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How to articles; classic car restoration

How to know when a classic car is restorable.

Page 7

Trim and molding

64 Impala picture of the grill Nice trim can make a classic car a beautiful site to behold. Modern cars just don't compare to the brilliance of the chromed front and rear bumpers, the gleaming chrome framed windows, and the accent of the body side moldings. We're going to cover some of the typical classic car molding and trim materials in this section, and what happens to those materials over time so you know what to look for.

Know the car you are shopping for

The trim and molding on a classic car restoration can be an expensive part of the job if the car needs a lot of the trim and molding replaced or refinished.

If you are new to the model of classic car you are shopping for, you will need to know what molding and trim the car had from the factory. This is especially true if you are buying someone else' partially finished restoration project.

64 Impala picture of the horn centerpiece on the steering wheelWhen buying an unfinished restoration project, you will find that if the previous owner lost interest in the restoration after the car was disassembled, it was likely because they felt over whelmed by the job. 64 Impala picture of the trunk emblemThe reason they felt over whelmed is certainly tied to the fact that they were probably not very organized with the disassembly, and/or they over estimated their capabilities when they bought it. One of the first things to come off a classic car restoration would have been the trim and molding. For this reason the trim and molding is certainly the longest forgotten of parts.

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Molding and trim are often called bright work. Bright work can be used to universally describe anything that has been chromed or has a polished or anodized finish. For distinction in this article, I will refer to the long and thin pieces such as those along the side or length of the car, or around the windows, as moldings, and the thicker heavier parts such as door handles, steering wheel chrome and other castings as trim.

Body molding materials

Moldings on classic cars were made of different types of materials. Some makes had aluminum molding, which was anodized on the 64 Impala, and some had chromed steel or stainless steel moldings.

Today, reproduction moldings are available in the original aluminum or stainless steel for many classic cars. Stainless steel moldings are generally glossy, while the aluminum moldings are polished or anodized. Polished aluminum is never as glossy as chrome or polished stainless. Some chrome shops use modern techniques allowing them to apply chrome plating to aluminum moldings that give them a true chrome appearance which they never had originally.

The 64 Impala had moldings made of 2 of these materials. The body side, hood and trunk moldings, and grill were made of aluminum. The window moldings were made of stainless steel, which is why you rarely see window moldings on a 64 Impala with corrosion damage. These molding materials were rather standard for Chevrolets in this era.

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Body trim materials

Some trim parts were cast out of what is often called "pot metal" or "white metal". Pot metal as Wikipedia describes it, is a semi hard metal that was good for casting at relatively low temperatures, but just like any other cast metal was prone to being porous. Pot metal was excellent for casting mounting hardware right into the part, and would accept chrome plating really well because it would cast with a very smooth surface. The down side to pot metal was that it would corrode from the inside, had poor strength and was prone to cracking or breaking over time due to vibration. The corrosion resulted in ruptures on the surface of the trim that looked somewhat like tiny barnacles. When the "barnacles" wore down as on a door handle from continued handling, a hole was left in it's place.

The term pot metal and white metal are often understood to be the same but really aren't. White metal was generally used for casting cheap imitation jewelry, pot metal was generally used in the automotive industry. They both contain lead, but they differ in the content of other alloy metals.

Door handles, steering wheel center pieces, tail lights, rear view mirrors, body emblems, and make/model logos are just a sampling of the classic car parts that were made of pot metal. In general, when looking at a classic car for a restoration project, you could consider any chromed metal part that is not window or body side molding, or chromed steel bumpers, to be made of pot metal.

Fix or replace

Pot metal requires talent to be able to fix it good enough to have chrome plated. For this reason, if a pot metal trim part is available as a reproduction, you are often better off buying the reproduction part. If there are no reproduction trim parts for your classic car, you will need to find a shop that can do a good job of it. Time spent researching the topic at classic car swap meets by asking others where they got there bright work done would help you a lot.

Chromed steel bumpers are often considered the prized bright work on a classic car. Steel bumpers are surprisingly resilient. I've seen chromed steel bumpers on some pretty rusty classic cars that were in excellent condition. I've also seen chromed steel bumpers with the chrome peeling off or covered in small rusty pits. In any case, steel bumpers can be restored. You are not likely to find anyone at any level of capability that I've noted in this article that can refinish steel bumpers unless that is what they do for a living. If you find a restorable classic car that needs bumpers re-chromed, you will need to assess the cost of sending them out to a chrome shop.

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