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GM Launches Program to Blue Light 3D Scan Its Heritage Collection Cars and Trucks

Follows HVA’s plan for historical vehicles

General Motors has begun a blue light 3D scanning program to record all the details of its Motorama cars, other concepts, and one-offs beginning with the vehicles in its Heritage Center. Such documentation will make it possible to recreate any car struck by a catastrophe. It follows the Historic Vehicle Association's 3D scanning efforts begun within the last few years to give certain cars and trucks the same status as historic buildings in the United States.

"Just the beginning of this year, Mike Simcoe [design chief] challenged our organization to branch out into the documentation of the actual 3D objects that we have in our heritage collection," says Susan Skarsgard, a GM designer in charge of the pilot program. "This came about because we were asked to have the actual Firebird I be part of an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2019."

The GM Heritage Center has about 600 vehicles, with about 150 on display, though not to the public, on a rotating basis. With a group of seven, including designers and Heritage staffers, the first car to undergo GM's 3D scanning process was the 1953 Firebird I gas turbine concept. The process took about four months using the blue light process, Skarsgard said, though that time period also included the automaker's development of the scanning protocol. GM has not determined which of its vehicles will be scanned next, though when it does the process likely will be substantially shorter.

GM began with the Firebird 1 because it is to be lent to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2019 for an exhibit on car design. Mishaps like the sinkhole at GM's Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, loom large.

"We had a terrible flood several years ago, too," in the basement of the GM Design Center in Warren, Michigan, Skarsgard said. "One of our most profound collections is our photographic collection—almost a million photographs. That collection was in the basement until almost nine months before we had the flood. So that whole collection would have been ruined if we hadn't had the prescience to move it out."

With the blue light scanning, GM is developing a protocol "in the event of something horrible" to replicate the cars. The scanning procedure makes it possible to replicate materials, paint colors and trim applications, all at correct thickness.

"We are focused on capturing the history of design at General Motors. But the reality is, we're capturing the history of design in America. And so partnering with organizations like the HVA is part of furthering that mission."