How to revive surfaces and preserve patina

A before and after of the window trim. A huge improvement, without looking so gleaming as to seem over-restored. Jesse Crosse

Getting that final finish on a surface is one of those things that I take for granted in the workshop. But in truth, the approach you take may vary enormously depending on the type of finish in question (bare metal, plating, a coating, or paint). So in that sense, whether it be a quick spruce-up or something more involved, it’s fair to say that setting a goal for that final finish is a “thing” in its own right.

What am I going on about really? Well to be clear, the process I’m talking about differs from a re-finish, like painting or plating. Reviving—yes, that’s the word. It means bringing back the shine in something worn, including all warts and imperfections, and perhaps lacking the gloss of a proper new finish.

That also encompasses the word “patina.” Patina is a word I think has become misused when it comes to cars. To my eyes, left-as-it-is rusted paintwork (which has its place) is something else; patina is that mellowed, softened look of old-but-cared-for cellulose paintwork, old chrome, or zinc plating.

Metal surface refinishing window glass
Jesse Crosse

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what to do with older metal finishes. It’s something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while now, since my ’68 Mustang GT restoration moved to rebuilding the doors. That job entails fitting locks and wind-up windows and a veritable web of linkages.

The visible “A” finishes like the window frames are chromed, but other hidden bits and pieces like pushrods for locks and window runners, are zinc-plated steel. So how far do I go with those bits?  Ignore the hidden components because nobody will see them? That’s not my style; I always have in mind what it looked like when it was installed at the factory. At the same time, since they’re in good condition (having been hidden away in the rust-free doors of a body shell that spent its former life in Arizona) a good clean to get the dust and dirt off and a light polish with Solvol Autosol is perfect.

The chrome finish on the frames? It, too, was dusty, dirty and still carried the grubbiness of grubbier hands, especially on the quarter lights. But once stripped down, cleaned with soap and water, and hand polished before replacing the old rubbers and window channels with new, they look really gorgeous. There are just a few blown spots here and there to remind of its age and originality, but not so many as to look unsightly and warrant a re-chrome. In this instance, reviving rather than restoring was definitely the way to go.

When doing jobs of this nature, parts often link to others elsewhere on the car. In this case, that meant the locks,which had to be replaced with a new matching set. In unpacking all the related bits and bobs from the boxes in which they’ve resided since The Big Strip Down, the trunk lid latch striker re-surfaced. It’s a simple, zinc-plated, pressed steel piece which bolts to the closing panel and its original luster has long departed.

That said, it’s not corroded and the plating is still intact. And my initial instinct, to re-plate, has been replaced with a preference for that word again: reviving. I’ll give it a shot, anyway. The first step will be to again use my trusty tube of premium metal polish. If that doesn’t do the trick I’ll take a more aggressive approach—the buffing wheel—followed by hand-polishing and if it doesn’t pass muster, then I’ll call “fair play” and dunk it in electrolyte for a fresh layer of zinc.

In the meantime, the intriguing question of how it’ll work out will keep circulating in the back of my mind until the job’s done. And that’s half the fun.

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Via Hagerty UK

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    Most good detailers know this, but you would be amazed at how well “0000” steel wool will shine up chrome-plated potmetal and other bits like those vent window frames, interior dash chrome trim, seat belt latches, etc. Aluminum polish for the rocker trim plates, and a good all purpose polish for the stainless bits will go a long way to bringing back the original look of those parts for next to nothing invested.

    So much of what passes for patina these days is just rust and dirt. I do appreciate a car that is restored while retaining as much of the original finish as possible. So many are either over restored to far better than new condition, or else showing “patina” which is the stuff many of us want to get rid of.

    My feeling is if you have a nice original car and unless it requires significant tear down. Clean and polish helps retain it’s past care and originality. They are only original once.

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