3-D printed Shelby Cobra ready to lay down the rubber

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A blast from the past got a blast from a 3-D printer. This replica Shelby Cobra is on display this week at the Detroit Auto Show. Photo: Oak Ridge National Laboratory
A blast from the past got a blast from a 3-D printer. This replica Shelby Cobra is on display this week at the Detroit Auto Show. Photo: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The curvy roadster with the V-8 engine is the stuff of legend and the muse of copy cats.

The Shelby Cobra turned racing on its head in the 1960s and though so few were ever produced, it became one of the most copied cars in history. Replicas continue to flood the market and a simple search on Ebay will turn up a variety of pricey replica kits.

But there’s one that might have earned a nod of approval from Carroll Shelby had he lived to see it.

For the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Shelby Cobra, a working 3-D printed replica is currently on display at the Detroit Auto Show.

It’s hard to say for sure whether Shelby would see this as more than just another knock-off. The plain-spoken Texan, who died in 2012, was always looking for ways to innovate car building. He was famous for saying, “Yesterday’s history. Tomorrow’s a mystery. So live for today.”

This car was produced in the Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in a special printer designed to make large pieces. Body parts were printed with carbon fiber and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, a polymer material that is strong, heat resistant and provides an ideal surface, once sanded and finished, for the color and luster that was part of the Cobra aesthetic.

The car was fitted with an electric motor and not the V-8 engine Shelby incorporated in his first racing cars but the talk of speed surrounding this roadster had more to do with the building of the car.

While the final product took six weeks from planning to assembly, the actual printing of components took about 24 hours, faster than current manufacturing processes.

ORNL’s Lonnie Love says on the YouTube video below that he does not believe this signals the beginning of mass production of 3-D printed cars but gives designers the ability to quickly test working models before manufacturing begins.