The Problem = Abrasives are too Abrasive
The problem when restoring antique and original paints is when the person doing the work uses too aggressive of a product and chews off or abrades off too much paint too quickly, he exposes either the primer coating under the colored layer of paint, or the material that makes up the underlying panel, which is usually steel or aluminum on classic cars. Besides that, some rubbing and polishing compounds use a type of solvent as a carrying agent, that while it may work well for suspending the abrasive particles in a uniform consistency, it will tend to dry out a single stage paint, which is opposite of what you want to do when you’re trying to preserve and restore an antique paint. If you’re working on a modern clear coat then this is not a huge factor. If you’re working on a 1936 Hupmobile found with the original paint in an old farm barn you inherited, then you don’t want to use products that can scratch and dry out the paint.
All too often I've seen a well-meaning person select a very coarse, or heavy duty rubbing compound to remove the oxidation off an old car and because the paint is thin, soft and fragile because it's dried-out and old, and thus it’s easily abraded, that by the time this person can see how much paint they’ve removed they’ve already gone past the point of no return and at this point it’s game over, to quote my 11 year old son.
What you want to do is remove the oxidation safely and carefully while at the same time bringing the paint back to life by gorging it with rich polishing oils. What you don’t want to do is remove the oxidation by scouring the paint with a rubbing compound that’s similar to beach sand while at the same time you’re exposing the newly exposed fresh base or layer of paint to a harsh solvent.
Stoddard Solvent is inexpensive and a commonly used solvent for in-expensive rubbing and polishing compounds. Stoddard Solvent is commonly used in automotive parts washers; it works great for stripping grease and oil off car parts and in the same way it will dry even more, already dry paint. Avoid products with inexpensive solvents on paint that's important to you.
Here’s the good news… there is a way to safely restore antique paint using a product that as near as I can tell came out in the early 1920’s and possibly even earlier… it’s hard to find out this kind of information because anyone that would know this kind of information is no longer with us and alas nothing’s been written down over the decades…
The Secret of Number Seven
There is a way to restore single stage paints that is non-abrasive and as gentle as you can get using a product that’s been around since early paints were formulated. That product is called Meguiar's Mirror Glaze #7 Show Car Glaze.
#7 Sealer Reseal Glaze = Show Car Glaze
Here’s a photo of a few bottles of #7 from my car wax collection. I have some older bottles from before WWII, but this picture shows the transition from when the name changed from Sealer and Reseal Glaze to Show Car Glaze.
The glass bottle on the left hand side is post-WWII. You can identify glass bottles as pre-WWII or post-WWII by the name on the label. Pre-WWII bottles will say Mirror Bright on the front label and post-WWII bottles will have Mirror Glaze on the bottle. This has to so with a posterity program instigated by the U.S. Government at the start of World War II which prevented companies from raising prices on existing products; because the cost of raw materials were increasing due to the war a lot of companies couldn’t make a profit under the new regulations so to get around them they would introduce a new product line at a higher price point. These could be the same physical products but introduced as a new product line by giving the products different names.
#7 Show Car Glaze as it’s called today is what’s referred to as a non-abrasive pure polish, it’s not for abrading paint but instead for maintaining paint and creating a beautiful finish. There’s a lot of confusion over this product and any product that uses the word polish in the product's name or on the label because the word polish is usually interpreted to mean some type of abrasive product as in a rubbing or polishing compound. While that might be true for some products it’s not true for this product.
Sometimes I have to remind people that #7 has been around long before plastic was invented, thus the glass bottles. The plastic "cylinder" bottle you see below, (just to the right of the glass bottle), was the first plastic bottle used for #7 and was introduced I think in the late 1950's, maybe early 1960's.
The 4th bottle from the right shows when they changed the name from Sealer Reseal Glaze to Show Car Glaze primarily because as our lingo changed in the car appearance world. People were confusing the word "Sealer" with the word "Sealant" and M07 is water-soluble. Hopefully everyone reading this can understand why that kind of confusion could be a problem in the enthusiast or consumer market.
The third bottle from the right shows the label during the transition when the name was changed. If you look closely under the words ShowCar Glaze it reads, (Same as Sealer and Reseal Glaze)
Transition Label Circa Late 1980's or 1990's
Just in case you don’t understand why there was some confusion over the use of the word "Sealer" here’s why; a paint sealant is for protection and should last through inclement weather and repeated car washings. #7 is water soluble; that means it will break down in inclement weather or with repeated washings. It offers no lasting characteristics. It’s not supposed to be a paint protectant, but a glaze that’s safe for use on fresh paint and will give paint a wet-look.
The name sealer and reseal glaze came from it's ability to hide or mask hairline scratches temporarily, or in other words it would seal hairline scratches and as it wore off and was re-applied it would reseal, or re-hide hairline scratches.
In todays detailing lingo hairline scratches = swirls.
#7 has no protection ability and no lasting ability. So when the word sealant became more commonly used in the car wax market people were confusing the word sealer with sealant and purchasing and using the product thinking it was a paint sealant that would last for a long time and protect for a long time when in fact it's nickname is Queen-For-The-Day, in that car guys would wipe their car down with #7 to give it the wet-look for the day of the big car show but the first time the car is washed the extremely wet look the product would impart to paint would disappear as the water soluble oils would wash off with the rinse water.
Anyway, the name was changed sometime in the early 1990’s as back in the 1980’s and continuing through to even today, a lot of “paint sealants" have been introduced in the car appearance market to compete along side Carnauba car waxes. So to avoid confusion the name was changed to reflect, (no pun intended), what this product is and has been famous for over the last century and that’s create a deep, wet shine on show cars.
Bringing the dead back to life...
Besides being used as described above, #7 is also famous for its ability to revive dead, oxidized single stage paints. This has to do with the unique feeder-oil formula created by Frank Meguiar’s Jr. back in the early days of Meguiar’s which was also the early days of the Automobile. Meguiar’s was founded in 1901 and for perspective, only a few years earlier in 1886, Karl Benz was awarded a patent for a gas-fueled car and it wasn’t until 1908 that Henry Ford introduced the Model T.
I don’t know exactly when #7 was introduced but I think sometime in the early 1920’s, like 1923 or 1924. While #7 may have been introduced in the 1920’s, the formula that became #7 was around even earlier, possibly back to 1901. Here's a collection of 4 very old Mirror Bright polishes; it is my opinion that the formulas used in these products were pre-cursors to what became #7 Sealer and Reseal Glaze.
Photos Courtesy of MeguiarsOnline.com
Now let me tie this back to the topic at hand…
Restoring antique single stage paints can either be done the caveman way, using an aggressive compound and risking grinding all the thin paint off the car, or it can be done the careful way, and that is FIRST conditioning the paint using the unique, time-proven rich polishing oils found in the #7 Show Car Glaze and THEN if needed, then use some type of abrasive product to abrade and polish the rejuvenated paint back to a deep, wet shine with a rich, high gloss.
The technique I will share with you in this article works great for old, oxidized single stage NON metallic paints. If that describes the paint on you car, for example you have a classic 1965 Mustang in your garage with non-metallic single stage enamel paint, then this technique will work great as long as the paint isn't past the point of no return in the first place. Restoring non-metallic paints is a cake walk.
The hardest paint related task to do in the car detailing world is to revive and restore single stage metallic paints because not only will the paint oxidize, but the aluminum metallic flakes inside the paint will oxidize and you since you can’t remove the oxidation off each individual flake inside the paint then most you can do is remove the topical oxidization and gorge the porous or permeable paint with the rich polishing oils famous to the #7 Show Car Glaze and cross your fingers that it works. That's the most you can do and the most you can hope for.
There are other high quality polishes on the market that contain polishing oils, but because the paint on an old car is thin, dry and fragile, you usually only get one shot at restoring it and if your project car is important to you, then evaluate your options and make your best choice. I don’t know if other modern polishing products will work the same way the old school #7 Show Car Glaze will work but you can try them with the same techniques I outline below as the techniques are as non-evasive as you can get. The head chemist at Meguiar's has told me in the past that he's never touched or modified the #7 Show Car Glaze formula, assuming this is true, (and I do), that means the product is the same today as it was in the 1920's and possibly even older. It's a product that's been around as long as these early paints were formulated and I've personally revived and saved many antique cars using this product. For the recored, I would consider myself an expert at correctly restoring antique lacquer and enamel paints and if you're reading this I would be happy to consult with you on any project car where it's vitally important to you to restore and maintain the original paint.
On to the technique…
This technique is a lost art form as many of the craftsman that know of the technique never preserved it in writing and are either no longer with us or unable or without incentive in our computer driven world to transfer their head knowledge to digital media.
Jack Birkby and Bill Stewart
I’ve had the good fortune in life to have worked with many people more seasoned and experienced than myself all of whom have freely shared what they know about polishing paint. Two such people are my old boss at Meguiar’s Jack Birkby, and another long time Meguiar’s RDC owner and good friend, Bill Stuart. Bill shared the secret of number seven with me in person and in a booklet he wrote in the late 1980's. I still have his booklet and sometime in the future I’ll digitize it and post it to the Internet.
Bill taught me how you could use a non-abrasive pure polish like Mirror Glaze #7 Show Car Glaze to gently restore a single stage paint using the nap of 100% Cotton Terry Cloth to gently abrade the surface, not simply scour it like common rubbing and/or polishing compounds will do with their hard, sharp mechanical abrasives.
In this updated version I'm going to use the nap of a microfiber polishing towel as microfiber is more gentle to paint than cotton fibers and at the time this technique was developed, microfiber had not yet been invented. You can use either 100% Cotton Terry Cloth or any high quality microfiber polishing towel with a nap. The weave design microfiber towels are great for most things, especially for wiping of a coating or wax or paint sealant, but my personal opinion is that for removing oxidation you really want a cloth with a nap, either loops of fibers or tufts of fibers; both will provide a gentle form of abrading and scrubbing action and it’s this feature you want since you’re not using any mechanical abrasives with this technique.
It's the use of the nap, that is the little loops or tufts of fiber from the cloth which together with the rich polishing oils found in the #7 Show Car Glaze that work together to offer a type of gentle abrading and/or scrubbing action to gently remove years of oxidation and massage the rich polishing oils into the paint to gorge it and restore the full richness of color.
Freely you have received, freely give
My goal with this article is to share this technique as my duty of passing down what I've learned from others who have gone before me...
The hardest thing there is to do as it relates to restoring antique and original paints is to restore an oxidized single stage metallic finish. Not all metallic paints can be saved, for example most single stage metallic silver paints cannot be saved due to their high content of aluminum as a pigment. Non silver gray metallic paints stand a good chance if they have not passed the point of no return and if some guy named "Bubba" hasn't already used some type of caveman compound on the paint in years gone by...
So if I can restore the metallic paint on our donor car for this article, chances are very good than anyone reading this can duplicate my success on their car, especially if the paint on their project car is a non-metallic finish.
First we need an old car with a single stage metallic finish that has been neglected and has deteriorated but is not so far gone that it cannot be brought back from the dead.
Enter the Lincoln Continental
At this year’s Detail Fest in Stuart, Florida at Autogeek’s Corporate offices and our new Studio and Training Center, a gentleman attended with the sole purpose of asking if there was anything that could be done to restore the paint on his all original 1973 Lincoln Continental. At the time of this article, this car has 46,826 original miles.
Odometer on the 1973 Lincoln Continental
At this years Detail Fest we scheduled 2 Mini-Classes on Machine Polishing Paint which introduced the students to 4 different types of electric polishers. In-between these two classes we opened our Training Garage for people to bring their cars for evaluation and recommendations as to the correct products procedures to restore a show car finish.
Bill heard about our event at a local car show and asked me if I could take a look at his car, once he told me the year of his car I said “yes” as I love working on single stage paint. At that moment in time I didn’t know how much time I would later be investing into his car’s finish to carefully remove the oxidation and restore a show room new, factory finish.
Bill carefully maneuvered his classic American Land Yacht through the crowds of people and pulled it right up to the entrance of our studio and training center. I had him leave it outside in natural light so I could both inspect the paint and take some pictures.
Without further ado, here’s Bills all original 1973 Lincoln Continental with the original, well preserved but extremely oxidized single stage metallic finish.
And a few weeks later... here it is ready to have the paint restored...
Restoring Single Stage Paint: Part 1
The secret to removing oxidation and restoring a show car finish to antique single stage paints.
Restoring Single Stage Paint: Part 2
Choosing the right polish.
Restoring Single Stage Paint: Part 3
Cleaning your paint.
Restoring Single Stage Paint: Part 4
Removing oxidation without abrasives.
Restoring Single Stage Paint: Part 5
Sealing the paint.
Restoring Single Stage Paint: Part 6
The first polishing steps.
Restoring Single Stage Paint: Part 7
The final polishing steps.