Killer Kong Update: Brighten Up Your Brightwork
“Chrome” has a bit of a dirty name. This might stem from songs like the Beach Boys’ “No Go Showboat” or the old maxim, “If it ain’t fast, chrome it;” or when the chrome trend hit its pinnacle a couple of decades ago, particularly as many enthusiasts lacking mechanical inability opted for shiny valve covers, chrome alternator brackets and polished steel-braided hose.
But chrome – or brightwork as the hard core restorationists call it – shouldn’t be a bad thing at all. It’s jewelry. It’s the exclamation mark that car designers thoughtfully included in their drawings to make their long curves and complex angles stand out more.
Proper brightwork should be like good movie special effects, if done right, nobody should notice. For our second generation Dodge Charger “Killer Kong,” there was far more chrome, stainless, aluminum and pot metal brightwork than we had realized. In fact, most classic muscle cars have more chrome trim than you might realize.
Even as the big polished monsters of the 1950s gave way to the polyurethane and plastic of the 1960s and 70s, there was still plenty of beauty trim to be found. Unless you’re planning on boarding the already overcrowded train of painting or powdercoating your brightwork black, you’re going to need to figure whether you’re going to need to replace, repolish or have your trim replated.
Not Everything Goes According To Plan
One hiccup we encountered was the rear R/T badge. Non-R/T Chargers had a “Charger” script emblem, which required three-holes drilled into the rear valance between the taillights. R/T’s – on the other hand – required only two holes, none of which line up with the “Charger” emblem’s.
Until an aftermarket manufacturer creates either an adhesive-backed rear emblem, the best solution we found was to 1) carefully drill two new holes into the valance so the new emblem covers the existing holes, 2) or to cut the two prongs off the R/T emblem and adhere it over the three holes.
Your Car Has More Than You Know
When considering what trim good ol’ ‘Kong had, we watched as our list continued to swell.
Working from the front to the tail, we counted nearly 40 individual items, including the front and rear bumpers, their accompanying pairs of bumperettes, the seven-piece grille trim, the headlight door “Charger” and “R/T” emblems, the authentic Six-Pack hood pins, windshield surrounding trim, side drip rails, remotely-adjusted side view mirror, side window moldings, vent “wing” window frames, side window seals, door handles, door locks, C-pillar “Charger” emblems, gas cap and base plate, rear window surrounding trim, taillight valance surround trim, taillight lens trim, and rear “R/T” emblem.
We chose not to include the “HEMI” tags found on the driver and passenger doors, since we didn’t have the motor yet and frankly, wanted to keep those off until the very end. The proverbial cherry for the top of our HEMI-horsepower sundae.
Reviewing our list, we realized that we were at an impasse. Much of our Charger’s original trim ranged between good-to-decent shape. Others were heavily pitted, oxidized and dim. Then a few were just junk…or were they? Seeing the variety of metals in a array of conditions and luster in our hands, we needed to evaluate which pieces were worth replacing, rechroming, or repolishing.
Ultimately, our goal was to save money while not skimping on finished results. Although happy with what we got, we won’t be passing a 100-point restoration-correct Top Flight inspection, so some of you might not like what came up with.
Just a Little Elbow Grease, Right?
With many of our original pieces, we figured a Saturday morning spent with a clean rag and a small can of Mother’s metal polish would do the trick. Alas, we were kinda wrong. Most all chromed pot metal-cast parts, like our side view mirror, gas cap and door handles were so pitted that even passing over them with a Mother’s Power Ball on our two-speed electric drill couldn’t get the spider-webbing out of them.
Items that did take well to some applied “sweat equity” were pieces made from harder materials like stainless steel and the front and rear window reveals. Buffing these pieces saved us a great deal of money and patience, as the front windshield trim (or “reveal”) is currently on a pretty widespread back order – particularly as all B-Bodies between 1968 and 1970 used the same trim.
While our bumpers would need to be sent out to be straightened (‘Kong had been in a collision in the late-1980s with a motorcycle), we went to work trying to bring the luster back out of the bumperettes. The chrome plating on these took several passes with the Power Ball, but were soon back to their old selves. Bumpers though, have a nasty way of rusting from the back if not properly treated. You’ll notice this by a discoloring or yellowing of the chrome from the front.
Similar to rust bubbling up through the paint, the only way to address it is to strip the plating, address the cancer (media blasting or chemical dipping are good solutions) and having it replated. But we’ll talk more about that later.
Time To Pull Out The Catalog
In the case of our Charger, we simply didn’t have everything. The drip rail trim was gone, removed years ago and simply needed to be purchased. But that’s not to say that we couldn’t restore them if we had them.
Die-cast, zinc-plated items like the door top moldings and drip rail trim are surprisingly durable and will resist most pitting and aging than other softer components.
Since we were cloning Killer Kong into an “R/T” we contacted Year One for the front and rear R/T badges as well as the two C-Pillar “Charger” script emblems, which had disappeared sometime between 1969 and 2003, when we bought the car.
Replacement badges usually range between $25 and $55 a piece – depending on what you’re looking for.
While the aftermarket has done nothing but grow exponentially over the last few years – particularly for us Mopar lovers – there is the tendency to think, “I’ll just replace it.” While that might be a viable option nowadays, it can add up.
Many local metal polishers can actually restore old emblems, smaller trim pieces and taillights. When replacement taillights can range upwards to $150 a piece, restoring the ones you have might be worth investigating.
Another option to buying new are online swap meets and auctions. We opted to purchase our aluminum sill plates through a DodgeCharger.com, which saved us beaucoup bucks, but were in pretty sorry shape.
Dull, bent and broken in pieces, we got what we paid for. Such is the plight of wanting to save money. This is not to say that buying from fellow car lovers is discouraged – quite the opposite. We only suggest asking detailed questions as to the condition of the pieces before handing over your PayPal info.
Time For a Whole New Coat
Since we weren’t concerned with “concours correctness” but wanted to improve the state of our trim, we went the final route: replating. Replating – or more commonly known as “rechroming” – can be pretty controversial, particularly in plating items that weren’t originally plated or getting a result that doesn’t match the original product.
Being that as it may, we opted to replate several items that normally wouldn’t be to see how the results turned out.
Obviously, we needed to get items like our side view mirror and gas filler door replated, as the two pot metal-based pieces came from the factory plated. But we tossed in other pieces like our aluminum sill plates just to see how they’d turn out.
We brought a armful of brightwork to Gorilla’s Polishing and Plating Corp. in Santa Ana, CA. Owned and operated by Lamberto Sr., who has been in the industry for 30 years, Gorilla’s metal electroplating facility employs up to 120 people spread over its two locations. The polishing side of Gorilla runs 800-1000 wheels per day while the chrome plating facility can chrome plate up to 300 wheels daily.
Each of our pieces were passed under the buffing wheel before being cleaned in electrified baths. As particular metals react differently to the acid baths and bonding agents, each metal has its own process.
Following our stainless through the steps was an education in chrome. The whole process took about an hour and resulted in an impressive final product.