As a boy, Carroll Shelby was just another Texas kid hotrodding his Willys car after classes at Woodrow Wilson High School in Dallas. Following high school in 1940, Shelby enrolled at The Georgia School of Technology in the Aeronautical Engineering program, but WWII interrupted that plan and he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps, ultimately serving as a flight instructor and test pilot.
After the war, Shelby got back into racing behind the wheel of a friend's MG TC and was soon signed on as the driver for the Cad-Allard, Aston Martin and Maserati teams during the 1950s. As part of his track experience, he also drove for Austin-Healey and set 16 U.S. and international speed records as part of that famed team. Shelby capped off his racing career with a win for Aston Martin at the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans, and he retired from racing shortly after his win there.
He was tougher than a truck-stop steak and cooler than the ground under a north-facing porch, and he was looking for a new project.
During LeMans, Shelby noticed that an English GT car built by AC Cars known as the Bristol was a nice ride indeed, and three years later, the AC Bristol served as the underpinnings for the car that would make Shelby even more famous – the AC Cobra.
Now Cincinnati Inc., the company responsible for the amazing Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAMM) machine along with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), have celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Shelby Cobra by 3D printing a functioning, life-sized replica of the car.
Cinncinnati Inc. also used the BAAM to help Local Motors build the 3D printed Strati car last year.
A team of six technicians at ORNL took just six weeks to make it happen, and the deadline was a date at the North American International Auto Show on January 12.
Working at the Department of Energy Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL, the team 3D printed the chassis and then built the remaining pieces before bonding them all together to complete the finished product.
The body was output of carbon fiber composite material and it would need to be finished to a high sheen to reflect the aesthetics of the original.
What the ORNL team came up with is a vehicle half the weight – and three times as strong – as the original Shelby Cobra. While it's not an exacting homage as it integrates a zero-emission electric motor, it is more efficient and affordable than the 427 cubic inch V8 powered car on which it's based.
"The way we make prototype cars today is exactly the same way they made it 30-40 years ago, which is clay models," says Lonnie Love of the ORNL Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. "What we're showing is that we can go well beyond that now. You can go and print out a working prototype vehicle in weeks, in days, and drive through the streets and look at people's involvement, look at people's excitement. You can test it for form, fit and function so your ability to innovate quickly has radically changed. I think there is a whole industry that can be built up around rapid innovation within transportation, and that again is revolutionary."
If you want to see this piece of re-imagined automotive history, you can visit the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan. It runs through January 25, 2015.