When undertaking a cosmetic restoration, you’re always faced with the realization that a new paint job will not look as nice as it should unless the chrome parts look like new. It’s like pouring a lovely bottle of wine into plastic cups. So – it is decision time. Replace those parts or have them re-chromed? An understanding of how chrome plating is done will help you make that decision.

Because of the mount of work needed to refurbish old parts properly, re-chroming is often much more expensive than buying a new part. New parts are made with new metal, which requires less preparation, and batch processing is always less expensive than dealing with individual pieces. Of course, new parts aren’t always available, so sometimes, re-chroming is necessary.

Compared side-by-side, a new part will likely not have the same individual care and attention given to it as a re-chromed old part. Having an old part re-chromed by a top quality chrome shop will sometimes result in a more beautiful finish than you’ll see with a new part. It may also be much more expensive. But does purchasing a new part provide the same satisfaction as bringing an original back to life? Hmmm….

Metal parts are usually either painted or plated to prevent corrosion. Steel parts are mostly iron, and if left bare, will rust with air and moisture. It’s a chemical reaction that in LBC (Little British Car) circles is followed quickly by a series of emotional reactions… horror, anger, disgust, etc.

Fortunately metal can be electrochemically plated with other metals such as chrome and made less susceptible to corrosion. When you hear that something is chrome, there is really only a thin layer of chrome plating an object typically made of steel. Chrome parts are never painted – but rather have had baths in three salty brines. The plating process involves submerging the part in three separate solutions of copper, nickel and finally chromium. For a detailed explanation, visit “” and look up electroplating.

If you decided to have your parts re-plated, be sure to use a shop that has a reputation for top-notch work. The work is very labor intensive. Preparation of the old part will involve stripping the old chrome and nickel, then applying maybe two or more coats of copper, which must be properly buffed to remove imperfections. Then the nickel coats must be carefully done to ensure proper coverage, and finally, the thin chrome coating goes on…hopefully resulting in a beautiful, finished product.

Once you have your new or newly plated part, how do you preserve it? All chromed surfaces should be cleaned with acetone and mineral spirits, completely dried and then polished with a product like Simichrome, which leaves a protective film for lasting brightness. For added protection, wipe on a coat of micro-crystalline wax such as Renaissance Wax. Never use a buffing wheel or any powdered abrasive to polish brightwork as the plated surface is not as rugged as it would appear.

[British Motoring, Fall 2011]

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