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This Shelby Cobra replica was 3D-printed from carbon fiber-reinforced plastic

The Shelby Cobra is one of the rarest and most desirable classic cars around, but what if you could just print your own copy of one?

That’s what Oak Ridge National Laboratory managed to do, building a car that looks enough like a Cobra to fool most people. Talk about Government Motors.

The facility that refined uranium for the Manhattan Project used 3D-printing technology to make a Cobra out of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic — and then added an electric powertrain. So it’s like the child of an original Cobra and a BMW i3.

The electric Cobra project was done to demonstrate Oak Ridge’s Big Area Additive Manufacturing technology, which the lab says could bring a whole new meaning to the phrase “rapid prototyping.”

Oak Ridge claims this process saves energy, and allows for crash-absorbing structures to be printed right into the bodywork of a car.

The car was actually unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show back in January, but we think it’s still worth highlighting as a decidedly cool use of an emerging technology that many believe may change the way cars are designed.

Designing a car, or even a single component, takes a long time. New cars are still typically modeled as full-size clay mockups, and when they go into production various dies, molds, and tools have to be setup to turn the related shapes into metal, plastic, or carbon fiber.

3D printing could cut some time from that process, making it easier for designers to make changes on the fly, or to update cars outside of the traditional four-year refresh cycle.

In addition, since it uses less material, 3D printing cuts down on waste. 3D printers are also less complex than the machines traditionally used to make car parts, which could allow for smaller factories.

While you won’t be able to buy the Oak Ridge Cobra, Local Motors is trying to put a 3D-printed electric car into production. The firm has demonstrated printing of its open-top Strati in both Chicago and Detroit.

The Strati is made from ABS plastic rather than carbon fiber, but virtually everything on it aside from the powertrain and running gear is 3D-printed. Local hopes to put the car on sale later this year, pending approval by Federal regulators.