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Car SOS Utilizes 3D Scanning to Restore a Classic

When 54-year-old Sikh historian and writer Bobby Singh bought his Ford Cortina Mark III XL back in 1999, he didn’t think it would take long for him and his 1970s British classic car to hit the road again. But his plans came to a screeching halt in 2002 when Bobby, then in his mid-thirties, suffered a stroke. Not long after, in 2008, his family business collapsed, and then Bobby was diagnosed with heart disease. Throughout this devastating chain of events, Bobby’s family lost everything. Then, in 2018, yet more bad news arrived: doctors discovered a benign tumor in Bobby’s brain.

For more than 20 years, his Mark III sat locked away in the garage at his family’s home in England. The once-remarkable car had suffered visibly in the process, having become overgrown with corrosion, rot, and dust.

Calling in Car SOS

Until one day, his wife Harvinder and their son Aman decided to resurrect Bobby’s old automotive dream. And what do people in the United Kingdom do when they need to rescue their friend’s or family member’s classic from rusty retirement? That’s right: they call in Car SOS, a British automotive TV show aired on National Geographic automotive TV show that documents done-in-secret classic car restorations for needy or down-on-their-luck owners. The show is driven by two hosts, car enthusiast Tim Shaw and master mechanic Fuzz Townshend, who together with their team of automotive technicians bring old classics back to life.

 Touched by the story that Harvinder and Aman shared, Tim and Fuzz jumped in to help right away. Soon enough, they arranged to meet Harvinder and Aman, and to pick up Bobby’s Mark III for major restoration, with the hope that the project would give Bobby a much-needed boost.

Although at first glance the car looked as if it was in fairly decent condition, the crew at the legendary Car SOS workshop in Birmingham conducted a thorough check-up followed by disassembly, which revealed that Bobby’s Ford Cortina needed a considerable pick-me-up of its own.

For instance, nearly the entire undercarriage had rusted over and was covered with rot, the 1600cc Kent Crossflow engine was fully worn out, requiring a new set of gaskets and servicing, and the back axles, known to be prone to wear, demanded a thorough inspection and refurbishing.

Some parts were also missing, including the center console, which Tim, responsible for sourcing all the parts in the show, was sent on a mission to find. Sourcing auto parts and components for classic cars has always been a challenge, and this time, the host was out of luck when trying to hunt down the missing piece. He did, however, manage to borrow one for a few days, so that they could use it as a reference model to design the new console. But, given the show’s tight timeline, they needed a solution, and fast. That solution was, of course, 3D scanning and 3D printing.

3D scanning at Central Scanning

To construct an extremely-accurate 3D reproduction of Cortina’s console, Tim reached out to Central Scanning, an Artec Ambassador in the UK. Central Scanning has been one of the key providers of 3D scanning products and services in the UK since 2006, covering a wide range of industries from aerospace to engineering, as well as medical and artistic applications. As 3D scanning experts, Central Scanning’s engineers have accomplished countless projects with the help of Artec 3D scanners, and this one would prove to be no exception.

“Quite a few of us at Central Scanning are car fans, and I have a few classic cars myself,” said Nick Godfrey, managing director of Central Scanning. For Nick and his team, the program has always been of interest. “It’s always been nice to think that one day, Central Scanning may appear on TV, and so when the discussions started, we were very keen to support this project however possible.”

Having scanned everything from entire cars to chassis, engine parts, interior parts and suspension components for classic cars in the past, the team was ready for the challenge. Tom White, Central Scanning’s applications engineer at the time, met Tim at their workshop soon after the Ford had safely and secretly been relocated to the Car SOS premises. After Tom examined the console, he concluded that Artec Space Spider would be the most suitable 3D scanner for the job.

Developed for use on the International Space Station, Artec Space Spider is known for its ability to capture complex shapes and fine details with a metrological accuracy of up to 0.05 mm and an ultra-high resolution of up to 0.1 mm. This is why many engineers, and car mechanics in particular, use the scanner for reverse engineering, as well as quality inspection of car parts.

While this console isn’t particularly big, it does feature a hard-to-scan glossy black finish: a type of surface notoriously difficult to 3D scan. To assist the process, the object was coated with matting spray pre-scan. In this case, Tom used AESUB Blue matting spray, which would vanish from the surface post-scan.

The goal was to create an accurate, true-to-life model for 3D printing. Within the hour, the part had been prepared for scanning, had all its data captured, and was processed first into a mesh and then a CAD model in Artec Studio with some additional modeling done in Autodesk Fusion 360. After being prepared in GrabCAD Print, the final STL file was sent for 3D printing; this took another 8 hours to build an exact copy of the matching console, layer by layer.

On why 3D scanning was chosen as the go-to method to reverse engineer the missing console, Nick said: “The scanning provided a quick solution to be able to gain accurate data without affecting the original part as Tim had ‘borrowed’ the part from another car!”

While an alternative could have been to take a mold from the part and make a fiberglass part, this option would have taken longer, and been far more expensive.

Just like that, the missing part was recreated from bottom to top, accurate down below a millimeter, and soon Tim was on his way back to the workshop with a freshly 3D-printed console.

Let The Restoration Begin

Yet it was still too soon for the new part to take its place in the Ford Cortina’s interior; this was just the beginning of what turned out to be a full-blown makeover. As Tim had been chasing down this rare part, Fuzz unearthed a whole array of mechanical issues while taking a closer look at the crossflow engine and its inner workings.

The engine was fully worn out and needed a complete overhaul, and the car body wasn’t looking too well either. After the Cortina came back from sandblasting (a process that involves removing paint or rust from the car’s body or frame), more trouble was revealed: the entire body of the vintage auto was covered in holes and patches from front to rear.

 The Car SOS bodywork team got straight to work, welding and grinding to get rid of those holes and make the body surface as smooth as it once was. Following this, the car body went straight into the paint booth for a spray coat of that oh-so-’70s tangerine paint. Then, it was time for all the mechanical work to commence: installing the new gasket set in the rear axle and refilling it with some fresh oil, repairing the clutch friction plates, and much more.

After that, all the new and restored inner and outer parts were reinstalled in the freshly painted body, including the previously 3D scanned and printed center console.

When all the pieces were fitted together, it was time for Tim and Fuzz to get the engine started and return the fully restored Ford Cortina Mark III to Bobby.

The Rrand Reveal

 It was meant to be just another day for Bobby, with no particular plans except a short interview about his latest historical novel with a local Indian TV channel. Or so he thought…

With his wife and two sons, Bobby arrived at Belvoir Castle, a beautiful historic place in rural Leicestershire, home to the Dukes of Rutland for almost 1,000 years and the perfect setting for such a grand reveal. Everything was in place. With this marvelous castle in the background, Bobby dove deep into the interview, until it was rudely interrupted by a tow truck – one that happened to contain a rusty old thing that looked exactly like Bobby’s Cortina – it also contained an exceptionally loud worker who looked exactly like Tim, the host!

“Not possible,” Bobby decided. “Mine’s in way better condition than that old rust bucket!”

Effectively distracted by the decoy, something quite different entered the scene: A fully restored, all-new, bright and shiny Cortina, with Fuzz behind the wheel, and a happy crowd of Bobby’s closest friends and relatives following in procession.

“You rats!” shouted Bobby, laughing. “God, is this my car?!”

There was no other explanation: he had been thoroughly Car SOS-ed.

“I know that the Cortina is very close to him, because he used to tell us so many stories about it, and we wanted to do something for him, so he can be happy,” said Harvinder, looking at Bobby’s face, full of disbelief and joy.

And just like that, with a round of applause, tears and hugs, after 22 years of separation, Bobby and his 50-year-old Ford Cortina were reunited – and ready to hit the road together.

“It was great that not only were we able to be featured on the show, but that we helped to bring Bobby’s car back to life with the scanning and 3D printing we did,” added Nick. “The car was a nice project, and one of the missing parts was the one that we were able to scan and reproduce to complete the interior.”

The episode about Ford Cortina Mark III was first aired on National Geographic on May 13, 2021. 

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