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Ceramic Coatings

By Jeff Zurschmeide

One of the best developments in auto restoration are ceramic-based thermal barrier coatings. These products were originally developed by NASA and the aerospace industry to protect metal parts that are routinely subjected to extreme temperatures. The result of their work is a spray-and-bake treatment that leaves a thin film of ceramic/metallic material on the metal that forms a barrier to heat transfer.

Creating a barrier to heat transfer does several good things for your car. It reduces heat in your engine bay, which slows down the degradation process of wire insulation, decals, and paint. It improves engine performance by allowing your car to breathe in cooler air. But the biggest win for restoration purposes is that a ceramic coating looks great for the life of your car.

These coatings come in different formulations that deliver different colors and textures as well as providing different degrees of thermal protection. You can buy coatings that protect to 1100 degrees fahrenheit, or up to 2,000 degrees for supercharged or turbocharged applications. And while the coating is protecting your parts from heat, it’s presenting a clean, polished image to judges and spectators.

You can get your coating to look like polished chrome, satin-finish aluminum, or it can look like brand new black or grey cast iron. Imagine your cast iron exhaust manifold still looking brand new a year, or five years, after your restoration is complete!

Of course, there’s always basic flat black, too, which is great for axles, suspension, and other exposed parts. Ceramic coatings are tougher than paint or even powder coat, but they cost a bit more, too. You can decide which protectant is right for your application.

Many claims are made about power gains attributed to these coatings. On the plus side, top drag racers and other ultra-high-performance builders use these coatings and testify that they see performance improvements. However, these improvements happen at the extreme outer envelope of performance, and it’s less likely that you will notice a big difference in a stock engine by dropping your engine bay temperature and scavenging a bit more in the exhaust stroke. Therefore, it’s best to consider this modification as a primarily aesthetic improvement that also extends the working life of your parts.

Yet as aesthetics go, it’s hard to beat a ceramic coating. Nothing else really works for hot cast iron exhaust manifolds, and those parts are both large and obvious in your engine bay. The price to protect your visible exhaust parts and other bare cast-iron in your engine bay is trivial compared to the total price of your restoration, or in many cases, the price of the parts you’re protecting.

You can also use these coatings to keep other parts looking great for the life of your restoration. Suspension and steering components, rear axles, brakes, and virtually any metal part that can withstand the high-temperature curing process for a ceramic coating can be protected with this process. A good shop can even use a metallic spray coating to fill in and improve rust-pitted or previously repaired parts.

As with any critical process in your restoration, you should always consult your local club and restoration resources for a recommendation to a reliable ceramic coating shop and then ask the coating professionals about your specific project.

Dos and Don'ts
Thumb up  DO
  • Match the correct coating to your needs
  • Select an original-looking coating for restoration purposes
  • Seek references before you choose a coating shop

Thumb down  DON’T
  • Don’t simply accept the cheapest estimate
  • Don’t use powder coating on heat-intensive parts
  • Don’t try to ceramic coat pot-metal alloy parts - they will melt
The Popular Restorations Feature Car
Author photo

1946 Packard: Ceramic coatings exhaust and brakes



Just after I purchased the Popular Restorations feature car a restoration mechanic suggested I consider ceramic coating the exhaust manifold. He told me the coating would hold the heat in, as much as 50%, reducing the cabin temperature significantly. I had forgotten how warm it could get inside older cars in the summer. Much of the heat comes from the engine compartment through the firewall so I had the exhaust manifold coated and replaced the interior firewall insulator with a new one from Quiet Ride Solutions. A bonus is that once coated properly, manifolds will not rust.

One thing that I found interesting about ceramic coatings is that some create a heat barrier and some are thermal dispersants. Applying a combination of both to your drums or rotors can cut your brake fluid temperature in half. Because of this, I went ahead and had the Packard brake drums coated. The drum coatings also look nice and will prevent future rust.



Finish Line Coatings

By Jeff Zurschmeide

Russ Meeks, Owner
2889 SE Silversprings Road
Milwuakie, OR 97222

PR: What is a ceramic coating?

RM: The name ‘ceramic coating’ is a broad term. It covers a huge area because we have ceramic coatings that do many different things. In the automotive industry, the majority of the coatings we use are for thermal barrier properties. None of these coatings are just for looks, although they are nice to look at. All of them were developed for a purpose.

PR: What have you got for the restoration community?

RM: We have a 50% thermal barrier that is the most popular with restorations. It’s a bright polished aluminum finish, not quite as bright as chrome. Then we have developed a cast-iron finish coating for cast iron manifolds, and a steel finish for tailpipes and mufflers. These have been accepted by all of the concours groups - NCRS, GM, Mustang and T-Bird people who want their manifolds and tailpipes to be protected, but to look like original equipment, and not to rust. These coatings look like they were brand new steel tubing or cast iron manifolds. These are actually higher in their thermal properties than the bright shiny cermachrome finish.

PR: Are these coatings only for hot parts?

RM: All of these coatings can be used on other parts. We’ve got a complete front and rear suspension from a Chevrolet Nova in the shop right now. People are coating these parts now instead of chrome plating them. In many cases, they’re more durable than powder coating, even though the powder coating is thicker. Ceramics are quite flexible, so we coat springs, torsion bars sway bars, and all types of things.

PR: What about painted parts?

RM: We have coatings that give an OEM appearance for cars where they used a flat black paint in the engine compartment. We can coat parts with ceramics, and once we cure them, they’re impervious to oil and gasoline. Even brake fluid won’t touch it.

PR: Take me through the coating process. What happens?

RM: All of these ceramics are liquid. They are sprayed and then baked on. When parts come in, the first thing is the cleaning process. That’s extremely important. The metal has to be extremely clean. We get the metal so clean that if we don’t coat in a 24-hour period, it will start to rust. We have to watch the process very closely.

PR: Is there a price difference for the various coatings?

RM: Most of them are the same. The turbo-black for turbochargers is about 10% more than the regular cermachrome or the cast iron or steel finishes.

PR: If someone is doing a pair of cast iron V8 exhaust manifolds on a concours restoration, how much should they expect to spend?

RM: For example, a pair of ram-horn exhaust manifolds for a small block Chevrolet will run $225 for the pair. That’s coated once on the inside and twice on the outside. That’s something we do that not many in the industry will do - put a double coat on the outside. We’ve learned that living in the Northwest with our drastic weather changes and condensation problems, we have to give double coats on the outside to get the corrosion resistance we’re after. We have an unconditional warranty for two years. These coatings are done to last, and we pride ourselves on being the best in the business.

PR: How about the price for other parts?

RM: When you’re doing complete exhaust systems, that’s priced out by the foot. 1.75-inch to 3-inch tubing will run $25 a foot. Mufflers, depending on the size and shape, will run from the $45 to $65 range. When you think about what you get, you’re going to cut engine compartment temperatures by 40% by coating your exhaust. And once you coat the system, it’s pretty much going to last forever. So it’s a reasonable process to do.

PR: What about brakes? Can these coatings withstand brake heat?

RM: We do a tremendous number of brake coatings for race cars. We can virtually stop brake fade due to excess heat in any given hydraulic brake system. It’s not necessary for a lot of people, but other people want the ultimate hot rod, and the factory brakes just don’t cut it.

PR: Anything else?

RM: We can spray metal back on crankshafts and other parts in the restoration industry, we can restore a lot of rusted and pitted chrome parts. We can repair these things with metal spray and build them up and then work them down to where they can be rechromed. We work with several chrome shops in the area, saving parts that are not available any longer.

Click on any item below for more details at Amazon.com

Tom Monroe
Racing Engine Builder’s Handbook: How to Build Winning Drag, Circle Track, Marine and Road Racing Engines
HP Trade, Paperback, 2006-09-05
Expert advice on building and modifying cylinder heads for high performance with reliability. Topics include horsepower and torque, equipment and tools, airflow, building a flowbench, porting, valves, unleaded fuel conversion, camshafts, exhaust system, ignition and cylinder heads. The examples are British but the information is generic.

Editors of Chevy High Performance Magazi
Big Block Chevy Engine BuildupsHP1484
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The editors of Chevy High Performance magazine combine their knowledge in this step-by-step guide to big-block Chevy engine buildups-from low-budget engine projects for mild street performance, to all-out race motors for drag strip action.

Evan J. Smith, Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords Magazine
Ford Engine Buildups: 302/351 CID Small-Blocks, 1968-1995 4.6L and 5.4L Modular Engines, 1996-2008
HP Trade, Paperback, 2008-08-05
This book is a guide of more than 35 complete engine buildups offering a wide variety of performance levels for several generations of Ford V8 engine families. Detailed information on heads, cams, stroker kits, dyno-tested power combos, and fuel injeection systems.

David Vizard
Tuning the A-Series Engine: The Definitive Manual on Tuning for Performance or Economy
Haynes Publishing, Hardcover, 1999-10-31
This well-reviewed book shows you how to increase the power output of British Motors Corporation A-Series engines. It covers all aspects of engine tuning in detail, including filters, carburation, intake manifolds, cylinder heads, exhaust systems, camshafts, valve trains, blocks, cranks, con rods and pistons, plus lubrication systems and oils, ignition systems, and nitrous oxide injection. Applicable to all A-Series engines, small and big bore types, from 803 to 1275cc.

Stan Grainger
Engineering Coatings
Industrial Press, Inc., Paperback, 1992-01-01
This book acquaints readers with engineering coatings and guides their choices of coatings and methods of application. It is not specific to automobiles but is very detailed and extensively illustrated. Included are technical papers provided by members of the Committee of the Surface Engineering Society and illustrations and information by many industrial organizations and individual authors.
External Links
Moore Power Coatings has a price list page that will give you an idea how much ceramic coatings can cost.
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