Monthly Archives: November 2018

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…