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Laser-Cut Toy Car Grill


My girlfriends dad Tom has a 56 Thunderbird that he restored. He recently found a child sized electric version of his 56, it's sort of a vintage power wheels. Instead of restoring it back to original Tom decided to do his own thing and make it as much like his full size 56 as possible. One of the first things I noticed is the grill that came with the car it was just a piece of wire mesh from the hardware store. Tom said that's how they were back in the day but since he wanted it to be unique I decided to take on the task of making a new grill.

Of course the first thing I thought of was using the Epilog for this. Would you expect anything else? I wanted the grill to match the real one as close as possible. The first thing I did was take a photo of the grill on the actual car for a reference. I then traced the sad grill that came with the toy car and scanned the drawing. Now that I had a digital version of the drawing I could play with it in Adobe Illustrator. In order to make it as close to the real thing as possible I counted how many squares there were both vertically and horizontally in the reference photo I had. After some math and a lot of trial and error I figured out how big my grid pattern for the mini car had to be. My original plan was to draw the entire grill in illustrator cut it out on the epilog and slap it on the car. Doesn't sound that difficult right? Wrong! None of the grill on the mini 56 was symmetrical so I was going to have to fit it by hand.

I decided to cut out the grill as shown above and hand fit it later. The next thing to do was figure out the material I was going to use. It had to be able to bend a little to fit the curve on the car and I also wanted to be able to paint it. I ended up making two grills out of eighth inch acrylic and two out of poplar. I wasn't sure about how well the acrylic would take paint or if I could bend the poplar but I just took a chance and went with it.

     I cut out the wooden grills first as a trial run. They turned out perfect but I suspected that they were going to be a bit fragile. Next I cut out the acrylic grills. The first one I didn't have the power settings right so it didn't cut all the way through. I made another pass and managed to get most of it cut out. After some power adjustment the next grill cut out just fine. I tried to finish cutting out the first acrylic grill with a Stanley knife but ended up breaking it of course.

    I took the remaining grills down to Tom's shop and started with the fitting. I pretty much destroyed the first poplar grill since it started breaking at all the fragile short grain parts. I then decided to make a cardboard template to trace. This sort of worked for the second poplar grill which suffered the same fate as the first grill. I was now down to one grill, the only acrylic grill I had. After a lot of patience and dremeling I finally got the last grill to fit perfectly.

I had planned on sanding the back side of the grill and painting it but Tom decided he liked it just how it was (he also didn't think the paint would stay on the acrylic).


It was a lot of work but the grand kids sure look cool doing laps around the 56 Thunderbird in the mini 56.






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