3D printing of classic car parts

By: Nick Lenthall

datsun wagon front angle datsun wagon front angle

3D printing and the classic car enthusiast

The workshop tool board has changed over time. First the change from hand tools to power, then battery, and now even a lathe, once only the property of the machine shop, is affordable to enthusiasts.

On the back of this more affordable arsenal of weapons, enter the 3D printer.


Once a curiosity, the 3D printer is now an integral part of classic car restoration. That hard-to-find part that once instigated an all-night internet search might now be produced by you the same day in your own workshop without even a freight cost to whinge about.

Home use 3D Printers range in price from $300 to $4500. If you prefer you can get your mate who has one to do the job for you. Of course, you will have to electronically scan an example of the part first to produce a file that his printer can use to create the duplicate. There are organizations who can do this for you for a fee for service but wait... that file you desire may be only a mouse click away, and at no cost to you.


Thingiverse.com is a website that hosts hundreds of files produced by 3D users the world over and part of that group is the classic car community.

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On Thingiverse.com you’ll find the files for everything from windscreen clips to wheel caps, ram tubes to rod clips. These files are licensed under the "Creative Commons Attribution" meaning in layman’s terms they are available for personal (not commercial) use. Based on the assumption that we are all searching for the same hard to get parts, this inventory will surely grow.


You can purchase the thermoplastic filament you will need for printing in a variety of materials and colours. PLA, as used in milk bottles and PETG with similar properties to the ABS plastics used by Automotive Manufacturers are the more popular choices for beginners. Your printer will then layer upon layer (like a Sarah Lee Cheesecake) and melt each thin slither of media until your item comes to fruition. Depending on the size and complexity of the part, this may take many hours.


As an example, consider the under-bonnet light missing from the engine bay of my mate Tyrone’s mint Datto 1600 Wagon. There is a new old stock example available if you have a lazy five hundred dollars. Ty sourced a tardy one off a wreck for twenty dollars. It goes without saying that the lens was broken.

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After cleaning up the metal parts himself Ty sourced the file for the lens from a forum and his mate John produced one the same day from clear filament. Total cost, a dozen beers, (good beers).


3D printing empowers all of us to create those hard-to-get parts endlessly, but even more importantly a 3D printer can create the parts to build another 3D printer, and that’s another story.

To further explore the far-reaching ramifications of the 3D printing phenomenon, check out reprap.org


From Unique Cars #466, May/Jun 2022


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