Time is a bit of a premium this close to Christmas, but I still wanted to make sure I could squeeze some Cadillac time in. On Sunday I decided to make a start on a job which had been staring at me in the shed for many months…….
One thing the 59 and 60 Cadillacs are known for is their grille. The grille announced that a Cadillac was coming, and the detail involved in assembly is significant. It is all made from aluminium which has been anodized to give it a hard surface and also help keep the jewel effect.. Each horizontal and vertical piece is separate, and it is all held together by the ‘bullets’ which lock it together at each crossover.
My grille and bumper assembly was looking a bit sorry for itself.
I thought I would start with the small corner pieces and see if I could successfully I could clean them up – call it a test. They were pretty cruddy. I started with the RH corner piece. A problem appeared straight away – one of the bullet clips was missing. I had no idea where I was going to get one, but I decided to worry about that later.
I first remove the bullets and then disassembled the rest of it.
First job was to tidy up and paint the steel backing plate. I got to work on it with a drill and wire brush to remove the rust and loose paint. Once ready, I gave them a coat of VHT Roll Bar & Chassis paint.
Next was the aluminium parts. I started with a bucket of soapy water, and followed with some 600 grit wet and dry to take off nearly 60 years of grime. After this I washed them in clean water and began polishing using Autosol Metal Polish (sorry no pic).. I followed this up with a coat of Meguiars NXT Tech Wax as it was all I had in the shed. This was a slow process as I had to be careful not to get too enthusiastic with the sanding process and break through the anodizing.
The parts were quite pitted and corroded, so the result was just OK. I was starting to think that the amount of effort required was not worth the result.
I took the LH side corner and gave it the same treatment. This side had much less corrosion, and came up really nice. I was motivated!
Day 2 – Monday
As I am now on annual leave I can work on the grille today 🙂
A quick look at the main grille revealed that there was not much corrosion and pitting. I could see it would be a big job, but I decided I was game to have a crack at it as the results could be good. I removed it from the bumper and then removed the chrome bar it was attached to. I started to remove some bullets after first deciding on a strategy on how I would attack it.
The strategy was to remove the 8 vertical pieces which were all the same, and to remove 3 horizontal pieces. I first numbered each horizontal piece as they are all different lengths and need to go back in the same position.
A unexpected bonus. When I started removing bullets I found one with two clips installed…thank you Mr. Cadillac!
What followed was an epic 3 step process to bring each piece back to its former glory (or as close as I can get it anyway).
First was the careful grime removal using 600 grit wet and dry, followed by a polish with Autosol Metal Polish. The final step was to polish each piece with the NXT Tech Wax to try and seal it.
Working through these bits, I wondered why I was crazy enough to start this.
Starting to think through the assembly, I had another challenge (I had plenty of thinking time while polishing). Each bullet had a piece of rubber bent around the front edge of the horizontal piece which I can only assume was there to stop the bullets rattling. The rubbers were all very brittle and broke easily. I knoew I had to replace each one, but not sure with what. After having a good look at them, I noted that the section was curved. I took a 2′ long piece of 5/16″ fuel hose and cut it into 6 pieces along the axis. This gave me 6 strip which were just the right size, and were springy enough that they would ensure there were no rattles.
I enlisted the services of my 10 year old son Tom to cut up enough pieces of hose to cover every bullet. For anyone interested, there are 113 bullets in a 1959 Cadillac grille.
I assembled the restored pieces back into the grille with a few bullets to hold them in place.
I was then able to remove the remaining pieces and began cleaning them. One of the finer details was the need to clean and polish the front edges of each horizontal and vertical piece as this is visible when assembled, and contributes significantly to the overall jewel effect. Hours later, once these pieces were ready to go back on I started putting everything back together.
It was exciting to be reassembling it, but at the end of day 2 there were still plenty of bullets to polish.
A little more info about the bullet clip for those who are interested. It actually serves a couple of purposes; it holds the bullet in the grille and also pulls all four legs together so they effectively clamp firmly around the two interesecting pieces. It actually yields a really stiff structure when all together. If you look at the pics below you can see how they work.
I found that to remove a clip you need to twist the ‘arrow heads’ so the tip moves downwards. This effectively retracts the barbs as it lifts them upwards and away from the bullet. When you reinstall them, you need to push them down hard so the head is flattened out. This actually engages the barbs to make sure the clip stays in place and keeps tension on the bullet.
Day 3 (Tuesday)
I have sore fingers, and my left wrist is sore from all of the twisting while polishing bullets! Luckily the end is in sight, which makes the pain so worth it. Once I finished polishing and reassembling the bullets into the grille, it looked pretty good. Happy to say there were 3 clips left over from some more double clips, and no bullets left!!
Looking at the bumper, there was no way I was going to put this nice clean grille onto a filthy bumper assembly.
Bring out the Autosol! The first piece I decided to polish up was the bar which supports the grille, and runs through the centre of it. It came up great, and I reassembled the grille to it for some more motivation. It only a matter of clamping it against the chrome bar using 4 screws. I had all of the motivation I needed.
I then started work on the main bar. It is huge. So huge that there was no way I could lift it out of the shed. It took my 2 kids on one end and myself on the other to carry it out.
I polished the monster with Autosol, and followed up with the Tech Wax. Once done it looked great. I reassembled the grill and bar assembly and hey presto……bling!!
I then added the corner pieces to complete the picture.
This marathon effort over 3 days was worth every inch of pain. I can’t wait to reassemble the front of the car so I can bolt this up.
Looking at the back of the assembly it was clear that there should be another 4 straps holding the grille to the main bumper. I can see that the bumper has been re-chromed at some stage, and they have obviously missed putting these back. I cut 4 straps of aluminium I had in the shed, and then realized that I didn’t have any bolts which were the correct length to attach the straps.
Off to the shop for some bolts……stay tuned.