It’s arguably one of the rarest, most coveted and often copied of all cars: The Shelby Cobra. Now it’s also one of the few to arrive as a 3D-printed and working replica.
First introduced by Carroll Shelby in 1962, The Shelby Cobra roadster is almost a mythical beast among car aficionados.
According to Hemmings.com, the first were built from British roadster chassis and powerful Ford V-8 engines. Less than 1,000 of the original Shelby Cobras were built between 1962 and 1968. Since then there are been a couple of updated models: the Completion and then a CSX8000 anniversary edition (all in very limited quantities). There have also been numerous, pricey clones and Shelby Cobra kits. The 3D version, however, is a project that could pay dividends for the rest of auto manufacturing.
Inside and out (though not under the hood, which features a specialized and energy-efficient electric motor ) the 3D-printed Cobra, which goes on display this week at the North American International Auto show in Detroit, Michigan, is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. What’s even more remarkable is that the entire project was conceived, designed, printed and finished in just six weeks.
“Six weeks to go from, ‘Hey, let’s print a car,’ to actually having a working vehicle is unheard of. Six weeks is insane,” said Lonnie Love, Ph.D., in a video announcing the car, which was developed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory: Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) and backed by the U.S. Department of Energy.
The 3D printed car serves a dual purpose: It celebrates the 50th anniversary, more or less, since the Cobra was first introduced in 1962. It also highlights new and potentially cheaper and more efficient auto manufacturing techniques. In fact, the roadster took center stage when President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited a manufacturing plant in Clinton, Tennessee, on Jan. 9 and announced a new half-billion-dollar advanced manufacturing project.
Cobra update: it’s a roadster, not a convertible. And it’s made by a 3D printer from plastic/carbon fiber pellets. pic.twitter.com/o4yiYpCrJa
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) January 9, 2015
Among the companies and establishments that will participate in the innovation project is Oak Ridge National Laboratories’ manufacturing lab. Love explains in the video that while mass production of 3D-printed cars are not in the offing, everything they learn from the Shelby Cobra project could be applied broadly to existing manufacturing techniques, especially at the prototype stage where, according to Love, auto manufacturers still use giant clay models.
Part of the 3D printed Shelby Cobra prior to finishing.
Image: Oak Ridge National Laboratory
3D printing concept cars like the Shelby Cobra will allow companies to quickly test design reactions as well as form, fit and function.
As for the car, it was printed with a BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing) machine and, though the printed project came out looking rough, Oak Ridge National Labs sent the body panels to a company called True Design, which worked on smoothing it and developing specialized materials and finishes. The result is a 3D-printed car that looks as if it came off the traditional assembly line.
The Cobra won’t be the only 3D-printed car at the event. Local Motor’s Strati, which holds the title of the world’s first working 3D-printed car, will also be on display at the North American International Car Show. It too was printed by Oak Ridge Labs but lacks the Cobra’s slick paint job.
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