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1955 Ford Part 111: Valve Cover Restoration

Updated: Apr 5

The "new" aluminum valve covers look splendid when mated with the ceramic coated headers.

In a previous post I hinted about a little behind the scenes project I had going - refurbishing a used set of aluminum Thunderbird valve covers. After the Fast Fords race last year, I was blessed enough to establish a few more contacts from the Y Block world. Of course, if you are familiar with the blog then you know I swap parts and make deals rather frequently. Dave Fuszner, the owner and driver of the real fast '57 Ford from last June, offered me a set of original Thunderbird valve covers at a very low cost. He said they were driver pieces and would need to be "cleaned up" but I told him that was just fine with me. Usually I make a video or two about these restoration projects I take on, but lately I have been so busy with the camshaft upgrade, the installation of the new headers, and welding up two custom-fitted down pipes that my video work has been taken up with all of those items. Also in the works are my plans to shoot video for the KR Wilson lifter installation tool that Ted Eaton loaned me a while back. So, I hope you do not mind if this blog post contains no videos - only pictures and text.

When the valve covers arrived last December I gave them the once over before putting them up on the shelf. (I knew it would be a few months before I could get to them.) Dave had not sent any pictures before I purchased them, but when I pulled them out of the box it was easy to verify that his description was spot on. There was a lot of oxidation, some pitting, a gouge or two, and almost no color left in the bird or in the channels that run the length of the valve cover.

The valve covers needed some attention, but they were very good originals.

Some of the surfaces showed more discoloration or pitting than others.

Plan of Attack

  1. Wash the valve covers in dish detergent, rinse, and dry thoroughly.

  2. Scuff the surfaces I planned to paint. (the bird portions and the long, horizontal channels)

  3. Clean all surfaces with thinner.

  4. Paint the long channels with black Rustoleum High Temperature Grill Paint.

  5. Paint the red and teal colors in the bird portions with Testors model paint.

  6. Allow painted surfaces to dry.

  7. Wet sand all surfaces, beginning with 500, then 1,000.

  8. Clean all surfaces again.

  9. Shoot a clear coat to finish. (the same clear I used on the red and white of the 55's body)

If you know bare aluminum then you are already scratching your head at #7. For some ignorant reason, I assumed that if I clear coated after 1000 grit paper the final finish would be much like clear coating after color sanding a body panel of paint. What a joke... more on that later.

You can tell in the end this all turned out just fine, but I will say that Testors #1103 and #1107 are perfect for the red and the teal colors in the bird portions. And, as you can see the Rustoleum grill paint worked like a charm.

The Testors paint bottles and the Rustoleum paint color were perfect!

1103 and 1107 are the colors you need from Testors for your bird portion.

I used the exact same clear coat on the 55 body - professional materials make a difference!

I dug out my old model paint brushes (you know the kind - very small head sizes) and painted the red, teal, and black. This took a few coats for sure. Since I knew I would be sanding later on when the paint was dry, I did not worry about "painting outside the lines" as it were. I will say that you will need a very small brush to get into the red portions of the bird!

Click on individual photos above to see a close up.

After the paint dried it was time for sanding, and that meant breaking out a bucket of water and a water hose. This part obviously takes up the most time, and since you are dealing with bare metal you end up using quite a bit of paper.

After 500 and 1000 grit I thought we were set...

When things dried out, I set up my air line and paint to shoot some clear. The red, teal, and black were already starting to pop. As you could guess, the end result was shiny but horrible. Take a look:

Yep, those scratches showed right through the clear!

I shot one coat and immediately it hit me. Duh! So, it was back to the wet sanding to remove the clear coat, clean, and then sand with 500, 1000, 1500, 2500, 3000 (yes, 3000) and then buff with some Meguiar's before shooting clear coat.

Even after 3000 grit, you can see the quick work that polish makes of the surface.

Look at the difference!

Once we had a super nice finish I cleaned up all of the surfaces one more time and prepped for what I hoped to be my final time to shoot a clear coat.

I was very happy with the final results.

Once the clear coat was dry, I prepared the surfaces of the head and the valve covers for fresh gaskets. I used a little Permatex on the valve cover lip to allow the cork gaskets to adhere to the aluminum. (Once the sealer is tacky I like putting the gaskets into position and turning the cover right side of up to put a little weight on the gasket as well. Of course, a flat surface is important here as it will place equal pressure all around the perimeter of the gasket. When I am ready to install, the head side of the gasket receives a light coating of lithium grease.)

For Permatex, a little goes a long way.

I like to use a little white lithium grease on the head side of the gasket.

If you are into saving nickels and dimes, this next tip will help. The hardware kits (studs, chrome washers, acorn nuts, etc) available from restoration supply companies can be rather expensive - $4 or $5 bucks for one acorn nut seems outlandish. Go to your local hardware store - or a Menards at least - and search through the bins of nuts and bolts. Most often, these stores have a chrome hardware section and the pieces are much, much cheaper than what you find from the Thunderbird aftermarket retailers. Of course, I did source the longer studs from TeeBird Auto Parts. NOTE: if you install the Thunderbird valve covers, you will find that your studs for the Ford sheet metal covers are way too short. Even after installing the correct studs, I had a small problem with fitment.

You can locate chrome hardware locally much cheaper than mail order.

When I installed the grommets there was not enough thread for the washer and nut.

The grommets had to be shaved for the nuts to thread onto the studs.

These covers turned out just fine for a driver car like my 55!

The red and teal colors on the Thunderbird make the cover pop.

Very soon I plan to be firing up the 292 Y Block in the 1955 Ford Fairlane and post the results of the camshaft upgrade and the new headers. I already have video number three posted to my YouTube channel, but I would like to wait until my next blog post to link that video so that I will only have two total posts on the blog concerning the Isky E4 work. I am discovering that the work to document a number of these thing is bordering on running my own Y Block TV show!


In just a few short weeks I will be at the Fast Fords race weekend and the Y Block Nationals at Dragway 42 in West Salem, Ohio. I sure do hope you can join us!

Once again I will be serving as chaplain of Fast Fords on Father's Day weekend. A very large tent will be erected for the coffee and donuts Saturday morning, the drivers' meeting later that day, and for the Sunday morning service when I will speak on "Victory at the Finish Line." We will have a Drag Racer's New Testament for anyone who attends. The race programs and New Testaments are being printed by, a partner ministry in the church in which I serve. Hope to see you there!

The Hot Rod Reverend

aka Daniel Jessup


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