Welcome back to “We Live in the Future,” in which we will tackle subjects of new and crazy ways science is changing the way we think about transportation. These will skew towards longreads, so consider yourself warned.
If you could print your own dream car in the comfort of your garage… would you do it?
One man has answered the call with a resounding: Yes.
A Real American Hero (From New Zealand)
Ivan Sentch, a 32 year-old programmer from Auckland NZ, is building a1961 series II Aston Martin DB4 body and chassis to go over the donor body of a Nissan Skyline and he is documenting the entire process. The kicker is that this isn’t a kit car; he’s printing the entire body, chassis and dash out of 100mmx100mm (about 4″ square) pieces of 3D printed plastic.
He was able to download a schematic of the car which he can slice in a CAD (computer-assisted design) program to create the pieces he will need to print. All told, Sentch estimates he will have to make 500 prints, each containing about 5 of the squares for his dream car. He’s been designing since Christmas 2012, began printing in January, and estimates he’s printed roughly 72% of the car so far. The whole car is 18.5m2, and so far he has printed 13.42m2 (Sentch uses metric, since he’s from New Zealand. That translates to about 144.5 ft2 printed out of just over 199ft2 he’ll eventually need).
Tell Me About the Car
What is it about the Aston Martin DB4 that speaks to him? Presumably Ivan Sentch is like every single person on the planet, in that he would very much like to be James Bond when he grows up. So why go with the DB4 instead of a DB5, or the more valuable DB4 Zagato? Sentch has two young children, and decided he needed something with four seats to fit his whole family. The safety of putting his kids in a 3D printed car is perhaps an entirely different conversation.
Why 3D Printing?
Sentch has made kit cars in the past, so he is no stranger to creating the car he actually wants out of the car that he has. For those unfamiliar (like me), kit cars are essentially giant model cars; you get a the pieces of the body you want and you put them together over the body of a donor car. Sentch’s kit car was a Ferrari 250 GTO, but the difference with his printed Aston Martin is that his kit car came with a pre-built chassis. He’s making his own now.
Also, if he wanted to make the car out of plug CNC (computer numerical control) pieces, it was going to run him between 12 and 15000 NZD (roughly $9310 and $11637 USD). Using a 3D printer would only cost him the price of the printer plus about two grand NZD ($1550 USD, give or take).
Designing Your Own Car! With Computers!
As a programmer, Sentch has been familiar with CAD (I didn’t know there would be so many acronyms when I started this column, I’m so sorry) programs as a hobbyist for 15 years, so he’s already a step or ten ahead of the average Nick who wants to print his own car with ejection seats and whathave you (I can’t imagine making an Aston Martin that doesn’t at LEAST have an ejection button, if not some oil slicks). He uses Autodesk 3DS Max for the slicing and AllyCAD (a free program, for all you car design hobbyists out there) to print the MDF (medium-density fibreboard; think superdense plywood) shapes onto paper.
Putting It All Together
Once the shapes are all printed, Sentch is assembling them over a wooden framework with modeling glue and sheer New Zealander ingenuity. All told, he doesn’t have much more printing to do, but the real legwork will be the assembly. His estimates put him at about five years away from a finished product. Once he prints the remaining 28% of the plastic pieces, he will use them to make a plug. The plug has to be sanded from 400 grain to 600 to 1000 until the body has a glassy finish and all the pieces are true with one another; then, he will apply mold prep to the body, sand with 1000 grain once more, and take a fiberglass mold off of the plug, from which he will cast the actual piece.
I can only assume that his final step in the process is, “become coolest man on the planet” because he’ll be driving an Aston Martin that he made by himself. If you don’t think that is the coolest ever, we might not be able to be friends.
Do It Yourself!
Sentch is using a Solidoodle 2nd gen. 3D printer to do his printing, which sells retail, brand-new for just under $500 USD. Factor in the cost of materials at about $1550, as stated above, and his project will cost him $2050 USD plus the cost of his Nissan Skyline, which in decent pre-owned condition is about £5000 ($7745 USD). (NB if you’re in the US reading this, you will need to pick a different donor car, because the Skyline is illegal in the US for a variety of reasons, none of which involve vast criminal empires… that we know of.)
The killer is the five years of finishing the sanding, assembly, mold casting, &c. before everything is finished-finished. Maybe this is more of a project for your one-true-dream-car rather than just “Man, I wish I had the new Mustang, it looks pretty sweet.” Dream bigger. Go for “Man, I wish I had a 1967 Mustang convertible.”
But if you’ve got the time, and you’ve got the resources? I say go for it. This is the age of customization, and by all means, you do you, as the kids are saying. Make something yours, y’know?