Companies help customers build their own cars

Las Vegas entrepreneurs are harnessing new technologies that may enable more consumers to design and build custom cars at local facilities.

Computer-aided-design software, coupled with 3-D printers, are allowing designers to visualize new products on a computer workstation or tablet computer, then fabricate their 3-D CAD drawings on a desktop workspace within a three-dimensional printer. 3-D printers are also facsimile machines that allow collaborative work between developers who can “teleport” a physical 3-D model of their concept throughout the World Wide Web.

Realizing this trend, Microsoft Corp. recently added software drivers to its latest version of Windows 8.1 that enable easier connections to the Makerbot line of 3-D printers, much the way the Windows operating system connects personal computers with 2-D inkjet printers.

Local Motors of Chandler, Ariz., opened a microfactory in downtown Las Vegas to apply these new technologies. The Las Vegas location is the first of 100 microfactories that the company plans to establish across the United States over the next 10 years.

Michele Abbate, a Las Vegas native and licensed race car driver within the National Auto Sport Association, has been working with automotive technician Scott Green and two other staff members to start this innovative automotive workspace on the corner of Stewart Avenue and Sixth Street.

Work bays, tool racks, component parts and 3-D printers are available, alongside hydraulic lifts, welding and metal-working equipment. Designers can rent space at the Local Motors microfactory to build their dream vehicles under a professional fabricator’s watchful tutelage.

Local Motors leverages social media to support an international community of 30,000 online automotive enthusiasts from 130 countries. Members of the community collaborate, helping one another improve conceptual and fabrication skills for projects. Sponsored competitions and events let these enthusiasts exercise these skills on a common automotive platform.

Winning design concepts are then fabricated by Local Motors and become available to the community as practical development test beds at the local microfactories.

The first design competition led to the development of Rally Fighter, an off-road, street-legal desert race car. Subsequent competitions have focused on motorcycle and electric bicycle projects. The community’s next challenge will be designing an electric car platform. For more information, visit the Local Motors website at:

At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Rev-Tec Corp. has also been creating innovative electric vehicle platforms at:

Bob Anderson, Rev-Tec’s systems design director, won an Emmy Award for engineering during 2009 for the development of Grip Trix, a motorized camera dolly grip. This electric automotive platform is virtually silent but can zip along at more than 40 mph, allowing onboard cameras to film continuous action scenes at high speeds from any angle.

Anderson gained his automotive design skills while racing on motor sport circuits in Los Angeles. He came to Las Vegas Motor Speedway several years ago to work with legendary pioneer Carroll Shelby.

Anderson developed an electric version of the Shelby Cobra that used lithium-ion batteries, making the sports car lightweight, fast and maneuverable. He has also worked with clients to design and build electric pedicabs, motorized scooters, all-terrain vehicles, an electric Volkswagen “bug” conversion and other specialty mobile platforms.

Larry Gareffa, former president of the Mustang and Classic Ford Club of Las Vegas, has spent many years restoring vintage “pony cars” from the 1960s. Recently, Gareffa has been looking to the future.

In his home garage with his family’s help, Gareffa converted a 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback into an electric car. Odyssey Battery Co., Sherwin-Williams and Covercraft have been sponsors for this innovative Mustang, that has appeared at the Barrett-Jackson Auction, the Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show, Motor Trend car show and on Green Street during the First Friday street fair.

The 49-year-old Mustang Fastback, nicknamed “Sparky,” is causing double-takes from spectators.

They look under the hood, expecting to see an engine, but find an electric motor and electronic control system instead. The batteries are in the trunk, where a collapsible 17-inch liquid-crystal display screen shows video presentations.

New design and fabrication tools are creating opportunities for car enthusiasts to design and build the automobile of their dreams, with each detail customized to their specifications.

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