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This article might better be titled "Refinishing MY Fuchs Wheels" since this is really just an article explaining what I learned when I refinished my wheels, and does not contain any expert knowledge.
It all began when I picked up a set of 6x16 Fuchs for my 914. These wheels were in great condition, but didn't have the look that I was interested in. They were finished like most factory 911SC wheels with black centers and a shiny outer rim (Figure 1). It is very unclear to me what processes were used to create the factory finish, and it is apparent that others have the same confusion. For instance, I have heard the black centers referred to as an anodized coating. I have also heard of the shiny outer rim finish as an anodized finish. I will speak about each of the finishes in this article, but like I said, I am not really sure what these finishes actually are.
The look that I was going after for these wheels was essentially an all silver finish with polished spokes. After examining my wheels, I decided to leave the shiny outer rim alone, to strip off all of the black finish, and then to polish the spokes.
I began by stripping the black finish. I believe that this black finish is simply paint, but as you will find out, a very good quality paint that is very difficult to remove. Anyway, I expected to apply a chemical paint stripper and have the paint come right off. Easy right? Well, easier said than done. It turns out that it takes a lot of elbow grease to remove this paint. I tried 2 different types of stripper - one came in a paint can from an auto parts store, and the other was a gel type made by Jasco that I applied with a brush. They both seemed to work equally well, but I would recommend the aerosol type because it is much easier and faster to apply. Let it sit for 20 minutes or so to soften up the paint, and then start scrubbing. I found that using a small brass wire brush about the size of a toothbrush worked best. Scrub off as much as you can, and then wash it all off with water. Then start all over again. It took me at least 3 or 4 applications before all of the paint was gone. Also, use some gloves when working with the paint stripper. It is toxic stuff and it does sting when you get it on your skin.
Now that the wheel is stripped, it was time to begin polishing the spokes. I began to hand sand the spokes with sandpaper only to discover that I was not yet down to the bare aluminum. Under the black paint is another very hard, very durable finish that is silver in color. I believe that this finish is a hard anodized coating, although it could be some sort of plating (I will refer to it as anodizing). Either way, you've got to get through it before you can do any polishing. The only way to get through it that I know is sandpaper. This is not something you want to do by hand unless you have lots of time to kill and need to build up your arm/hand/finger muscles. I used a 5" round electric sander which worked very well. A 4" square or one of those triangular detail sanders should also work fine. I think I used 180 grit paper to remove the anodizing on the spokes and then followed up with 240 grit. This hard coating will dull the sandpaper very quickly, so change paper often.
Now that the anodizing was gone from all of the surfaces that I wanted to polish, it was time to start hand sanding. I started with 340 wet/dry sandpaper (all the hand sanding was done wet). Then worked my way to up 400, 600 and finally 1000 grit. With each grit of sandpaper, I sanded first in one direction and then 90 degrees to that direction, each time being sure to eliminate all scratches in any orientations not in line with the sanding direction. That way you are sure to eliminate all scratches deeper than the grit sandpaper you are using. This hand sanding process took me approx. 1.5 - 2 hours per wheel. I decided not to finish up the spokes with polishing until the rest of the wheel was complete.
Next I had to figure out what to do with the background. My original plan was to leave this the natural dull aluminum color. However, I discovered 2 problems with this: 1. The anodized finish was not a uniform color, but rather splotchy. 2. The ends of the spokes where the polishing was to end was not a cleanly defined line. So I had no option but to paint the background. So I masked the wheel and painted it with a light charcoal spray paint (pretty much looks silver, but I was trying for a dull aluminum look).
With the background painted, all that was left was to polish up the spokes. I used a Mag Aluminum wheel polishing compound from an auto parts store (Eagle One brand). Apply the compound, polish a bit, and rub it off. This left me with a mirror-like finish on the spokes. Wow, now that looks good! This polishing compound leaves a residue on the polished area to protect the bare aluminum. Originally, I had planned to clearcoat the whole wheel to cut down on the maintenance, but I could not find a clearcoat that would not dull the polished finish, so I guess I'll have to re-polish these periodically. The bare aluminum finish is soft enough that I think that even a cleaning brush will scratch it. Is this what all people with polished wheels have to deal with? If anyone has any solutions, please drop me a note.
Well, the wheels now look great, and they turned out with pretty much the effect that I was going for. A before and after photo is shown in Figure 2. What a difference huh? Figure 3 and Figure 4 shows them being test fit on the rear of the 914. What an improvement over those Rivieras! Now I've got to address the 5-bolt conversion....
You will notice I only polished the faces of the spokes. Most polished Fuchs are polished halfway down the side of the spoke as well (Figure 5). I chose not to do this because I didn't think it would be noticeable given that I planned to leave the background silver. If the background will be black (or most any other contrasting color), you will probably want to polish the spokes in the traditional way. Be warned though, that it will be significantly more work to remove the anodizing and sand and polish around these curved surfaces.
One last thing about the factory finish on the shiny outer rim. I would have guessed that this was a polished surface and then clearcoated (hence the dulled finish). However, I found that it was not affected by the chemical paint remover so I don't believe that there is a clearcoat finish on this. It is also a very hard and durable finish. However it was finished, if you want to polish this outer rim as well, you will probably have to sand through this finish similar to what was done on the spokes. Once again, a lot more work.
If you have any info to add to this article, or have any info on the different factory finished, I would like to hear from you. Drop me a note at: firstname.lastname@example.org Even if you don't have anything useful to add, but found this article informative or helpful, let me know. I always like to hear from people who I have managed to help.
Scott Thacher adds:
If you put oven cleaner on the anodized parts of the wheels, it will remove the anodizing from the alumnium.