You know about Google Books, right? It's an ambitious project by Google to, essentially, scan and make publicly available every known book. I'm guessing the end goal is to put them all onto a chip implanted in Larry Page's brain so he can always beat anyone in an argument, forever. It's a grand, noble idea, and it's made possible via some amazing technical feats, such as scanning 1000 pages per hour via some elaborate scanning setup, which I'm picturing as having dozens of whirling, gleaming metal arms.
No matter what you think of Google, having access to all that literature and knowledge is a very good, enabling thing. And I think it's what's needed for people who love cars.
More specifically, people who love vintage cars. And, instead of books, there would be a vast collection of car parts, or more accurately, the 3D data that describes the parts. And, instead of reading books on some screen, these parts could be downloaded and made tangible via 3D printing technology.
I've used 3D printing services to make parts for art projects before, and it's amazing technology. The idea of using it to create parts for cars certainly isn't new, either— Jay Leno has been doing it for a while, it seems. What I'm suggesting is that it's time to start a very ambitious project: a freely-available database of scanned auto parts, so restorers and enthusiasts and curators of the future will be able to keep their babies running.
Even now, for most cars over 30 years old, parts availability is a huge issue. I have a friend very much into old AMCs and Ramblers who keeps a reserve of certain hard-to-find parts. I have an old Beetle that's due to turn 40 very soon, and parts are still plentiful for it, but that's the exception. Most interesting older cars, even ones with large fan bases, like BMW 2002s or Mustangs or whatever will become more and more niche markets as time goes on. For rare cars, the problem is even more intense. I also have a Reliant Scimitar, and getting anything for it, even in the UK, is a massive ordeal.
So I propose we start scanning and saving parts now. This, of course, is not trivial, as 3D scanners are still pretty expensive, but they are around. Most major art schools with Automotive Design departments, like Art Center in Pasadena, have one. And 3D printers are getting cheaper and more accessible every year. It's just a matter of time before they're everywhere. The parts would be printed in plastic, which may be fine for dash knobs and interior fittings, but they'd have to be cast in metal for heavier-duty use, which is a good thing from your local independent machinist's perspective.
Who has the money to get this going? I volunteer Google. They'll be done scanning the backlog of humanity's books around 2015, they say, so they'll want to keep those robots and monkeys they trained to scan stuff to some new use, right?
Who's with me? Maybe if everyone drops off their broken car parts by Google's service entrance we can help them get started. Keep the pile neat, though.