Introduction: Refurbishing a Vintage Aluminum Truck Grill Bezel
After a friend found this original owner 1970 Chevrolet CST Longbed in a field and told me it was for sale it didn't take long for me to decide to snap it up and make it a full-scale project. I planned on doing the works, framework, new engine, new interior, new exterior and of course paint. One of the projects I tackled first was figuring out what to do with the original aluminum front grill. I could replace it with an aftermarket piece but the quality is never the same as original. I had never heard of anyone refurbishing one so I decided to give it a try.
This is the story of how that refurbishing project went.
Step 1: Remove the Grill, Dissemble and Clean It
Removing the grill is pretty simple. Starting with the front bumper you just need to remove all bolts that attaches it to the truck until it comes off. Then move on to the grill itself. There are a few bolts in odd places so take your time and figure out where they are. Do not pull hard on the grill. It will come off easily when all bolts are removed.
Next place the grill on a workbench facedown and remove the inner elements. Remember to save the bolts in a way you will remember where they go. I keep snack size ziploc bags on hand and a sharpie. I place all bolts and clips into a bag and then write where they go on the bag. This has saved me many times.
Step 2: Examine the Grill and Make a Plan
The grill actually cleaned up pretty good but there is still the problem of these dents and deep scratches all over the part. This means that more work is needed and that the finish will get worse before it gets better. I take a close look at all of the damage and decide that I need to do try out some basic body working skills (that I do not have) and then a whole lot of sanding and polishing.
Step 3: Time to Put Those Body Works Skills to Use
While I really do not have any autobody skills I happened to have a few tools that seemed like they would do the job. First namely is this wide chisel, a hammer and a thick moving blanket to put under the grill.
I start by doubling up or tripling up the layers of blanket on the workbench. This will provide some shock absorption and make sure that I don't cause any hard edges or creases with the chisel. What I want to do is very slowly coax out the dents until they are almost not noticeable.
Be prepared to hammer softly and then flip the grill over to see the progress A LOT! I probably hammered and then checked the front 20 times before I felt like I made good progress and another 10 or so times for fine adjustments. You do not want to go past the original lines of the grill.
Step 4: It's Time to Make the Grill Smooth
Now is the time where we address the scuffs and scratches all over the grill. This is going to take a while and you are going to have to work your way through the protective coating that comes on the vintage aluminum grills and get to the raw aluminum below it.
I used a variety of sandpaper grits ranging from 150 all the way up to 1500 grit. Just start with the lowest grit and work any deep scratches out and then follow up with each progressive grit until you have gone over the entire thing with 1500 grit. I use my fingers to feel how smooth the surface is and when everything feels and looks smooth it's time to head to polish.
Step 5: Time to Make It Shine
Now I switch materials to steel wool and aluminum polish. Again go over the entire surface and then I follow up wiping it off with towels. Note: the towels will end up black and go for only shop use after this (don't use house towels). There should be a noticeable change in the look of the grill including the black residue that needs to be wiped off. The steel wool is only intended to get a final level of sanding done. Next is actual polishing.
I use shop paper towels again smeared with aluminum polish. Follow the same steps as above and keep going until you have your desired level of polish. Lastly, you can use a buffing wheel attached to a drill if you have it. I didn't.
Step 6: Enjoy the Shine of Your New Refurbished Grill
Once the grill shine is up to par and you have wiped everything down you can coat it with a clear coat or leave it and just expect to polish it every so often.
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