Chrome plating and Corvettes. For lovers of early Corvettes, chrome plating played a major role in the overall styling. From the famed tooth grille of the C1 Corvette to those final chrome bumpers of the C3 Corvette, chrome bumpers have become somewhat of a demarcation line for automobiles in general and Corvettes in particular.
Because of legislation mandating low impact, shock-absorbing bumpers passed in 1973 many cars eliminated chrome bumpers in 1972. The C3 Corvette was one such car. When introduced in 1968, the C3 was sporting front and rear chrome bumpers, just like every Corvette since 1953. But because of the aforementioned legislation, 1972 would be the last year of front and rear chrome bumpers on the Corvette. In 1973, the shock-absorbing front bumper was covered in body-colored flexible plastic, while the rear bumpers remained chrome plated. By 1974, the chrome rear bumpers were replaced by body-color, shock-absorbing bumpers. For that reason, if you gather a group of Corvette enthusiasts for a bench racing session the term “chrome bumper Corvette” will no doubt be part of the discussion and description of 1972 and earlier Corvettes.
Of course, a chrome bumper Vette is only as good as the actual chrome. This thought was not lost on Editor Brennan when he recently rolled a 1968 Corvette out of a garage into the Arizona sunshine after a 25-year nap. Since the car had spent its life in dry Arizona it was in remarkable condition for a barn find, but the 50-year-old chrome plating had dulled in typical fashion, and since the car had been used and abused as most Corvettes were, the bumpers and some trim parts had typical scratches, dents, dings and pitting.
Since the Corvette was at Hot Rods by Dean being completely refurbished with fresh paint, upholstery and mechanicals it was obvious the chrome plating would need to be refinished to the same high standard.
For those of us old enough to have been driving prior to 1968, we remember Corvette paint as being perfect, the chrome flawless and the interiors of exceptional quality. However, upon removal of those rose colored glasses and objectively looking at any original C3 Corvette paint, plating and/or upholstery it becomes apparent that all three areas will be much improved on our restoration. There simply is no comparison between custom quality plating of today and the original production chrome plating applied to bumpers in the ’60s. And few things can make a great paintjob look worse than dull chrome. Armed with that knowledge, Editor Brennan knew exactly who to call for quality chrome, Advanced Plating in Nashville, Tennessee.
Great chrome plating shops are busy places, so it pays to allow time for the chrome-plated parts to be refinished and returned. That means gathering all of your parts that need to be chrome plated and sending them off early in the restoration process. We also like to do some routine repair/maintenance on pieces prior to plating. Running a tap through threaded holes and a die over threaded studs ensures good clean threads and we bag all the fasteners and clearly label the bags before storing them all in one place to make reassembly easier. With that in mind, we removed all the chrome parts, made an inventory list and even went so far as to photograph the pieces. We included a copy of that inventory sheet in one of the boxes.
This is also the proper time to assess the pieces to be plated. We quickly determined that replacing front and rear emblems and other special pieces would be more cost effective and provide us with a superior finished car. Plating small die-cast emblems is delicate, time-consuming work and in the end only the edges of those famed cross flags show, and we would have to hand paint the flags. Obviously, the high-quality Trim Parts reproduction emblems from Corvette America were the best solution.
When the parts arrive at Advanced Plating they, too, inventory each part so they know exactly what pieces have arrived. The customer is then contacted with an estimate and once a price is approved work begins. This computerized inventory sheet is given a job number and each piece is discreetly engraved with that job number to ensure proper identification of each piece.
The process of restoring all the brightwork on our 1968 Corvette is actually quite similar to doing bodywork. The steps are very similar but use dramatically different products. First, the pieces must be stripped to bare metal. The stripping process is a combination of electro-stripping, chemical stripping, and mediablasting. This removes any trace of old chrome plating, grease, oil, sealants, gaskets, paint and rust. Much like bodywork, great chrome plating begins with a perfectly prepared base.
Next, imperfections are worked out in the base metal using several methods. Cracks are welded; dents are hammered out or filled with welding rod. The base metal is then worked smooth with files, grinders, buffers and sandpaper before the pieces are sent to the plating tanks to be copper plated. This is very similar to the metal finishing process in bodywork, or in the case of Corvettes the base fiberglass finishing.
Think of the copper plating as the equivalent of primer in bodywork. The copper does several things: it fills minor imperfections in the metal, it buffs to a very high shine and finally it provides a great conductor for nickel plating. Much like bodywork primer, the copper is sanded and buffed to eliminate imperfections. If the imperfection is severe enough, solder is used to fill low spots, then filed and sanded smooth before the piece goes back in the tank for more copper plating. During this process great attention to detail ensures feature lines don’t become filled-in or smoothed out. Special care is taken to ensure all feature lines are flawless. The sanding, filing and copper plating is repeated until each piece is perfect. Then the final copper coating is applied and buffed to a mirror finish.
After the piece is buffed to perfection it is chemically cleaned and then the nickel plating is applied over the copper. When the piece is removed from the nickel plating tank it is rinsed and ready for the final chrome-plating process. It should be noted that some custom car builders are using nickel plating as the final step. The nickel has a warm look and provides a nice custom touch. Also, if any parts require a brushed chrome or nickel finish Advanced Plating can handle almost any metal finish you desire, including black chrome.
Since we are going for that 1968 chrome-plated look, our Vette bumpers and parts were now wired for the final step, chrome plating. At Advanced Plating they still use the old-school hexavalent chrome, and this is the secret to their deep blue chrome. Think of the chrome plating as being similar to the clearcoat on a paintjob. It adds that perfect final deep luster along with an added layer of protection.
Using hexavalent chrome brings with it waste treatment concerns, but we are pleased to tell you Advanced Plating uses a state-of-the-art waste treatment process that eliminates dangerous chemicals from their waste water. While we are busy recycling old cars by making them new again, Advanced Plating is ensuring there is no environmental impact in the process.
A final inspection and a check of the inventory sheet to ensure each and every part is finished completes the process. Each piece is then carefully wrapped and shipped back to the customer. Of course, if you prefer to drive to Advanced Plating in Nashville, Tennessee, to drop off and pick up your parts, that works, too. Either way, we can tell you this much, high-quality restoration demands high-quality chrome, and we couldn’t be happier with the high-quality plating on our 1968 Corvette project. Vette
1. A proper restoration includes perfect paint and bodywork and chrome plating to match. We had Advanced Plating handle all the brightwork on our 1968 Corvette.
2. The first step is to remove all the pieces to be chrome plated and carefully package them for shipping. It pays to send plating off early in the restoration process so the plating will not hold up the assembly process of the car.
3. Once the parts arrived at Advanced Plating they were unpacked, examined and inventoried. A price quote was then submitted to the customer based on the size and amount of restoration required to the pieces.
4. After the price has been approved a computerized inventory sheet is prepared and a job number is assigned. Every piece, big and small, will carry this job number to ensure pieces are not lost.
5. It is best to disassemble pieces prior to sending them for plating, but sometimes parts like this gas filler door hinge will have parts you didn’t notice. Advanced Plating removes these parts prior to plating.
6. Parts that cannot and/or should not be plated are carefully bagged and marked, along with the computerized job number, once again to be certain all parts are returned to the customer.
7. This is the license plate surround for our 1968 Corvette. Notice how thin the chrome plating is in the corners of the piece. This is very typical of OEM production chrome plating. The high-quality chrome from Advanced Plating will have a far superior plating finish on the overall piece.
8. Every single piece sent is marked with the computerized job number with either engraving or solder. The number is always placed discreetly in a location where it will never be seen.
9. This is a typical assortment of pieces that require plating. Note the sealant, paint, rust and gasket materials on the different pieces. All this must be removed prior to plating.
10. You can’t chrome over chrome, so the OEM chrome plating is electro-stripped from the piece in this tank.
11. After the original chrome plating has been removed the pieces are subjected to mediablasting and chemical cleaning. This ensures the parts are perfectly clean and ready for repair and plating.
12. As you can see, the cleaning process is very effective. There is no trace of any rust, dirt, grease or sealant remaining on the pieces.
13. Prior to sending parts to be plated it is important to check the threads on pieces such as the studs on this trim piece. Once at the plating shop, plastic covers protect the threads from damage and plating buildup.
14. It is also a good idea to run a tap through all female threads on the pieces prior to sending them for chrome plating. At Advanced Plating, they use rubber plugs to prevent the plating from filling in the threaded bracket.
15. This is our front bumper. For the most part it is in very good condition but there was some pitting on the leading edge that will need work.
16. A combination of rotary grinders, orbital sanders and even hand sanding tight areas will bring the surface of the old bumper to better than new smoothness.
17. Feature lines are very important for a quality restoration. Special care is taken to be certain all feature lines are clean and crisp. This die grinder and wheel is used to carefully clean the trim lines.
18. As we mentioned, hand sanding is employed in tight spots. The metal workers at Advanced Plating are highly skilled with many years of experience.
19. After the base metal has been repaired and prepared it is time to wire it for plating. The wiring is very important to ensure even plating across the entire surface of the piece
20. This is one of our rear bumpers being lifted out of the copper plating tank. The first round of copper plating is used to fill imperfections and provide the perfect base for the nickel and chrome plating.
21. Here you can see the trim piece has been carefully sanded and once again the feature lines on the trim are being cleaned so they remain deep and crisp.
22. Much like doing bodywork on a car, it is important to get the surface perfectly flat and not wavy. Long sanding boards and skilled hands ensure a flat surface.
23. If a low area or dent is discovered and it can’t be hammered out, a layer of solder is applied to the copper plating to fill the low area.
24. Once again, much like with bodywork, the solder filler is block-sanded by hand or with an air tool. In this case, a hand-held block worked best.
25. The sanded solder has effectively eliminated the low area so our bumper will be perfectly smooth. After this repair the piece is placed back in the copper plating tank for another round of copper.
26.After the bumper comes back out of the copper tank it is carefully examined for any defects before being buffed to a mirror finish.
27. After the copper is buffed the bumper goes into the nickel plating tank for a nickel coating. Once again, proper wiring on the piece ensures a uniform coating of nickel on the piece.
28. After the nickel plating, the piece is rinsed and sent to the chrome plating tank where it receives a coating of hexavalent chrome. That old-school chrome is what gives the Advanced Plating pieces that deep blue chrome look, as seen here.
29. And here is our finished front bumper. The piece is now far superior to the factory bumper in every way. It is smoother, has better plating and the deep blue hue of the hexavalent chrome will protect our bumper for many years to come.
30. All of our chrome pieces were carefully wrapped and shipped back to Hot Rods by Dean for installation. One look at these rear bumpers indicates we are going to have one very good-looking 1968 Corvette.
31. Rather than restore our original die-cast emblems we realized it would be more cost effective to simply order reproduction emblems from Corvette America.