3D Printing Hard-To-Find Vintage Vehicle Parts

A sliced digital file of a marker light enclosure. Background is a white and grey grid and object itself is a series of print path lines in red, orange, and green.

When I was growing up, my dad and I restored classic cars. Combing junkyards for the pieces we needed was a mixture of interesting and frustrating since there was always something you couldn’t find no matter how long you looked. [Emily Velasco] was frustrated by the high price of parts even when she was able to find them, so she decided to print them herself. She wrote an excellent tutorial about designing and 3D printing replica parts if you find yourself in a similar situation.

All four marker lights on [Velasco]’s 1982 Toyota pickup were on their way to plastic dust, and a full set would run her $160. Instead of shelling out a ton of cash for some tiny parts, she set out to replicate the marker lamps with her 3D printer. Using a cheap marker lamp replacement for a more popular model of pickup as a template, she was able to replace her marker lamps at a fraction of the cost of the options she found online.

We really like the trick [Velasco] used for matching the unusual shape of the lens. By photographing it on a piece of graph paper, she was able to get the silhouette and use the grid to eliminate any lens distortion in the image. It won’t work for super complex shapes, but for roughly 2D parts with complex curvatures this can be a great way to make a part that matches well. We can see this being useful to you in a wide variety of hacks.

If you want to dig deeper, we’ve covered other projects at the intersection of 3D printing and cars like 3D Printed Rims, 3D Printed Parts for Concept Cars, and even OEMs that provide 3D printing specifications for accessory mounts to name a few.

52 thoughts on “3D Printing Hard-To-Find Vintage Vehicle Parts

  1. This reminds me of a thirty something year old car I had a while back. The clutch cable snapped and ejected itself from the vehicle, never to be found again. Needless to say, the dealer did have old stock of the cable, however the spring loaded block it took along for the ride or the nonstandard nuts to go with it, no such luck. Fortunately I found the nuts from a small engineering business, but the block was another story, scrapyard cars are too new. So I made one out of wood to get me home and since it was working better than the original, I kept it in there. I’d have replaced it with metal if it had worn down, but three years later, it was the catalytic converter that forced me to sell it. With hindsight, I wish I’d kept it, but needs must.

  2. She chose TPU because it’s both soft enough to conform to the pickup truck body, and also heat resistant enough to stand up to being snuggled up to a hot lightbulb, which I thought was a great idea. I also liked the DIY reflector.

      1. Won’t make much odds – that it is still a metal box that will sometimes be in the sun that rules out common PLA as a possibility on thermal grounds easily on its own, the bulb barely matters there. The desire to have a softer plastic to conform to the vehicle also rather pushes you to very much higher temperature capable filaments.

        Plus the complexities of rejigging the wiring to handle LED is often non-trivial especially for older cars indicators, and even when it is getting the LED to look at all correct – they so often have lens built into the ‘bulb’ that are entirely wrong to the way old incandescent designed fixtures want.

  3. There’s a whole marketplace for building parts for vintage cars that they didn’t even have originally but now are in demand. Obvious example was that many Great Depression-era or earlier cars only had one brake light and no turn signal lights. So building vintage-appearing brake-and-turn-signal lights to install on your old car means making something that never existed but looks OEM.
    And sometimes you just want to make something better. The first project I did that got featured on hackaday was a replacement PCB for my old car, done in a similar fashion by putting it on graph paper and importing the picture into a PCB layout program, but I included a whole bunch of vias where the OEM part was just copper on FR4 so the turn signal contact wiper eventually wiped the copper right off the board. Mine, with vias, holds the copper pour solidly down even when the bonding adhesive between it and the PCB has given up after 50 years of use. And a scrutineer would never find it because they’d have to open up a crimped enclosure in the turn signal housing to look at it, so it appears to be stock.

  4. Is it legal to use unapproved taillight lens? You can’t just tape plastic over a broken taillight. Taillight lenses have special optical features to focus the light in the right way. They also have features to support an o-ring to give a waterproof seal.

    I think in Massachusetts you will get a rejection sticker if you show up for vehicle inspection with homemade taillights.

      1. “It’s the original lens” … Good thing too as the other comments are (sadly) correct. I believe the federal DOT has regulations on this for manufacturers. I can understand, somewhat, why. They want a uniformity among red (stop) lens for color. We’ve all seen old cars that have odd colored twilight’s, allowed because that’s the way they were made originally. You wouldn’t want someone putting reddish orange lights for stop signals, some dummo would grok their meaning.

        Quasi related – I wanted to print up some LED running lights for my PWC, so I could legally run back to home port at night if I had to. The NH Marine Patrol said fine but I had to prove, among other things, that they met the requirements for chromaticity. I decided it wasn’t worth the paperwork. As I said above I can understand the “need” for some regulation but really …

    1. In Michigan thanks to most auto manufacturing happening here there are little to no regulations about vehicles outside of the safety equipment. My son had a teacher that cut the top right off of his car and drove around with a helmet instead of a windshield. The amount of duct tape and plastic bags I’ve seen where plastic, glass and/or metal is supposed to be couldn’t even be imagined. Unless it’s leaving parts or fluids in the road I don’t think cops care. Now the light being OUT is bad, but if it’s visible and reddish you’re good to go.

    2. Depending on the country, all lights should be E marked or DOT marked… if anyone is likely to spot that at inspection-time or a traffic stop is up to you.

      But as others point out – this is printing a new housing, not a new lens, so the approved lens is being re-used.

      1. Of course no out-of-spec lights manufactured in low-cost markets ever get DOT markings slapped on them before getting sold on Alibaba or Amazon….


        Unfortunately it’s probably easier to crack down on the well-intentioned DIYer doing the right thing without the right paperwork than it is on the people doing things wrong intentionally for a profit.

  5. To quote a friend “I am only really interested in pre-war cars. Ideally the Boer Wars” (He has a pickup truck from 1908, there may not be an older one) [1]
    If you like to see folk re-creating unobtainable parts for 100+ year old vehicles then can I recommend these threads:
    https://hmvf.co.uk/topic/9761-1908-dennis-truck/ (1908 truck found masquerading as house foundations)

    Well, actually, almost anything on there.

    [1] No, as it happens, he doesn’t have anything from before the first, or even second Boer wars.

  6. I read the link, only to find out she didn’t print the marker lamp lenses, but the holder for the sockets.
    I was looking forward to reading how the lenses could be 3D printed.

    1. Print a mold for clear resin, I guess. You can also directly print in resin, but most SLA resins tend to yellow over time when exposed to the sun. Incidentally, I printed a replacement grommet for the shift lever linkage of a 1983 Lancia Gamma Coupe, in A95 high temperature TPU, and seems to be holding fine. It’s not exposed to sunlight, but somewhat close to the exhaust manifold.

          1. That is just a reflector though, retro-reflection is a little different in that it returns a meaningful portion of light hitting it back the way it came from.

  7. I printed a flange bushing with a tab to epoxy into the headlight of an 05 Cadillac STS and hold a driving light. Replaced the bulb with an LED and used ABS filament. Much cheaper than $400 for a new used headlight assembly.

    Also printed tabs to epoxy onto the broken tabs of a 98 vette rear license plate frame. They are holding up well. A replacement frame was $40 to $50.

  8. Awesome truck! And great hack!

    I have a ’92 Subaru SVX and more and more parts are NLA (No Longer Available). There is a tiny plastic clip (Window Sleeve Clip or something like that) that makes the electric windows go up and go down, which will fail eventually. I designed a replacement part (which is available for download and printing) but wasn’t happy with the FDM prints, although it’s great for prototyping. In the end I had the part professionally 3D printed in Nylon (which was the original material) on a SLS printer. The part turned out awesome, fit like the original, and two years later it’s help keep dozens of SVX in working order with no complaints of failure for the SLS prints (some reported their home made FDM prints breaking).

    There are a few more NLA parts I’m going to design. I’ll probably just prototype with FDM and use a commercial printing service for the final part.

      1. Zero replaced head gaskets across 3 SVX. Nor do I know anybody who had to replace there SVX head gaskets.

        You’re most likely thinking of EJ25 engines (4 cylinder, 2.5L in late ’90s and early ’00s Outbacks and such) which often had early head gasket failures. I know several people who replaced EJ25 head gaskets.

        The EG33 (6 cylinder, 3.3L, only in the SVX) isn’t completely immune to head gasket failure, but it is really much much rarer.

        For the SVX the real question is “Transmissions count?” (And also “Wheel bearing count?)…

  9. “You wouldn’t download a car..”

    I recently printed the “taco bell bag” which is a pretty cool trompe l’oeil object. (Take a relatively recyclable paper everyday object and reproduce it in PLA so it takes up shelf space)
    The notes on it state it was from an “expensive scanner”.
    I had a cracked door handle piece on my 1980 Triumph spitfire. (Another enthusiast sold machined reproductions, so all good).
    It’s a clever use of ‘what ever is in the room” to use graph paper and build from there.. but what is the accessibility of a scanner that will get me the file to print?

    1. “I recently printed the “taco bell bag” which is a pretty cool trompe l’oeil object. (Take a relatively recyclable paper everyday object and reproduce it in PLA so it takes up shelf space)”

      Sounds like something Andy Warhol would have done.

    2. “but what is the accessibility of a scanner that will get me the file to print?”

      HaD have featured multiple DIY/FOSS photogrammetry (sp?) projects / softwares here that require only a camera and a bit of time to produce pretty darn accurate models.

      Or there’s an app for certain iPhones that uses the 3D facial scanner to do the same with very good results from what I’ve seen.

    3. In this case, the photograph was tweaked (presumably in Photoshop or similar) to remove any distortion (which is where the graph paper came in handy), then the outline was converted to a vector file and loaded into the 3D modelling program (OnShape in this case) and extruded into a 3D shape.
      So, no specific scanner, just a somewhat manual process.

  10. I printed some knobs for some 1920’s car. I made them shells with interior ribs so that I could pressure cast urethane resin inside them. The restoration shop finished them with filler and painting. When finished, the car was shown at Hershey and the rest of the Concours d’elegance circuit.

    A more mundane car part I did was a screw clip for the dash pad on a 1982 GMC pickup. Could have bought one for a few cents (postage would’ve cost more) from LMC Truck but it only took about 30 minutes with digital calipers to measure, model, and print the single clip I needed. Far faster to obtain than the days that ordering online would have taken. https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1819375

  11. I have a 1987 T-Bird for which I 3D-printed an in-dash cupholder and bezel. The cupholder is a modified Toyota design and I designed a bezel that replaces the cigarette lighter bezel. There is room next to the cigarette lighter to accommodate the cupholder.

  12. I’ve thought about building a 60″ high, 36″ wide delta printer just to print modern-style dash boards for vintage autos. I helped a friend recently stuff a newer cars dash setup into a 1937 chevy. It would have been SOOOO much easier to just measure/model/print/leather wrap a custom fit one with AC ducts and such. Especially since you could pre-sell on Ebay every time you get a custom order for a different vehicle….

  13. I basically bought my 3D printer to print car parts I can’t buy anymore. Come to find out I use it for a bunch of other things as well but that was my original intention

  14. I printed some “relays” which were actually 3 diodes and a resistor for the ECU “steering module” on Rover SDi/Jaguar/TVR EFi. But the relay body is red. PLA is adequate for that as I usually stuff it with silicone before putting the top on. Uprated the diodes too and it’s bulletproof.

  15. I’m an old school guy and know nothing about 3D printing. I have a classic 1966 Mercury Parklane Convertible. I need to make replacement front turn signal lenses for these autos for myself and others, who need them. These are obsolete and are terribly hard to find, if they can be found at all. They also fit all Full Size Mercury Models for 1966. Can any of you help me with this solution ? I would appreciate this so much !

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