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By Jeff Zurschmeide

When your restoration is complete, a whole new set of tasks takes precedence in your relationship with your classic car. Instead of photographing wire paths and sorting fasteners, now you have to keep your car looking “just-restored” for as long as you can. Luckily, most restorations don’t get driven every day through bad weather, and they don’t get parked outside to be bombarded with UV light, bird droppings, and windblown sand. So keeping your restoration looking good for years is easier than you might expect.

But when you get ready for show season, or just to look great on the club tour or meet-up, you will want to meticulously detail out your car. Because if you don’t, someone who does detail his car will go home with your trophy. And that will be no fun at all.

The first step is to get yourself a good, complete detail kit. Then pay the ambulance bill after you collapse and hit your head when you find out how much a good, complete detail kit will cost you. Suddenly dish soap and an old dog towel doesn’t look like such a bad idea. But resist the impulse to cheap out -you really do need this stuff.

You can get most of it -good quality products - at your auto parts store or even at your local discount Humongo-Mart. If you end up at a traditional store, your best choice is Meguiar’s and Eagle One products. These are quality detailing products at a reasonable price. If you prefer to shop online, check out Griot’s Garage (www.griotsgarage.com) and Adam’s Polishes (www.adamspolishes.com). Both of these companies offer top quality products and will cheerfully ship them straight to your door. Consider getting a full detailing kit -don’t bother with the little sample-size kits. You want all that good stuff and you might as well just go ahead and get it.

You need a clean bucket, to start with. A big 5 gallon bucket from Home Depot works great. Take a magic marker and write “For Car Washing ONLY! Death to those who put potting soil in this bucket!” OK, I have personal history with finding potting soil in my detail bucket. I admit that. It’s my issue and I’m working on it.

After you have secured your bucket, you’re going to need some fancy car wash soap, a couple of car wash mitts, and some good towels to dry the car. Old terry cloth towels that have been retired from bathroom use are perfect. You can spend big money on micro-fiber towels, but in my experience terry works just fine. If they’ve been washed many times, to where the cotton weave has opened up to its most absorbent, they’re ready.

The reason you need several mitts is that you must dedicate some mitts to finished surface work, and others to wheel wells, undercarriage, and similarly gritty areas. Don’t carry sand and small rocks from your wheel arches up to scratch your fenders! No matter how thoroughly you think you’ve rinsed that mitt, once it’s gone to the gritty zone, you should never use it on your paint again.

When the car is washed (ideally in a warm, but shady place, using soft water) and dried carefully, you can choose from a variety of waxes. Traditional paste wax is no longer a good choice now that there are a variety of liquid waxes you can choose from, and these go on and come off much more nicely. Be sure to follow the instructions for your particular product, and use different towels for removing the product. You’ll be making quite an investment in towels, so start hitting the garage sales.

In addition to paint, you’ve got your chrome and brightwork, your wheels, your tires, your glass, and potentially your rubber parts. Each of these places normally requires its own products to detail out. Use a good non-streaking glass cleaner, non-abrasive chrome polish, and a high-shine tire spray or gel. Rubber parts can use the same modern protectants as your painted surfaces, and you can use products like Turtle Wax “Ice” on chrome and brightwork, too.

Wheel cleaners are tricky - you want one that will really attack the brake dust, but which is safe for the paint, chrome, or other finish on your wheels. Some of you will have wooden spokes that have been varnished or lacquered, and you’ll want to be extremely careful with the products you use. Try to keep the wheel cleaner spray off your tires, as it can discolor them.

HINT Hint...
A word about whitewalls ­- The best thing you can do for your whitewalls is never to touch them to a blackwall. If you change between whitewall show tires and driving tires, don’t stack your whitewalls all facing up. Stack them white-face to white-face. There are whitewall-specific products from Coker Tire and Westley’s Bleche-White, but they won’t take out blackwall stains. One of the best things you can do for a discolored or damaged whitewall is just to use liquid white shoe polish to touch up the sidewall.

Finally, you’ve got your detail spray, and a clean microfiber cloth. Be sure to choose a detail spray that is not made of silicone. A good detail spray gives your car that wet, shiny look that knocks ‘em dead at the shows. If you’re painting other cars nearby, however, be careful with detail spray -it is a contaminant that will prevent paint from sticking and it can get on bare metal if it’s being used nearby.

So, this all may sound like a lot of work, and it is. But you’re not done yet. They call this process detailing for a good reason ­- you need to attend to the details. This is where a supply of old toothbrushes comes in handy. Get in there and scrub the inside of your tailpipe and in the crannies around your make and model badges. Clean and polish up absolutely everything.

About once or twice a year, you should try a clay bar on your car. This is just what it sounds like -a piece of modeling clay. Wash the car and before you wax it, use your detail spray as a lubricant and rub the clay bar on your paint. It picks up baked-on pollen and sap and leaves your paint completely shiny. Adam’s Polishes has a great DVD on how to use a clay bar.

When the exterior is finished, you’re ready to do the same level of detail work on the engine compartment, trunk, and finally the interior. For a deep-cleaning detail job, professionals remove the seats and steam-clean the carpets and upholstery, but if you’ve treated your interior well since your restoration, that shouldn’t be necessary. Still, get in there with your detail leather interior cleaner, mild cleansers for your headliner and trim, and if you want to get really intense, you can buy a little brush to get your carpet fibers all going in the same direction.

When you’re all set up for detailing, you’ll find that you’ve got a bin of products and tools, a bin of towels, and a big bucket all set aside for the process. But once purchased, most of those products will last a good long while, and the results should be everything you dreamed about.

Dos and Don'ts
Thumb up  DO
  • Invest in high-quality detailing products
  • Carefully read the instructions on your products and detailing manuals
  • Test all new detailing products on a hidden part of your car before you commit
  • Take your time and be careful not to damage your car

Thumb down  DON’T
  • Don’t wash your car with dish soap
  • Don’t hesitate to stop if you’re not sure what to do
  • Don’t rub your paint too hard
  • Don’t expect detailing to bring a dead paint job back to life
The Popular Restorations Feature Car
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1946 Packard: Polishing, waxing and buffing



On the Maintenance - Body and Trim page I reviewed what I had learned about washing the Popular Restorations feature car. This entry covers what I learned about polishing, waxing, and buffing.

To do a good job without getting too fancy, apply a polish with a mild cutting abrasive. Buff off the polish and then apply the finish coat which should be a good carnauba wax. Buff that off and you’re done.

But wait, a lot of information is missing from that last paragraph. Just the word “apply” can mean a number of things. If it’s a small car and the finish is in good shape you might just apply the polish and wax by hand. If it has been polished and waxed recently you may decide to skip the polish step. In any case, your job will be made easier by using a power polisher.

There are several types of polishers you might consider borrowing or buying:

  • Orbital
  • Rotary
  • Dual Action (non-forced rotation)
  • Dual Action (forced rotation)

These may be powered by air pressure or electricity. This discussion will just consider electrical polishers.

Orbital polishers are just like orbital sanders. The motor doesn’t actually spin the polishing plate but instead causes the plate to move in very small circles. This is good news as it is unlikely to create swirl marks or damage your car’s finish. On the other hand, if you need to polish out deeper scratches from your clear coat you may need the aggressive action a rotary polisher provides.

Rotary polishers spin the polishing plate. In trained hands a rotary polisher may be all that is necessary. A rotary polisher is the tool to use when trying to remove for deeper scratches. But it is easy to create swirl marks, remove too much clear coat and or paint, burn the paint, and even lose control of the polisher resulting in damage to your car or yourself. Most classic car owners should get professional training before using a rotary polisher.

Dual Action (non-forced rotation) polishers are just orbital polishers that allow the polishing plate to rotate freely while it is oscillating. If you turn on the polisher the polishing plate begins oscillating in small circles. As a side effect the plate also begins to rotate. But if you put your hand on the plate you can easily stop the rotation. These units typically cost $110 to $170 and are generally considered good quality for most car owners. They are also frequently used in detail shops.

Dual Action (forced rotation) polishers are similar to the non-forced rotation models except they have switch that, when turned on, causes the polishing plate to rotate just like a rotary polisher. The advantage is that you have two polishers in one. And you only need to do cleanup on one polisher. The disadvantage is the price, typically $249 to $399.

I ended up buying a Porter-Cable 7424 6-Inch Variable Speed Random-Orbit Polisher, which is the Dual Action (non-forced rotation type). Meguiar’s customer service recommended,

  • A 6.5” Soft Buff foam polishing pad
  • A 6.5” Soft Buff foam finishing pad
  • Mirror Glaze #2 Professional Fine Cut Cleaner
  • Mirror Glaze #26 Professional Hi-Tech Yellow Wax

The cleaner has what is called “Diminishing Abrasives” that cut quickly and then reduce to a polishing rouge. It is good for light scratches and that is just what I wanted. For deeper scratches I’m turning the car over to a professional -- I’m not planning on learning how much buffing is too much on this paint job.

With a dark colored car, there is always the problem of micro-scratches showing on sunny days. These are very fine scratches that you get from washing or dusting the car, no matter how careful you might be. One of the best detailing tricks I have learned is something that will make the micro scratches virtually disappear. That is Meguiar’s Mirror Glaze Professional Show Car Glaze. You apply it after the polishing but before the wax. It is a wonderful product but does not last forever, perhaps six months or so. However, it goes on very easily and does not dry white like many waxes. Also, I have found that Meguiar’s spray on wax holds up just about as well as the Hi-Tech Yellow Wax and also is super easy to apply.



Ben Hockman Auto Detail

By Jeff Zurschmeide

Ben Hockman, Owner

PR: If someone has a nicely restored car and wants to detail it, what products should they use?

BH: One of the best product lines you can use is Zymol, in my opinion. It’s a line of cleaners and waxes. They’ve got leather conditioners and waxes and such. It’s all natural stuff. They’re sold through distributors though, not through the usual retail outlets. They’ve got a liquid wax and cleaner all in one, which is an incredible product. You just put in on by hand and let it sit for a short period of time and wipe it off. It’s amazing, especially on dark colors.

PR: The classic wisdom is to never use dish soap to wash your car. Why is that?

BH: Dish soap is made to take grease off of dishes, and it takes the wax right off your car. All waxes are petroleum-based except some of the newest products. For example,

Turtle Wax has a product called “Ice” that is good stuff. It’s incredible stuff because you can wax a little of everything with it. I’m talking about moldings, windows, and any of the stuff that you’d ordinarily get all that white grunge in -that you have to use a toothbrush to clean? You don’t have to do any of that. When I’ve washed a car, I use that product all over everything - bumpers, rubber, all that stuff. It will adhere to everything but not leave a film. I use a micro-fiber towel to wipe it off and you’re done.

PR: Take me through a whole detail job from start to finish?

BH: Starting with a car wash, clean the car from one end to the other. Then you go to your waxes and any of your leather and vinyl clears. If it’s a car off the street, then 9 times out of 10, they’ve been eating in the car and there are spills and it’s just something I tell everyone - leave the food out of the car! But whether you start with an antique or a new car, it’s all the same. I use Zymol on the interiors, too. It’ll work on vinyl and leather, and it’s all biodegradable.

PR: Do the biodegradable products work as well?

BH: 99% of the stuff I use is biodegradable. I don’t like to put anything into the environment that doesn’t belong there. A lot of detail shops have a collectible system that will run it back through and reprocess it like a car wash does. At home you can’t do that, but you try to keep bad stuff out of the environment if at all possible. The thing about Zymol, though, is that it smells so good that you’ll attract bees with it!

PR: Do you have to work in a shady area?

BH: With the Zymol products, you can apply it in direct sunshine. The hotter the metal is, the better it works. What you do is wet a cotton rag down to apply it with. Wet it down with hot water and wring it out, put the Zymol on it and spread it around real good. Then wipe it right off with a micro-fiber towel -don’t let it sit and fog up like you used to do. With the newer products you don’t have to wait that long.

PR: Anything we should stay away from?

BH: You don’t want the old style waxes any more. The new stuff is made to be used with the new base-coat/clear-coat urethane paint formulations, which is what any new paint job will be. And stay away from any products with a milky look to them, like Armor-All. Because that milky look stays in the rubber, in the moldings, it’ll stay on all that stuff. And stay away from silicone-based products, because it won’t wipe off properly. Some of the detail sprays have silicone, and it transfers to the rag when you wipe it off, then transfers back to the surface again. And if it rains, that stuff will run off and streak.

PR: What about these expensive poly sealants?

BH: Those have been on the market since the poly waxes came out. The dealerships will charge you $500 to put it on the car, and the bottle of the product costs $16 and they’ve got a kid making $8 an hour putting it on the cars. It’ll last a few weeks, but if you wash the car with detergent, it’ll take it right off.

PR: When I’m using wheel cleaner and it gets on the tires, I notice that it discolors the tire -pulls the black right out of it. What’s going on there?

BH: That stuff has butyl in it, and it’s one of the best cleaners you can use. But you want to wear rubber gloves when you use it, because it’s a nasty product and it will pull the oils right out of your skin.

PR: Do you do anything special for engine compartments?

BH: Yes, you have to cover all the electronics. I’ve run into trouble when water’s gotten into those parts, so I cover them all carefully now before I start in there.

PR: What do you do for dirty seats and carpets?

BH: I put cleaner on them and then I pressure wash them. If you’ve got a steam cleaner, that works OK, but you can pull them out of the car, put the cleaner on, pressure wash them, and then use a wet-dry vac to pull most of the moisture out. Then I have a 300 cubic foot blower with a heater, and I run that directly on the seats and carpets to dry them out. It takes about a day or day and a half. They look brand new when you’re done! The important thing is to make sure they’re completely dry before you put it back in the car.

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

David H Jacobs Jr
Ultimate Auto Detailing Projects
Motorbooks, Paperback, 2003-09

This book covers detailing in a series of easy projects, such as using a clay bar, cleaning wire or mag wheels, trunk detailing, and so on. The book is divided into chapters based on the area detailed, such as “Under the Hood” or “Tires and Wheels” and includes many photos and detailed instructions for a solid detail job.

Don Taylor
Automotive Detailing: A Complete Car Guide for Auto Enthusiasts and Detailing Professionals
HP Trade, Paperback, 1998-06-01

This is a good basic book that covers all the bases of automotive detailing. With several chapters on paint care, the rest of the book looks at each functional area of a car and offers instructions for detailing. Also covers detailing as a business.

Auto Detail Pro (3 Disk Set)
CustomFlix, DVD
Auto Detail Pro is a three disc (212 minutes) video that will show you how to give your vehicle that professionally detailed look at home. Learn how to remove scratches, shampoo your carpets, clean your engine, clean leather and cloth interiors, apply waxes, buff pads, and much more.

Meguiar’s Classic Wash & Wax Kit

This is an 8-piece car wash kit containg the products you need to keep your car’s exterior, interior, wheels, and rims clean. The car wash gel combines sudsing agents with optical brighteners. It’s versatile, one-step cleaner wax is specially formulated to produce eye-dazzling results on all finishes.

Meguiar’s Complete Car Care Kit

A complete car care kit featuring premium-quality products including car wash shampoo & conditioner that foams away dirt and road grime, gold class wax that enriches your paint to create clear, deep reflections and a brilliant shine, tire protectant, and an interior detailer that gives your interior surfaces a natural, revitalized look.

Meguiar’s X2000 Water Magnet Drying Towel
Meguiar’s ultra plush Water Magnet absorbs up to two times the water of traditional terry towels to reduce drying time with less “wring-outs” and create a spot-free finish. The extra large 22” x 30” waffle textured towel is trimmed with premium satin edges to prevent scratching.

Porter-Cable 7424 6-Inch Variable Speed Random-Orbit Polisher
This well-reviewed polisher gets the job done with an efficient random, swirl-free polishing action. It is powered by a 4 Amp motor that spins at variable-speeds of 2,500-6,000 OPM for a custom polishing job depending upon the power needed.

Meguiar’s W8006 6.5-Inch Soft Buff Foam Polishing Pad
Meguiar’s Soft Buff Foam Polishing Pad has active polishing action to remove minor surface imperfections. It restores high gloss and features an exclusive foam cell structure to improve air flow. Pad changes are easy with the Velcro backing system.

Meguiar’s W9006 6.5-Inch Soft Buff Foam Finishing Pad
Meguiar’s Soft Buff Foam Finishing Pad uses luxurious foam to pamper the finish. It restores high gloss and features an exclusive foam cell structure to improve air flow. Pad changes are easy with the Velcro backing system.

Meguiars #02 Fine Cut Cleaner, 16 oz Bottle

A mildly abrasive cleaner that removes fine defects including stains, oxidation, scratches, swirls and mild water spotting, while restoring color. Specially formulated for use with a slow speed buffer and Meguiars Soft Buff Polishing Pads, but may be applied by hand.

Meguiars M2616 Hi-Tech Yellow Wax 16 ounces
Enhances the depth of your car’s color. This unique professional-grade formulation blends premium yellow Carnauba wax with silicones, polymers and other specialty waxes.
External Links

Meguiar’s Video Center has detailing videos including,

  • How to Clean an Protect Your Vinyl, Plastic and Rubber Surfaces
  • How to Remove Swirls and Scratches
  • How to Maintain Your Finish
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