Recently, we went through the process of building new door panels for our 1951 Ford Tudor Custom project. As with any project, the details can make or break a resto, and this is certainly no exception. The ’51 came without any of the factory panels, so all of the trim was gone. We had to source original pieces from message boards and salvage yards. Luckily, we were able to procure a full set of front and rear panels from another ’51, but they were in pretty lousy condition. The worst part is that the original interior colors were brown and tan, the parts we sourced were from a green and white car. This means we have to change a few things to work with the brown interior.
The chrome and stainless trim on the salvage parts were scaley and covered with dirt, but not so bad that a little cleaning won’t fix. Using a little bit of elbow grease, and some 0000-grit steel wool, it will bring the shine back to parts that the casual observer would think are junk. The trick is to use the highest grit possible, 0-grit wool can leave a more brushed finish, which is fine for brushed-finish pieces, but for chrome and high-polish parts, 0000 or higher is best. We used 0000 for all the pieces on the ’51 and they came out quite nice.
For the plastic pieces, like the armrests, things are little different. The pieces we had were heavily soiled and dirty, and had some minor pitting and spider cracks. Cleaning up these parts required a little more than just some steel wool, although we used that too. The problem with the steel wool on plastic is that these parts are supposed to shine, and steel wool leaves them with a dull haze. The trick is to use a plastic polish like Blue Magic or Novus to bring the shine back to the plastic after it has been cleaned.
We had to change the color of the ashtray doors from green to brown, which was a pretty simple task, but it pays to take your time and properly prep the surface. We went through the entire process of cleaning up these trim pieces and have laid out the tricks here for you to use. These techniques will work on just about anything that needs a delicate touch to retain the original flair and beauty. Re-chroming parts certain looks good, but hey, it’s only original once.
1. We started with the armrests. After removing the pad from the base, we cleaned it and inspected it. Although it is cracked, it was still soft enough to use as is. If your pads are really bad, you can cover them with 1\8” closed-cell foam to cover the splits and add some cushion.
2. Using the left over vinyl from the door panel build, we sprayed both the pad and the vinyl with spray glue. For upholstery work, it is important to use a high-grade adhesive that sprays out of a gun, and stay away from aerosol glues. If you absolutely must use aerosol glue, 3M’s Super Trim 77 is the one to use.
3. The vinyl was wrapped around the pad and the excess trimmed off with a razor blade. No need to staple the vinyl to the pad, the base will keep it in place.
4. The bases needed some serious cleaning, so we used a little 0000-grit steel wool. The steel wool removes all of the heavy soiling and a lot of the scratches, but leaves the plastic dull.
5. To get the shine back, we used some Blue Magic plastic cleaner\polish. A little goes a long way. This stuff is just like wax, apply it the same way.
6. Once buffed off, the bases looked like new.
7. The pad was reinstalled and all was well. These plastic bases warped over time, not a lot that can be done about that.
8. The ashtray doors needed to be painted to match the interior, so we removed them from the ashtrays and disassembled them. The stamped stainless mesh pops off with a little help from a screwdriver.
9. We sanded the door down with 200-grit sandpaper, enough to clean and prep the surface without leaving big scratches. This also will feather out any chips.
10. The doors were then treated to some Eastwood PRE spray, which cleans off any residue, wax, and grease that may remain. Do Not spray this stuff on anything rattle can painted, it will eat it right off.
11. We used some color match SEM walnut brown interior paint on the doors, a perfect match. 2 coats did the trick.
12. While we were waiting for the paint to dry, we polished up the ashtray trim bezels. The same 0000 steel wool brings the shine right back, even though these parts were really crusty.
13. Comparing the shiny to the old, there is a big difference. We treated the door embellishments as well.
14. The crusty old door handles and window cranks could use a little polishing as well. Even though there are a few pits, these parts shined up really nice. The Bakelite knob on the window crank can be shined up with the steel wool as well.
15. Once the paint was dry, we reassembled the ashtrays, not too bad for about an hour of work.
A life-long gearhead, Street Tech Magazine founder and editor Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 5 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced. You can follow Jefferson on Facebook (Jefferson Bryant), Twitter (71Buickfreak), and YouTube (RedDirtRodz).