This article is one in a series that have been released in conjunction with Wayne's book, 101 Projects for Your Porsche 911. The book contains 240 pages of full color projects detailing everything from performance mods to changing your brake pads. With more than 650+ full-color glossy photos accompanying extensive step-by-step procedures, this book is required reading in any Porsche 911 owner's collection. See The Official Book Website for more details.
One of the most popular cosmetic upgrades that Porsche owners perform on their cars is to polish their alloy wheels. This is a task that is not to be entered into lightly, and requires quite a bit of effort and elbow grease to get it right. Proper preparation and meticulous attention to detail are necessary in order to avoid creating a sloppy looking job.
The process of preparation of the wheels for polishing is probably the most difficult aspect of the job. Most of the factory alloy wheels have been anodized with a hard protective covering. On top of the anodized coating, the factory often applied black paint. In order to perform a good job polishing your alloy wheels, you will have to remove both the paint and the anodized coating. Keep in mind that the coatings on your wheels may be different than what you might expect because the previous owner of your car might have already had them refinished. The process of polishing and painting works best if the tires are removed from the wheel.
Assuming that your wheels have black paint on them, the first step that you need to do is strip the paint. Purchase some brush-on paint remover and apply a coat to the paint that is on the wheels. Don't continue to brush the remover, as this will only make it evaporate. Make sure that you use thick chemical-proof gloves and wear old clothes: paint remover will burn right through your skin if given the chance! Make sure that you do this in a well ventilated area.
After you apply the remover, leave it there for about 5-10 minutes. You should be able to see the paint begin to bubble off of the surface. Using a piece of steel wool, scrub and scrape the paint off of the surface of the wheel. Using a plastic paint scraper may help remove chunks of paint as well. Apply another coat of remover when no more paint will come off, and repeat the process until the wheel is free of paint.
Once your wheel is free of paint, you will need to remove the hard, silver-colored anodized coating. Remember that not all wheels came with this coating, so yours may not require this step. Simply put, you need to sand down the anodized coating until it is no longer on the wheel. You can do this by hand, but it will probably take many, many hours, and you will probably need a new hand when you are done.
You can also use an electric sander or a buffing wheel on a handheld buffer or hand drill. For the electric sander, use 180 grit sandpaper, and make sure that you change it often, as the coating will easily wear out the sandpaper. Follow up your initial sanding with a finer 240 grit.
If you are using a buffing wheel, start out with 80 grit grinding paste. When you apply the paste to the wheel, make sure that you let it dry out a bit before you use it. The wet paste will not work as well because the water will actually act as a lubricant. After a few minutes of buffing the wheel, you will see the anodized coating begin to come off. Make sure that you keep applying new paste to the wheel as it wears out. Clean the coating out of the buffing wheel with a small buff rake, as this will help the overall process. Again, patience is a virtue here. Turn on the radio and make sure that you take your time.
Another trick that I heard about but did not have enough time to actually try out before writing this book was to use lye on the surface of the wheel to remove the anodized coating. Lye is one of the most caustic and poisonous substances around, so exercise extreme caution when handling and disposing of it. Lye mixed with water is supposed to instantly dissolve the anodized coating.
Once both the paint and the anodized coatings have been removed, then it's time to mirror polish the wheels. Beverly Frohm from the Orange County Region of the Porsche Club of America suggests using Mother's Wheel Polish, and cautions against using standard rubbing compound, as it can scratch your rims. Using a slightly damp rag, scoop out about two fingers worth of polish. If you haven't done this before, I recommend that you use a flat part of the wheel to start with.
Using a circular motion, apply the polish in a similar manner to the application of car wax. Press down on the rag, but don't use too much force. Keep rubbing until the compound begins to disappear. At this point the rag will turn black, but don't worry as this is a normal occurrence. Wipe off the wheel with a clean, dry cloth, and you will begin to see the shine coming out of the wheels. Again, patience and perseverance are key to doing a good job. Repeat the process of applying and rubbing down the wheel until you get the finish that you are looking for. Plan on spending a few hours on each wheel: any less, and it's probably not worth you starting the job.
Another good product worth mentioning is Wenol. This polishing compound reduces the amount of elbow-grease that you need in order to produce a really good quality shine. The Wenol line of products work on the metal in a similar manner to the polishing compound, except that there is a type of chemical reaction occurring as well, which helps to give a good shine with a minimal amount of work.
Don Haney of Pelican Parts has a special tip to offer for polishing wheels. Known for his immaculately polished Porsche wheel clocks, Don recommends spreading a little bit of baby powder on the surface of the wheel. When you blow away the baby powder it will reveal scratches in the surface of the wheel that are very hard to see with the naked eye. Go over these areas again with the polishing compound in order to remove the scratches.
Fixing Deep Scratches
Really deep scratches are best fixed by a wheel polishing professional, but there are some tips to hide and remove scratches from your wheel. Take some 1500 grit sandpaper and wet it down with water. Using an even motion, carefully sand the area that is scratched, blending it into the surrounding area. This technique will be similar to color sanding paint on a car. To assist you with the sanding job, you can purchase special rubber pads at most automotive parts stores. These pads can help you sand more evenly than your fingers normally can.
Once the area where the scratch is located feels as smooth as the surrounding area, take some wet 2000 grit sandpaper and go over the area again using the same motion and technique as previously used. Make sure that you keep the sandpaper wet: when you rinse it off, you are washing away tiny metal particles that can ruin your sanding job. Once the area is smooth, then simply repeat the steps previously described to polish the wheel.
Painting the Wheels
Painting is the easiest of the jobs described here. Start by elevating the wheels on a bench or table so that you can have good access to them. Again, remember to only work in a well-ventilated area. Start by carefully masking off any area of the wheel that you do not wish to have painted. This is not an easy job, as there are many curves and valleys in the typical 911 Fuchs wheels. Avoid using newspaper to mask your wheels as it is a bit too thin, and can bleed paint onto the aluminum finish. I prefer using pages from old magazines, as they are much thicker and will protect the unpainted areas much better.
The masking job needs to be almost perfect. Spend time making sure that straight lines are indeed straight, and not wavy. A poor masking job will make the wheels look very cheap and amateurish. Also make sure that you spend some time carefully masking the curves of the petals on the wheels.
When painting the wheels, it's a wise idea to apply a thin layer of self-etching primer. This will help the paint adhere to the aluminum surface. When the primer has dried, take some 1000 grit sandpaper and wet sand the primer to make sure that it is perfectly smooth. Remember to keep the sandpaper wet all the time.
Now, apply a thin coat of the satin black aerosol paint. You will have to use trial and error to find the best brand of paint that you prefer: most garden-variety aerosol paints will be fine. Wait for the paint to dry and then apply another layer. If you would like a really smooth finish, then wet sand each layer of paint with 1000 grit sandpaper in-between each coat. This, of course, significantly adds to the total time for the project.
Only when the paint has completely dried, remove the masking tape and paper. You should have a fine set of polished and painted wheels, shiny enough to rival any good concours car.
One of the most important aspects of paint application or removal is the proper masking of the wheel. With this particular wheel, it was desired to protect the outer rim of the wheel from the paint remover. The circular shape has been carefully masked off with blue plastic tape, and then covered with masking tape. The blue plastic tape bends and stretches much more easily than the masking tape and thus can be made to fit to curves a lot more smoothly.
Two options for your wheels are silver paint and full polishing. Without a doubt, the silver paint is the easiest option and sometimes preferred by 911 owners. Whereas full polishing may take several hours per wheel, the application of silver paint to your wheels can be performed in an afternoon. These wheels were originally damaged in accidents. They are shown here sliced in half, in preparation to be turned into wall clocks.
Wenol polishing compounds and formulations give a really good mirror finish without a lot of elbow grease. The two varieties shown here reflect the coarse (red) formulation that is used to polish surfaces that are very dull. The milder compound (blue) both polishes to a mirror shine and also protects the surface as well. Wenol can be used on just about any metallic surface, plated or polished.