January 2002
I had removed the exterior lights after I had took Maych to the paint and body shop in November 2001.  They had been sitting in a cardboard box in my garage for about a month while I worked on the exterior trim.  Now they were the only items on the exterior left to restore.

I fully expected to have to replace one or two of the lights.  But, after careful inspection, I was pleasantly surprised to find that other than the lenses being faded and slightly scratched, they were in good shape.  So, I decided to try to see if I could remove the scratches and return the luster to the lenses.

In some of my surfing around the net, I came across a web site that described restoring the lenses on on restoration project using 3M Finesse-it II machine polish.  Since I had already bought a bottle of this product for use on a stove restoration, I decided to give it a shot.  I spread a little of the machine polish on one of the tail light lenses and used the Final Finish System I had purchased from the Eastwood Company to buff it out.  After one buffing, the lens looks much brighter, but the scratches where still there.  In fact, the scratches were even more noticeable because the machine polish tends to get into the scratches and highlight them.  I would have to use something a little more aggressive to remove the scratches.

I do a lot of woodworking and to hone my chisels I use a felt wheel and honing compound mounted in my bench grinder.  I didn't know if this would work, but I thought I'd give it a try.   I decided to try it on the side of one of the tail lights, so in case I screwed it up, it wouldn't show.  That turned out to be a good decision.  The felt and compound removed the scratches okay, but it was also very easy to gouge or melt the plastic if you got a little too aggressive.  The key is to TAKE YOUR TIME.  To keep from building up heat or making gouges, you have to very lightly touch the lens to the wheel and you have to keep the lens moving at all times.  If you stop in one spot or apply too much pressure, you will likely leave a gouge or melt the plastic. 

I practiced on the sides of the tail lights until I felt confident enough to do the rest of the lens.  Once I had the technique down, the felt and honing compound did an excellent job of removing the scratches and restoring the luster to the lenses.  After the scratches were removed, I then used the 3M Finesse-it II machine polish to give it a final polish.  After using the machine polish, I did have to use water and a soft brush to remove the polish residue from the many small crevices on the lenses.  In the photo of the two tail light lenses you can see the polish residue on the right lens that has not been washed.

After finishing with the tail light lenses, I did the same felt wheel/honing compound technique to the parking light lenses.  Actually, I should have used the parking light lenses to learn on.  The tail light lenses have many ridges that make it more difficult to polish, while the parking light lenses are almost perfectly smooth.  Just as with the tail light lenses, I used the felt wheel to remove scratches and return luster, then I buffed with 3M Finesse-it II machine polish.  The only difference was I didn't have to wash the parking light lenses to get the machine polish out of the crevices, because there weren't any.  

One curious thing about the parking light lenses - they are riveted to the parking light housing.  This means you have to replace the entire unit if you need new lenses.  Wonder why GM decided to go this route? Weird, huh?  It also makes cleaning the inside of the lenses a real bitch.  To clean the insides I poured a little Dawn dish detergent in the hole where the light bulb housing goes, filled it about half way with hot water, placed my thumb over the hole and shook it real good for about 5 minutes.  It then took about 10 minutes of running clean water in the hole to get all of the suds out.  It also took about 24 hours to dry.  Because they are such a bitch to clean, I think I'll put a little silicone around the light bulb housing when I re-install the parking lights to keep the dirt out.

Ok, four lights down, six to go.  The next four to work on are the side marker lights.  The lenses on the maker lights weren't scratched very bad, which was a good thing because the felt wheel/honing compound technique wouldn't work on these lenses - they are too small and too recessed.  I did hand buff them with the 3M Finesse-it II machine polish and that seemed too restore the luster.  Because these are a sealed unit, I had to use the same soap/water/shake technique to clean the insides of the lenses that I used on the parking lights.  That meant I couldn't start painting them for about 24 hours because it takes that long for the insides to dry out.

Part of the plastic housing for the side marker lights is painted black.  This black paint was worn off in several areas and needed repainting.  Masking off the lenses was simple but I also wanted to keep the paint off of the back of the housings.  

You could question why I cared about getting paint on the back of the lenses when they can't be seen.  I don't really have a good reason other than I just didn't.  I also didn't want to spend a great deal of time trying to mask off the backs.  

My solution was to cut a hole in a box the same size as the back of the housing, then insert the housing into the hole, leaving only the top of the lens exposed.   To hold the lens tight against the box I oulined the hole with double-side tape. You an see in the photo what box I used.  And of course the box had to be empty.  Maybe there is a correlation between the empty box and my other than rational reason for not wanting the backs of the housing painted.  Surely not.

Anyway, the box worked like a charm.  I inserted each lens into the box and gave it three coats of Floquil's Poly Scale Steam Power Black with my airbrush.   This was paint I had purchased to paint a caboose for my grandson's model train.  The paint is water based and can be re-coated within just a few minutes if you use a hair dryer to dry the paint between coats.  It is also a very flat black, which is what I wanted for the lenses.

It only took about 20 minutes to paint all of the lenses.   Because the paint cures so quickly with the help of a hair dryer, I was able to immedi- ately remove the masking tape and polish the stainless steel trim that surround the lenses with Autosol .  I think they look as good a new.

That left only the two backup lights to restore.  After inspection, I determined that all they needed was a good washing to remove the dirt and grim.

That completes the restoration of the exterior lights.  The only items left to restore are a few hardware items that were removed in preparation for the paint and body work, such as door strikers, bed bolts, miscellaneous screws and bolts, etc.  I'll cover the restoration of the items in these next episode.



Copyright 2001-2006 by Johnny M. Patterson
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