Let’s say you’ve decided to take on a vintage Harley as a project. Maybe you’re passionate about the early days of Harley-Davidson, for example, and you see an opportunity that’s just too good to pass up. The Motor Company has been around for over a century, though. While it has fans all over the world, as you might guess, some parts are easier to find than others.  

That’s the problem faced by one Harley enthusiast in the Netherlands. He’d gotten his hands on a 1919 Harley-Davidson, and had been diligently doing hands-on restoration work for the better part of 50 years. Clearly, this guy was almost unbelievably patient. Eventually, though, even he got to a point where he had to think creatively to replace the one part that was holding him back from finally being able to go for a ride: a broken Bakelite distributor cap.  

As the story goes, the man had searched high, low, and everywhere in between for a spare. Since there probably aren’t many out there to begin with, finding one on the used market seemed chancy. So, the restorer (who appears to want to remain nameless) reached out to Carl van de Rijzen from Visual First in the Netherlands, which is known for creating 3D scans of existing items.  

Gallery: 1919 Harley-Davidson with 3D Printed Distributor Cap

Van de Rijzen, in turn, frequently collaborates with Edwin Rappard of 4C Creative CAD CAM Consultants to successfully 3D print the components he’s scanned. This was a unique challenge, for sure. They had the broken original distributor cap to scan, but a large chunk had broken off. How can you scan what isn’t there? 

Luckily, the broken part was a mirror of what already existed, and not some other unique shape. Between the two technicians, they were able to successfully come up with a suitable 3D printed replica part. Since the original part was made out of Bakelite, crafting a 21st century polymer substitute so close to the bike’s 100th birthday seems kind of poetic.  

It’s an incredibly modern solution to an age-old problem, and it will be interesting to continue seeing what motorcycle enthusiasts are able to accomplish using tools like this. For those who want to actually be able to go out and ride their vintage machines, it seems like a pretty great solution. 

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