Category Archives: Pontiac

Pontiac renovations, part 4.

I decided that although the silvered paint had significantly improved the reflector, the prep I had done was not great (it was more a “let’s try this out and see” action) so it wouldn’t last, and plus, the reflector when viewed through the lens appeared very gray. Aesthetically I found this displeasing and figured I could improve matters.

I decided I would attempt to plate the reflector with a shiny metal surface. I did a bit of research and determined that nickel plating should work quite well. In order to plate nickel onto steel, it is advised first to plate with copper. This is because nickel is chemically different enough from iron not to want to adhere to, so a go-between, copper, which will stick to iron and nickel is used as a substrate.

Note that the chemicals used in this process are poisonous (copper) and toxic (nickel). If you follow this, work outside in a well ventilated area and wear gloves and safety glasses. Also wash your hands thoroughly with plenty of soap and water if you get any of it on your skin. Store the electrolyte in well-marked containers, and keep away from children (ooh, pretty colors!) and pets. 

I bought some acetic acid (vinegar), hydrogen peroxide, a source of pure copper (scrubbing pads), a source of pure nickel (welding rods), a glass dish and made a power supply from an old ATX computer PSU.

Making copper electrolyte.

To begin,I added a 50/50 mix of vinegar and peroxide to the dish and placed a copper scrubbing pad into the mixture. It began to dissolve, creating the electrolyte, copper (II) acetate.

Copper electrolyte.

Then to make the nickel electrolyte, made in a similar fashion- 100% vinegar with a pinch of sodium chloride (table salt) to boost the conductivity. Nickel does not dissolve by itself in acetic acid, the molar strength is not high enough. It is instead made by “helping” it by passing an electric current between two nickel electrodes.


After a couple of hours a modest amount of nickel had dissolved into the acid. 

Nickel acetate.

I plated a piece of bar steel with copper, then plated it with nickel. Positive to the source of metal, negative to the piece to be plated.

Nickel plating.

Although probably a little “fast”, I used 12 Volts across the nickel, which yielded good results. The copper required much lower voltage and current to plate well. The slower the process,the better quality the finish.

High gloss result.

I was pleased with the results on the test piece, so set about taking the turn signal assembly apart.

Turn signal removed.

Thankfully in good shape underneath, this area has been subject to some repairs in the past. 

Reflector and housing.

The lamp broke down into further pieces. You can see the silver painted surface of the reflector. It previously looked the same as the housing. Someone had painted it black, and then it had rusted.

Ascorbic acid bath.

I set the steel pieces into an ascorbic acid (vitamin C) bath and left them overnight for the acid to work on the oxides. As advertised, vitamin C is a powerful anti-oxidant.

12 hours’ soak.

After half a day soaking, I pulled the pieces out and scrubbed the loose oxides off with a wire brush and left them to soak again.

Dirty solution.

I probably should have left the steel in the ascorbic acid longer but I decides that the metal was very pitted from the rust and I could clean it by running current “backwards” in a bath of vinegar, which draws the surface of the steel away to the cathode, leaving it clean.

Acid bath 2 complete
Galvanic cleaning.

Using a random piece of steel rod I had laying around, I ran the reflector at 12 Volts in vinegar with a little salt.

Pitted but clean.

I then used a couple of grit wheels in my Dremel to attempt to smooth the surface of the reflector a little.

Not perfect, but better.

This improved the reflector significantly- after all the plated surface will follow every contour the metal has. The more smooth the surface, the better the appearance of the plating. I put the reflector in the copper plating bath and set it on at 3.3 Volts.

Badly plated copper.

Due to the surface area of the reflector, the current passed on the first run was too high- seen here with burgundy deposits. The copper plates too fast, forms large flaky layers that do not adhere to the base metal. Also, the impurities in the steel precipitate into the electrolyte and stick to the surface, giving poor, patchy plating. Constantly moving the object to be plated alleviates this.

Copper plating again.

Tried again but with some resistance in line to reduce the current.

Nickel plating.

With a good adhesion from the copper on the second try, I then set about plating the reflector with nickel. Nickel electrolyte produces quite a lot of gas and self-cleans its surface whilst plating.


Although not an ideal candidate, the reflector was significantly improved.


With only the parking light (5 Watts), the light thrown forwards is quite significant. A good result, in any case.

Painted the back black.

I painted the rear sides of the reflector and housing gloss black, as they would have been when new.

Reassembled and refitted to the car.

I also plated the housing, as it is visible through the lens. Previously it looked a bit out of place, black against the gray of the reflector.

Evenly lit now, compared to the other side, which really only glows where the bulb is (as this one was before I began). More visible, which is good as the lights are low down and the turn signals are the wrong color by today’s expectations (white, not orange).

Light off.

Finally, with the light off and the sunshine hitting the lens, it looks a lot more even and matches the headlight a lot better. Just the other side to do now!

Pontiac renovations, part 3.

Buoyed by the fact I got the turn signals working, which was a bad connection to the multi-plug (yes, there is one multi-plug on this car!), I decided to experiment with the front lights.

The front lights worked but were rather dim and only illuminated in the center of the glass. I started by rubbing the reflector down. Someone had painted it black- reasons unknown. I guess that it was either chromed or painted white from the factory.


A rather half-hearted effort, admittedly. However, the reflectors are very pitted and will never be perfect. 

Masked up, ready for paint.

I used some “Shiny Silver” spray paint. It is a dull aluminum color at the best of times. Still, masked the car up and painted the reflector.


A significant improvement. Pulled all the paper off and reassembled the light.


The difference is significant. I think I shall have to take it apart again and redo the rest in silver, but I may also have a go and experiment with plating.


The turn signal is now very visible from a distance. The other side is not as good, as the bulb holder has been replaced and the new one welded in place. It is slightly off-center, meaning the light does not illuminate evenly, but I think improving the reflector will help, regardless.

Pontiac renovations, part 2

I have been trying to at least do something on a daily basis to the Chieftain, even if it’s only something small. I have mostly been able to keep to this plan, and it has resulted in a few repairs being made.

Firstly, I got all click-happy on eBay and ordered a deluxe option air filter with muffler unit. It arrived in from South Dakota- looks like it had been sitting in a car, in a field for a long time.

“Suitable for rat rod etc.”

It was covered in a thick layer of oily dust. I took to scrubbing it down with dish-washing liquid.

The beginnings of clean.

Much more scrubbing ensued. Seventy years of dirt! Also, it’s interesting to receive something from somewhere else like this; the dirt I removed had a quite different smell to it, very clay-like. Quite a foreign smell compared to around here.

Cleaner still, but yet more to go…

I took it to pieces to continue cleaning. Being an oil-bath type filter, the bottom of the oil bath was full of thick, oily sludge. 

Cleaned out with gasoline it was certainly more acceptable. The wire gauze in the filter has long-since gone; presumed rusted away. I bought some aluminum mesh filter material to stuff inside but I am concerned it is a little too coarse for this application.

Prep for paint.

Work began on removing rust and old paint from the assembly. 

Buzzed down with my DA sander with medium-grit paper, rust converter applied, etch primer and finally gloss black enamel. I do have to say I like the enamel, it is very liquid and goes on well with an immediate gloss finish.

Filter in place.

Just resting in place in the above image, but that is where it is meant to reside. I then began the hunt for information on how the filter-end was supported- the back end does clamp tightly to the neck of the carburetor but there’s far too much weight acting on it in a twisting action for the alloy metal of the carburetor to support without eventual fracture.

Air filter bracket.

One of the head bolts has a threaded protrusion for a nut to screw on to. It was mounted further back on the head, closer to the carburetor (later investigation showed the car to have originally had a smaller top-hat style filter, which had a support arm bracing it from a nearby point).

Research showed there to be a bracket from the furthest head bolt, so I transposed the bolts and created a bracket from steel bar, mimicking the size and thickness as well as old photographs would show.

Entire assembly supported.

Now, with the entire filter supported evenly at both ends, I had another problem! The previous use of the threaded-head bolt was to have three springs bolted down, with their other end hooked at a jaunty angle to the throttle rod ball joint at the carburetor. With the bolt moved, these springs had nowhere to go. 

Older photograph showing the springs.

That didn’t seem to be an immediate issue because I did not see any other photos on the Internet showing springs mounted in this location. Coupled with that, the angle the springs were at did not allow the throttle to be pulled fully closed or operate smoothly. It did not seem to fit the overall engineering attitude the car has.

Further back in the mechanism there was a peg with a groove in it, as is used to hook springs to. Trouble was, I couldn’t see anywhere to connect up a spring on the other end! Turns out there was a boss missing from the flywheel housing. 

Spring boss.

I bought a suitable bolt with a shank above the threads. I cut the head off, shortened the threaded section and drilled a suitably-sized hole through the shank. It received a little bit of a polish, too.

Correctly sprung throttle linkage.

While I had nuts and bolts and screws and things in hand, I bought some stainless steel parts and a couple of rubber bungs that I cut down to make buffers for the hood. 

Hood stop.

No more bang, crash upon closing the hood, and the shut-lines are now more adjustable.

Nice and even!

Yet more to follow…

Further Pontiac restoration

Driving the car down the street showed that something was a little amiss with the gearbox. It would hold first gear for a long time and only change once I let off the gas pedal. At that point the change was harsh and jumped from first to (what feels like) third.

The gearbox is a moderately conventional hydraulic design; two epicyclic gears, each with a clutch and engagement band. The engagement band operates one ratio, the clutch locks up and engages it as a gear in itself offering a second ratio, and then that all disengages and the second set does the same thing. 

It has two hydraulic pumps. the primary pump is on the input shaft from the engine. The secondary, a smaller pump, is on the tailshaft and is only used to bring hydraulic pressure up in the gearbox if the car is to be bump-started (drag car to 15-20 MPH, engage Dr (drive) and that will spin the engine over in an attempt to get it to run).

The faster the input shaft from the engine turns, the greater the pressure it creates in the hydraulic system. Once Dr is engaged, this pressure is directed to the valve block. Once the input spins up to a certain speed, the pressure is meant to be a certain amount and the next valve opens, engaging second gear, then on and on through all four gears. The only other external influence it has is the connection to the throttle pedal, and that operates a relief to the pressure the more it is opened.

So, light throttle the gearbox should cycle through and engage 4th by 21 MPH. The more the throttle is opened, the more pressure is bled off so the longer each gear holds before it changes.

Adjusting the throttle linkage.

I adjusted the linkage, thinking that it was set too far open and was bleeding off too much pressure too early. This did not help, and further research indicated that bringing the revs up then snapping the throttle shut causes enough of a pressure spike to operate the valve block and change gears. In short, the valve block is needing re-sealing as it’s losing too much pressure past the seals to operate correctly.

Broken envelope and burned filament

I turned my attention for a while to the electrics- I had wanted to see if the non-functioning parts of the dash illumination were down to faulty wires or faulty bulbs. In most cases the original 6 Volt bulbs were still in place and had failed. Two here had failed in different ways. The one on the left had burned through the glass envelope, rupturing it and allowing ingress of air. The filament then turned to titanium trioxide (the yellow-white powder) and ceased operation that way. The other one the filament overheated and vaporized, plating the inside of the glass.

License plate light

The license plate light is sadly not original, instead an auto-parts-store generic, and the flitch panel it sits in is a little rusty. It’s been mounted in a steel plate, badly. However, all that was wrong with it was the connections were rusty. Cleaned up, it began to work.


Overall, an improvement. It since stopped working then I accidentally broke the bulb pulling the holder out. Go figure.

Dashboard light

I finished up inside by fitting working bulbs to everything. It needs a clean but overall looks very nice all lit up.

Finding out the condition of the car.

With the Chieftain home, I started to dig into assessment of the condition of the body, mechanical and electrical parts.

First up, to determine what the car is fitted with. The Fisher body plate offers a small amount of insight:

body tag

Paint code 5128, Starmist Blue. Kinda close to what’s on the body right now. Trim code 71- the “deluxe” interior. A dark gray/light gray combination, with broadcloth seats and tufted buttons on the rear seats. Someone has had the car reupholstered, and it’s been done well; they’ve kept a lot of the features, just instead in shades of blue.
The VIN shows it was built in Atlanta, Georgia in 1951. It’s an 8-cylinder car and has Hydramatic gearbox. All pretty much what I found. That’s a good start.

Wires. Frayed.

The wiring is just plain fire hazard. It’s been chopped about, the insulation is all gone in places, it’s brittle and generally in poor shape, particularly as the car has been “converted” to 12V from 6V, badly.


The interior is in really quite nice shape, just grimy. None of the electrical systems worked. The clock was halfway falling out; I set it to 5 o’clock because, well, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.


There’s been a fair bit of new metal let into the body and it appears to have been done well.


There’also a few places where it’s gone quite bad- typical muddy and wet locations on the car.

rear lights

the back of the car is in moderately good shape- I applied a little heat to the light lenses, rubbed them down with fine grit paper and then polished them. That made an improvement as they were very hazy and heavily cracked before. PMMA (acrylic) is a thermoplastic, so some of the cracks and crazing will re-melt together with a little heat.

rear lights lit

A little messing about with wiring saw the rear lights illuminate.

chief mascot

The Chief head mascot on the hood is again sun-crazed (PMMA like the rear lights). With the addition of a fresh bulb he lights up.

rusty reflectors

The front park/turn light assemblies were not working. Cleaned them up but the reflectors are very, very bad. I think a rub-down with wet-n-dry and a polish then application of bright shiny “aluminum” finish paint may save them to a workable standard.

wash glass

The glass lenses cleaned up nicely.

parking lights

Between times, the lights do still come on and are visible. I’ve seen worse!

gearshift indicator

I took apart the gearshift indicator assembly on top of the steering column. It’s a cast metal fitting with a nice shiny aluminum insert, through which the position indicator labels fit. I saw on the circuit diagram that there is a light bulb inside, so went take a look see.


Sure enough there is. A little metal container with a light window on the front, which moves with the lever arm to shine light through the appropriate position window. There were some green circular pieces of plastic stuck in the mechanism, I found two and refitted them.


The N, Dr and Lo positions are now green, with the R in white. I am not sure if all the windows had the green filters and one of them has vanished, but that made sense. The solder joint had also come off the wire. That needs redoing.

illuminated position lights

With my flashlight behind the lenses, they glow nicely.

polished up

The bezel was polished up and refitted, looking nice. It needs to be clean, it’s right in the driver’s line of sight.

jukebox speedometer

I also managed to track down a bad connection and got the turn signals working. Fitting some new bulbs to the dash indicators saw them working also.


It’s all been a bit quiet here lately. There’s a good reason, though- with a small backstory.
An interesting car pops up in the Facebook classifieds locally. A 1965 Pontiac Catalina. Running condition with a little cosmetic work needed. Sadly due to circumstances I missed out on the sale. The car was well under list price and was snapped up. As such, I had a sulk and started looking for cars (not something I often do). There was very little both affordable and interesting locally and in New Orleans, so I expanded my search and centered on Baton Rouge instead.
A few more cars show up; Baton Rouge seems to have a better following of old cars, plus sadly many in New Orleans were destroyed or moved away after the flood following hurricane Katrina.

However, one interesting vehicle pops up. A 1951 Pontiac Chieftain. The pictures show it to be in cosmetically good condition for its age, looking like it had seen a restoration a number of years prior and was in need of another now. I convinced my wife to let me go see the car, to have a poke about and determine if it was a complete basket case or not.

Pontiac at the dealership lot

The gentleman at the lot grabbed the jump pack and started it up. It sat and idled happily for fifteen minutes. I had a poke around, found a little bit of rust but mostly solid metal and my suspicions that it had seen some restoration work were confirmed. Somebody had converted it (not well) to an alternator and 12 Volt electrics. Most of the electrical parts of the car did not work. The steering was a bit sloppy but the brakes were good, and the gearbox engaged gear without slipping in Dr and R. I thanked him and I went on my way. That, however, was it. I had decided at that point, if I could afford the car, I was going to buy it. Time passed, finally some money (kinda) cleared the bank and I called back to check the car was still on the lot. It sure was! I said that I could bring cash money the next day. Sold.

Collection day set- Labor day, 2018.

coffee brewing

I organized a car transport trailer via U-Haul for the following Saturday. The weather was forecast to be rather unpleasant, but becoming worse for the following week. First things first though. Put the coffee on.


Towing weapon of choice. Our trusty Silverado.

Change Oil Soon

Oh. Well, I do know that I need to change the oil, but that timer wasn’t reset last time the oil was changed. Let’s take a look…

Pull out dipstick

Dirty and dusty Vortec hiding under the hood.. GM really got their money’s worth out of that engine.

dirty oil

Err, well yeah. It does need to be changed then. But, there’s enough in there. Checked the ATF, that’s all still pleasantly clean and at the correct level.


Coffee and muffin consumed, and we are ready to go!


Out up on Interstate 10, north of New Orleans. Trailer was a one-way deal, collect near to the car and drop off near home. The weather was already beginning to turn intermittently rainy, though traffic was heavy through the city it was flowing well. Out the other side and it was nice light traffic all the way.

Loaded up on trailer

Paperwork done, all loaded up onto the trailer and ready to go! It was a long drive home, taking surface highways. I didn’t fancy driving the Interstate in Labor Day weekend traffic at 55mph. Plus, Interstate 12 was busy and I-55 from Hammond down to Laplace is 22 miles of raised concrete bridge which is bumpy and without trailer hitched up sets the truck into a pitching wobble over all the joints in the concrete.

finally home

Unloaded it in the twilight and rain- it didn’t want to jump start due to bad connections but finally I got it running and parked up. Returned the trailer and crashed out to sleep. The following day was heavy showers interspersed with sunshine, not ideal for poking and prodding at a new car, but that’s the way it goes. I took the battery out and put it on the bench- trickle charge on a dumb charger for a day or so saw it begin to take a charge, and it now has enough in it to reliably start the car. Go figure.

More to come!