Time Well Spent

How to Restore Beat-Up and Oxidized Aluminum Trim at Home

By Tommy Lee Byrd   –   Photography by the Author

There are certain types of automotive tasks that qualify as weekend projects, such as a disc brake upgrade, while others, like an LS engine swap, that qualify as a winter project. What we’re dealing with in this article is in a time zone of its own. Trim repair is a task that very few folks want to tackle on their own, and it’s a task that even fewer want to pay for at a professional shop because it can get pricey. In the case of our ’66 Chevy II, the most popular solution is to weld up the holes in the body and make it look like a Super Sport, which came from the factory without any trim along the body reveal. Had we known just how difficult it would be to source new (or even used) trim for this car, we would’ve gone the Super Sport clone route, but we didn’t realize this one-year-only trim was made from “unobtainium” until after we completed the bodywork and fresh paint.

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002 Side moldings take a beating because they typically stick out past the body panels
Side moldings take a beating because they typically stick out past the body panels. In this case, we’re restoring a set of aluminum side moldings from a ’66 Chevy II. These one-year-only moldings are not currently being reproduced, and they’re very hard to find, even at swap meets.

In reality, the trim is made from aluminum, which is why most of it ended up in the scrap pile over the past 50-plus years. This material is thin and easily damaged, and people simply just threw it away when it got beat-up. Other types of cars, especially cars from the ’50s, featured a lot of stainless steel trim, which is much more durable. That’s why you still see mountains of Tri-Five trim at swap meets—the stuff can take a beating. Even the Chevy II has certain pieces that are made from stainless, and a few pieces that are chrome-plated steel, but the headlight bezels, taillight bezels, and body side moldings are made from very thin aluminum. This was done in an effort to save money but still have the bright finish of “chrome.” When these cars left the factory, the aluminum trim had an anodized coating, which protected it from oxidation. The downside is that nearly 60 years later, that coating has become hazy and doesn’t allow us to bring the aluminum back to a nice, polished finish. So, we have a huge task ahead of us to remove the anodized coating, straighten the bends, remove the dents, file down the imperfections, sand out the filing marks, and polish it back to a beautiful finish. If you’re looking for a weekend project, this isn’t it. However, it is a very rewarding task that is time well spent, especially if you have no other options aside from sending the trim off for professional restoration.

003 notice some damage where someone tried to remove the trim without removing the clips from the body
Our ’66 Chevy II received a cheap paintjob at some point in the ’90s. As you can see, the aluminum trim was not removed and the masking left a lot to be desired. You may also notice some damage where someone tried to remove the trim without removing the clips from the body.

Check it out: Replacing Window Regulators, Side Glass, and Weatherstripping on a Chevy II

It would cost well over a thousand dollars to have the six damaged pieces of side molding trim repaired and polished at a professional polishing or plating shop. Although the trim has been offered by various vendors for less than $200, these reproduction trim sets have not been available for quite some time. We did some soul searching and some junkyard scrounging and ultimately took the plunge into repairing the trim ourselves. Having some light sheetmetal fabrication experience, as well as bodywork experience, provided the confidence to tackle such a project. We armed ourselves with a few crucial tools: a Trim Repair Kit and a Polishing Kit. Both of these items came from Summit Racing and gave us the ability to manipulate the fragile aluminum trim back into its original form. The Trim Repair Kit (PN CTI-TR-KIT-II) features a great selection of hammers, as well as chasing chisels, punches, and much more to give us plenty of options for hammering out dents.

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004 where the trim had been glued onto the body with silicone due to missing or damaged clips
We also noticed a few areas where the trim had been glued onto the body with silicone due to missing or damaged clips. Our first step is to scrape and clean out the gunk inside the channel and start stripping the paint.

The Polishing Kit (PN SUM-905027) is only effective if we can get all the dents and damage straightened out. It features three buffing wheels of various fabrics and four levels of compound bars. Stainless steel and aluminum trim require different types of polishing compounds, so we did our homework and found what works best.

005 Oven cleaner works well to clean off the paint
Oven cleaner works well to clean off the paint, but it also has a very important job. It removes the anodized coating without damaging the raw aluminum underneath. If the anodized coating is not removed, the trim cannot be polished to a beautiful finish.

Follow along with the process of restoring this side molding for our ’66 Chevy II project car, and you’ll find lots of great tips and tricks for all types of trim restoration. It was a rewarding process that gets us one step closer to putting this Chevy II back on the road again with beautiful details that set it apart from others at the local cruise night.

006 Soap pads are a nice abrasive to remove the paint and anodized coating from the trim without scratching
Soap pads are a nice abrasive to remove the paint and anodized coating from the trim without scratching. Be sure to wear gloves, as the oven cleaner can be rough on your skin.
007 aint and anodized coating are stripped off we’re left with raw aluminum
Now that the paint and anodized coating are stripped off, we’re left with raw aluminum, which can now be repaired and polished. Notice the dings and scrapes in the soft aluminum. The goal is to hammer out the larger imperfections and use a file to level out the smaller knicks and scrapes.
008 Dagger Tools Trim Repair Kit (PN CTI TR KIT II)
To remove the dings and other imperfections, we’re using a Dagger Tools Trim Repair Kit (PN CTI-TR-KIT-II) from Summit Racing. This kit includes multiple hammers, chasing chisels, punches, files, and more. It even includes a miniature anvil that you can mount on your bench and a shot bag that we’ll fill with sand.
009 trim repair hammer turned around backward and used as a chisel in this hard to reach spot
The side trim features a channel on the backside, making it difficult to reach certain angles. Our favorite combination was this trim repair hammer turned around backward and used as a chisel in this hard-to-reach spot. The leather shot bag (filled with sand) was nice for repairs that didn’t need a solid surface to hammer against.
010 three chasing chisels of different sizes
The trim repair kit came with three chasing chisels of different sizes. Due to this extremely tight spot, we modified the chisel to fit into the channel, but then rounded the edges so that it still works as designed. Very small taps make a big difference in the aluminum, and you don’t want any sharp edges that could puncture it.
011 Certain areas of the trim are notched to allow the clips to slide in
Certain areas of the trim are notched to allow the clips to slide in. These areas allow easy access with chasing chisels to knock out the dings. If there is extreme damage that needs serious attention, you could carefully notch out an area like this as a last resort.
012 common for side moldings to get smashed on the ends
It’s very common for side moldings to get smashed on the ends. We used a vise to carefully squeeze the end back into shape and then massage it back into the proper shape. With any type of damage that stretches the aluminum this badly, we want our hammering to result in the damaged metal being slightly “up” so it can be filed down.
013 chisel end of the trim hammer is now being used as a small dolly on the end of the trim
The chisel end of the trim hammer is now being used as a small dolly on the end of the trim. Nice, flat ends will give us clean lines once the trim is installed on the car. Luckily, the ends of our trim are not broken, as that would require some intricate soldering to repair the crack or split in the aluminum.
014 heavy damage we use the chasing chisel in combination with a heavier autobody type hammer
If there is heavy damage, we use the chasing chisel in combination with a heavier autobody-type hammer. For this piece, we used a standard dolly (not part of the trim repair kit), and underneath that is a rubber mat to keep it from sliding on our worktable. We very lightly clamp the other end of the trim to the table.
015 Other types of damage include lateral bends
Other types of damage include lateral bends. Sometimes, these types of bends can happen without denting the trim, and it usually happens when someone tries to remove the trim incorrectly. A straightedge is used to determine the low and high spots. We mark the spots that need attention and carefully clamp it in the vise to hand-work the trim.
016 Filing is crucial as even the best metal workers can struggle to completely straighten such thin aluminum
Filing is crucial, as even the best metal workers can struggle to completely straighten such thin aluminum. The files in the trim repair kit work perfectly for showing you the low spots in your hammer and dolly work. Some of the minor low spots can be filed out smooth. If you see extreme low spots, you’ll need to do more hammering before moving onto the next step.
017 remove the heavy marking left behind in the aluminum
After completing the file work, we must remove the heavy marking left behind in the aluminum. We suggest hand-sanding, as the aluminum can very quickly overheat with power sanders. We start with 180-grit and work our way down to 600-grit step by step. You can go finer than 600 if you’d like to spend less time polishing.
018 We have some intense filing marks in this piece
We have some intense filing marks in this piece, which is the smashed end piece we showed you earlier. It required a lot of hammering, and subsequently required a lot of filing to get it smooth and ready for sanding; 180-grit will even out the filing marks, then we’ll sand it with 220-, 500-, and 600-grit.
019 No matter how you go about it this is a messy job as the aluminum dust is black
As we move into the finer grits, most of the sandpaper can be used in wet or dry conditions. No matter how you go about it, this is a messy job, as the aluminum dust is black.
020 Summit Racing Polishing Kit (PN SUM 905027)
We grabbed a Summit Racing Polishing Kit (PN SUM-905027), which includes four compound bars and three buffing wheels to be used on a 6-inch bench grinder/polisher. The four bars have different cut levels listed from coarse to fine: black emery, Tripoli brown, white rouge, and red rouge.
021 polishing kit are three buffing wheels
Also in the polishing kit are three buffing wheels. We start with the circle sewn sisal cloth buffing wheel with Tripoli brown compound. This step is coarse and gives us a good starting point. It’s important to wear gloves and eye protection during any of the buffing stages, but the yellow sisal cloth slings a lot more material than the others.
022 circle sewn cotton muslin buffing wheel with white rouge compound
Next is the circle sewn cotton muslin buffing wheel with white rouge compound. This step brings the aluminum to a great shine. We carefully feed the trim into the buffer to make sure it doesn’t slide off the wheel and cause damage to our new finish.
023 wipe down the trim by hand to remove any smudges
After a final buff with the one-row sewn cotton muslin buffing wheel and red rouge compound bar, we can wipe down the trim by hand to remove any smudges. We can also make one final step with aluminum wheel polish to put a final shine on it.
024 send it out to a plating shop to be anodized
We’re thrilled with the results of many hours of straightening, hammering, filing, sanding, and polishing the six pieces of aluminum trim for our ’66 Chevy II. Since this is now raw aluminum, it will need to be re-polished occasionally, or we could send it out to a plating shop to be anodized.
025 1966 Chevy II is fresh out of the paint shop
Now for the exciting part: installing it on the car. Our ’66 Chevy II is fresh out of the paint shop, and we noticed that the trim holes had quite a bit of paint and primer buildup. Using a small Dremel tool, or in this case a small drill bit, we carefully clearanced the holes.
026 front fender trim uses these spring clips with a stud and attaches to the car with a speed nut on the back side
The front fender trim uses these spring clips with a stud and attaches to the car with a speed nut on the back side. A total of six clips are used on each fender. Classic Industries sells the clips, and you’ll need a total of 20 of them to cover the entire car, as the door and quarter-panel trim also requires the use of this style clip.
027 check for any fitment issues and make slight adjustments to the aluminum trim as needed for a tight fit against the body pane
After getting the clips fed into the trim and spaced properly, we can mock up the front fender trim for the first time. At this point, you’ll want to check for any fitment issues and make slight adjustments to the aluminum trim as needed for a tight fit against the body panel.
028 five plastic push in clips that fit into the oval shaped holes
The door is next, and it attaches using two of the spring clips with a stud on the front and rear edges of the door. There are also five plastic push-in clips that fit into the oval-shaped holes. We carefully align the trim (front to rear) and then push in the pins and tighten the speed nuts.
029 nine plastic push in clips per side and one spring clip with a stud on each side
The quarter-panels have nine plastic push-in clips per side and one spring clip with a stud on each side. We fed the plastic clips into the trim channel and then carefully pressed the clips into place, working our way toward the back of the car as we went. You’ll need 28 plastic push-in clips for a full install.
030 one year only trim has new life to go along with the fresh paintjob
What a huge transformation on this ’66 Chevy II project car! This one-year-only trim has new life to go along with the fresh paintjob, and proves that with enough patience and the right tools, you can repair trim in your home garage.

Sources

Classic Industries
(800) 854-1280
classicindustries.com

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Summit Racing
(800) 230-3030
summitracing.com

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