classic car market will likely face vehicles with 3D-printed parts soon.

At first glance, there is no issue. Your car, your rules, right? What happens if you want to resell it though? If people know that 3D-printed components will reduce their vehicle’s value, they may not want to mention it. Plus, we will likely not be able to tell that easily. This may open a whole new can of worms…

The classics market has always run on mutual trust. While all markets do so, there is a sense of camaraderie with vintage vehicles. I know that you likely share my passion and deep care for such vehicles. This is why I expect you to treat them properly. And yet… It is tough knowing that a part broke with no “traditional” way to fix it. In that sense, I understand why some people would like to keep their cars running through modern means.

No matter how we look at it, we will soon have to face this problem. I have not found a single solution to it. The most likely outcome seems to be a simple acceptance. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, smells like a duck, and walks like a duck… Well, let’s agree to call it a duck. Or a classic vehicle part, in our case. Though even so, some of us will never be okay with that.

Should we use 3D printing with a classic vehicle?

As someone who cherishes the spirit of old vehicles, I can see both sides of the issue. On the one hand, I realize that we are bound to hit time with hardly any spare parts. Such shortage has already been noticed for some vehicles. On the other hand, if we keep modernizing the classics, are they even classics anymore?

Of course, much of this discussion relies on the type of philosophy we want to employ. Perhaps we should disconnect ourselves from the idea that classics can never be restored through modern means. Though some may say that the value lies in the very fact that we cannot bring things back to life. Or does it?

What do you think? Is 3D printing an answer to preserving our classic cars? Would you like a classic vehicle, even if it is modernized? What about a completely 3D-printed one? My only concern is that we will devalue the entire segment in the eyes of future generations. To me, that seems like quite the loss. But let us hope that I am wrong!


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