Updated: Dec 27, 2019
Installing Stainless Steel Trim
In the midst of classic car restoration there are very few things more gratifying than installing the final pieces of stainless steel trim or chrome emblems on the painted surfaces. Fresh paint and clean brightwork really "pop" and make the panel come alive. While the look is often rewarding, the process of getting there can be quite frustrating for a novice like myself. Take for instances these clips:
Ahead of time I had purchased two sets of SS trim clips with which I could install both the passenger and driver side fender trim for the Fairlane series. I have discovered after working with a plethora of reproduction "factory" clips that most of the time the metal used is too thin, breaks easily, or the clip does not even come close to matching the original. The above photo shows most of the clips in one package, but I did have to substitute better clips from a hardware store because some of these broke or were just simply the wrong size. For the fender trim I decided to lay out the buffed stainless upside down and measure out the distances by using masking tape.
This helped tremendously in being able to simply turn the piece over and line up the holes to the fender itself. From there all that I had to do was install each nut and cinch the trim down to the fender (not too tight, no need to mar paint or damage stainless steel!) To say that working with stainless steel is tedious would be an understatement. I have spent what seems like days going over these trim pieces with various grades of sandpaper and then buffing them out. After all of that, not one piece is near perfect but it will have to do for a driver car. The paint job is a 5 footer anyway so why not the stainless steel trim? I think that at times I make a compromise between time and quality. The old adage, "speed costs money, how fast do you want to go?" is akin to "quality costs time, how shiny do you want it to be?"
Thankfully the fenders mounted to the car without much fanfare (more on that in a later post). From there we moved on to the trim that attaches to the doors. These pieces were of course sanded and buffed ahead of time and the clips were laid out in order. There were problems... take for instance this small screw. It was my original and it is used on the clip furthest to the front as the screw goes through the sheet metal of the door at the seal. The new "factory" clips did not come with hardware like this and if you substitute make sure you use something the right length! It has to be long enough to reach, but short enough so that you don't go through your stainless and dent things up. Again, towards the rear of the door I had to substitute the clip that has the small wire attached - it acts like a spring and keeps things secure to the car. Yes, there is more difficulty in that you have to get behind those clips and screw a nut on the end - but once installed, the trim piece is not going anywhere!
The immediate picture above shows the initial installation - a bit too low. However all of the holes are slotted so there is plenty of room to slide the trim piece up or down as needed.
The adjustments were made and without too much fanfare the pieces looked good on the doors.
Next, we moved our attention to the rear quarter panel and that long spear. The process was as follows: tape the spear to the car to align the holes for the clips, use masking tape to mark each location, remove the piece to the bench to install the clips and remove tape, and then reinstall the spear onto the car using said clips. Most of the clips used were of the variety shown.
I did use three clips of a similar style as these that had a different keeper. Whereas the clips shown above uses a threaded stud, I had three locations a side where access to screw a nut to said stud was limited. I did use a few that were push on, snap in style as opposed to running the whole length with these, but no one will notice and the spears are on tightly and look great.
The driver's side received the same treatment.
When it came time to install the trim that goes on the door and just below the quarter window, I am glad I checked out the lengths. At first glance, it would seem that you could swap both the driver side and the passenger side door trim - you can see in the photos below that they are different.
For reference, the piece up close to the window is the trim that is correct for the passenger side. These pieces installed with the same clips I used for the spears, but you do have to watch the studs - they can be way too long and need a trim so your door will close properly and the seal will fit well.
The immediate photo above shows two clips. The one on the left is what I removed from the car during disassembly, and the one on the right is the new one. It had to be cut down and shortened to fit properly. The rest of the trim went on the car without much issue, and I thought that the easiest to install was the rear most trim that goes on the top of the quarter panel back to the tail lights. You do have be aware that these small clips are used near that quarter window, one on either side:
They are used at that joint where the top rear spear, the quarter window trim, and the stainless trim for the rear window all meet up. I left these a tick loose so that I can draw all of this in after I install the rear glass with its stainless. Since the rear glass will have a brand new seal I would imagine that things will get tight back there.
For now I am pretty satisfied with the appearance, but I am really thrilled with how secure it all seems. I remember some of these pieces being a little loose when I was a teenager. The only stainless steel pieces left to install are the windshield and rear glass, hood trim, and the small pieces at the rear wheel openings. Back to the buffing wheel!