What is the best way to restore hazy car paint from the 70's?
October 29, 2006 2:49 PM   Subscribe

Posting for a friend. He has a 1971 Chevelle that his Grandfather gave to him, but the paint is hazy and oxidized. He has tried a variety of different products with little to no luck. Can you help him find a way to get the paint as bright and shiny as possible without repainting?
posted by FearAndLoathingInLJ to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
Wash the car in a household dishwashing detergent solution like Dawn, to remove all traces of wax and sealer. Then use a clay bar to clean the paint, and remove oxidation. Keep the clay moving, use plenty of spray water as lubricant, turn the clay frequently, and use more clay as the old clay pulls off tar and abrasive impurities from the finish. It may take several hours, maybe even a day, to thoroughly clay bar an old car, but it will do more to smooth and level the paint than any other treatment, with far less risk than buffing or using rubbing compound.

Finish by washing and drying the car again, and applying several coats of high quality paste wax.
posted by paulsc at 3:03 PM on October 29, 2006

Well I was going to say buffing or rubbing compoung :)

Or call around to different local car detailers until you find one that won't hang up on you after you described the Chevelle. It'll probably cost you about $200, which if you don't have a buffer isn't TOO bad a deal. The danger of doing it yourself if that if you don't know what you are doing you will leave heavy swirl marks. Never tried paulsc's clay bar though so maybe try that road first.
posted by ernie at 3:12 PM on October 29, 2006

And just be aware that you will improve the appearance by following Paulsc's advice, but don't expect a miracle. Just be pleasantly surprised by whatever improvement you get.

There is nothing wrong with an old car, like old furniture, having a patina...indeed, some prefer it.
posted by maxwelton at 5:00 PM on October 29, 2006

There is an art to buffing and rubbing old paint to make it look new. I worked at a marina for one summer and we were often put on detail duty. One day me and another guy spend most of a day cleaning up a dirty old jetski. At the end of the day one of the mechanics came by and showed us just how wrong we were by taking a small spot and making it come out completely bright and shiny and new. To this day I am not sure exactly what the trick is, but I would reccomend taking it someone who does, because do it yourself kits might give you the right product but not those years of experience.
posted by sophist at 5:07 PM on October 29, 2006

Clay bar is in fact an abrasive like anything else (it's basically jeweler's rouge), also included in this category are buffing and rubbing compounds in both liquid and solid form. The questions are how fine/coarse is the compound and does it degrade during polishing or not. The stuff that auto-degrades is more expensive but safeguards you from over-polishing.

35 year old Detroit paint, however, may not be salvageable. I'd suggest getting something fairly heavy-cut, i.e. a coarse compound - I'm not sure the clay bar is going to be strong enough - and buffing in a fairly inconspicuous area, like the bottom of a rear quarter panel. If the paint brightens up and regains some gloss, you may have hope, in which case you'll want to polish it in an ordered way, coarse to medium to fine to polish, and then slap on a coat of carnauba wax.

When you're using a coarse abrasive to polish paint the most common mistake is to press down hard against the surface. You don't want to do that. You want to expose the paint to being attacked by the abrasive in all directions parallel to the surface, while pressing down as little as possible. You want to make a lot of little grooves in the paint while not making any deep gouges (which lead to swirl marks). That's why you polish in small circles and move the circle around a lot so that any given point will have abrasive pass over it in many different directions.

The power buffer is good because it gives a rotary motion, but it is bad because there is the temptation to lean on it. Don't give in to that temptation if you use a power buffer.

The two brands of car stuff I like are Meguiar's and Mother's. In general I use Meguiar's polishes and Mother's pure carnauba wax. The stuff is not particularly cheap and if you can get someone who'll do your entire car for $200 I'd go for that instead.

However, sometimes these old paint jobs aren't salvageable - they can be oxidized all the way through, sad but true. I've always liked the way the 1970-72 Chevelle looked with a matte paint job, though - I think there was one in Ministry's "Just One Fix" video that looked pretty badass.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:19 PM on October 29, 2006

Just One Fix. The compression artifacts make it hard to tell if it's a Chevelle, Impala or maybe a Buick of some kind.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:39 PM on October 29, 2006

The few times I've messed with non clear coat oxidized paint I've always used a cut polish (basically a wax with embedded abrasive) applied by hand with lint free cloths. You need a cool dry day and shade because you don't want the carrier drying out to fast. It took me two solid days to do my '66 C-Body.

First give your car a good wash. Normally you want to avoid dish washing detergent because it'll take off wax but in this case it's perfect and cheap. While your washing assess the paint looking for cancer, chips and loose paint. If the paint isn't essentially sound better to not waste the effort of trying to remove the oxidation.

Working on about 10 square inches at a time I made the random quarter-$2 sized circles ikkyu2 mentioned. I used one cloth to apply the polish, a second for buffing and third to clean up. When the second got too dirty it was replaced with the first and demoted to clean up. A new cloth was used for application. Start on the lower sections so as to perfect your technique before you get to more noticeable areas. One of the great things about this process is the instant gratification. If it's going to work you'll know and be able to see results within an hour.

I used some industrial q-tip to clean the edges of the chrome; however, having subsequently removed the trim for painting I'd just remove it as it was fairly easy. YMMV.

Once you've done the whole car give it another wash and then a couple coats of wax to protect the freshly exposed paint.

Back before Speed broke Trucks! with the crappy new host team Stacey had a great episode on cleaning up paint if you can find a copy. It might have even been a two parter.
posted by Mitheral at 5:57 PM on October 29, 2006

Considering the time you will have to invest in bringing the paint back (and the potential of screwing it up) you might want to look into taking the car to a professional detailer.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:56 AM on October 30, 2006

My cousin works in the automotive photography field, he told me a story of doing a shoot for Chrysler. I don't recall which vehicle this was for but they decided to also add in some historical Chrysler muscle cars one of which was a Plymouth Roadrunner Superbird. It had the original paint job and was oxidized and ruddy looking. The owner of the car detailed it with a silicone based polish (polish is the wrong word here - polishes are abrasive and the last thing this guy wanted to do was abrade the paint) and it shined up right away.
posted by substrate at 6:05 AM on October 30, 2006

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