For those of you who've earned your driver's licenses in the 90s, you came of age during an era where 300+ horsepower out of a stock, late-model V-8 pony car was impressive, if not largely unheard of. In those days, there were limited options to choose from, too, especially if you didn't want an "A-typical" F-body or even a Mustang. When the Pontiac/SLP Firebird Firehawk burst onto the scene from seemingly out of nowhere, you could imagine the hype that surrounded these cars back in the day. Everybody who loved GM vehicles wanted one of these cars, despite their relatively high price and uber-rarity.
So when your author happened to discover this 1995 example (#403) sitting in the parking lot behind our office, I had to investigate. As it turned out, it belonged to High Performance Pontiac Editor, Christopher Phillip, who happens to also own not only this Firehawk, but also several other rare and interesting GM musclecars. Despite being only the second owner and with the car's odometer reading just over 47,000 miles at the time of this writing, the 'Hawk has lead a relatively rough life up until Chris' purchase seven years ago. While overall a complete and solid example, this car could have used some TLC in the paint finish department; swirl marks, surface scratches and thanks to the Florida sun, some paint fading as well. This gave us an idea for our next story; Detailing 101.
After doing some research, we were quick to conclude that Meguiar's offered an incredible range of products that would help us complete the task at hand. Everything from car wash soap, to clay bars, to premium-quality polishes, waxes, and quick detailing products, Meguiar's had us covered. Follow along as we show you how to take your aging F-body's fading paint to a show-quality finish that will keep your car looking fresh for years to come.
1. This is what the Firehawk looked like before we set to work. It wasn’t bad, but up close and in person, you were able to see all kinds of imperfections like swirl marks, surface scratches, and the like. We felt that a very rare and collectible car like this deserved better.
2. Here is the complete array of everything we used for this story – minus the Hot Rims Tire and Wheel cleaner that we picked up later. As you can see in the photo, the DA Power System includes their Ultimate Compound, Ultimate Polish, and their Ultimate Wax. You also get three microfiber towels, and three different grades of polishing foam pads (three each, for a total of nine). Along with the DA Power System, we ordered up a clay bar kit (includes three bars, plus a protective case), Ultimate Quick Detailer, Ultimate Wash & Wax, Endurance Tire Spray, and Perfect Clarity Glass Cleaner.
3. Since we needed shade and we had scheduling issues, the only place we could wash the ‘Hawk was next to our car trailer which provided us with just enough shade to get the job done. If you don’t have access to a facility to where you can wash your car out of the sun, we suggest doing it at dawn, or at dusk when the sun is not at it’s brightest or most hot.
3b. Starting with the obvious, we had to scrub the old girl down before we could even think about claying, buffing, and polishing. Meguiar’s suggests that only two capfuls of the Wash & Wax solution are all that is required for most cars. Since we needed shade and we had scheduling issues, the only place we could wash the ‘Hawk was next to our car trailer which provided us with just enough shade to get the job done. If you don’t have access to a facility to where you can wash your car out of the sun, we suggest doing it at dawn, or at dusk when the sun is not at it’s brightest or most hot.
4. After we had washed the car’s body, we turned our attention to the factory 17-inch wheels. Realizing that simple soap and water wouldn’t get them completely clean, we broke out the Tire and Wheel cleaner. Just a thorough spraying and letting the solvent do it’s job for fifteen seconds or so was all that was needed to help make these wheels look new.
4b. You can see in the second photo all of the dirt, grime, and brake dust that lifted up out of the tire and wheel after a very short amount of time.
5. After we rinsed off the wheels, we were able to clear space out of the shop, so we could pull the car out of the sun and dry it off with a shammy. Once dried, we immediately set to work on the next phase of our detailing process…
6. In between drying the car off and using the DA Sander, Meguiar’s recommends clay barring the entire body of the vehicle to eliminate all of the dirt, road grime, and grease from the car’s paint. This will help provide an improved finish and allows the rubbing compound, polish, and wax to their jobs more effectively.
6b. What you want to do is spread the clay bar out to fit the palm of your hand, and then apply the quick detailer to the paint to help lubricate the contact of the clay bar and the body. Make sure you do this thoroughly, and after you’re done with each section of a particular body panel, wipe it off with a microfiber towel.
6c. As you can see in the third photo, the clay bar clearly works! Think you car is clean? Think again…
7. Now comes the fun part. In order to make use of the DA Power System, you’ll need to be breaking out the power drill! The Meguiar’s DA buffer easily adapts to the drill as if it were a drill bit, and we were sure to tighten the clamp all the way down. Technically, you can use either an electrically charged drill, or one that runs off an air compressor. However, we didn’t want to deal with the hassle of worrying about a dirty air hose brushing up against the car (essentially defeating the purpose of this entire article), so we went with the electric drill.
8. Since we were dealing with a car that had a lot of debris embedded in it’s finish (a casual run of the hand against the body easily revealed this), we started with the coarsest of the three foam pad options from Meguiar’s; the brown pad using the Ultimate Compound.
8b. We went over the whole left side of the car first, starting from the top. Once we were ready for the passenger side, we replaced the brown pad with another. Phase two meant stepping it up with the polish and yellow pad, then completing the polishing phase with the Ultimate Wax and black pad, while we used the microfiber towels to remove the polish in between each process.
8c. As you can se in the last photo, there’s a clear difference between the finish that hadn’t been buffed (bottom), and the side that had (top).
9. The final touch included cleaning all of the glass with Perfect Clarity. We hit every square inch of glass on this car, inside and out, including the T-top roof panels (pictured). When it was completed, the whole car looked like a mirror.
10. Here’s the finished product. While she may not win any trophies at a concours-judged car show, she does look a heckuva lot better than when we started. Plus, we managed to make the factory Bright Red Metallic finish look a lot brighter – essentially taking eighteen years worth of age off of this car’s life.
10b. Now if we can just get Chris to do something about those faded-out decals on the hood and headlight…