Over the years a variety of materials have been used to add eye-catching bling to automobiles. Nickel and chrome-plated pieces were common and stainless steel was used extensively, but in the late 1950s something new cropped up: aluminum trim. Lightweight and inexpensive it was also easy to stamp into elaborate shapes for grilles and other trim parts. To provide resistance to the elements that would cause the aluminum to dull, and to resist light scratches, trim pieces were generally anodized.
While aluminum trim had a variety of advantages, the major drawback was its susceptibility to dents. Stainless steel trim was tough as trim goes but it could be dinged; pot metal parts broke when hit with any appreciable force, but by comparison aluminum was downright fragile. As a result aluminum trim that's as old as STREET RODDER's editor usually isn't in any better shape than he is, as both have suffered the ravages of time. But while there's not much that can be done for Brennan, in most cases aluminum trim can be made good as new.
We've learned the hard way that straightening aluminum trim is sort of a combination of body repair and brain surgery. The trick is to go slow and use a light touch to keep from stretching the soft material out of shape. But while that's easy to say, the truth is after trying it ourselves we would have had better luck taking dents out of Jell-O, which is why we turned to Sherm's Custom Plating for help. Sherm's has been responsible for the outstanding chrome plating as well as stainless repair and polishing for our AMSOIL/STREET RODDER Road Tour cars for many years. They also have the capability of restoring aluminum trim to better-than-new condition.
Sherm's resident metal master is Dave Dougherty. We've watched in amazement as he's straightened stainless trim and recently found out he's just as skilled at saving aluminum. We brought him a banged up trim piece from our 1960 Dodge station wagon (Brennan calls it the "Wagon Queen Family Truckster" after the equally visually challenged movie car of the same name) because we knew it was beyond our capabilities to straighten it.
Dougherty carefully hammered the various dents and dings out of our trim piece, then it was sanded with various grits of abrasives and polished with several different compounds. When finished the aluminum looked like chrome. Once polished there are several options: the part can be clear anodized again, left as it is and polished when necessary, or covered with a clear coating.
Straightening aluminum trim is one of those chores best handled by pros, like the crew at Sherm's. Our only complaint it that the repaired section of the grille looks so good it makes the rest of it look bad—but Sherm's can cure that. We're still working on what do for Brennan.