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To Buff Or Not To Buff ?
 
March 23 2014
 
For the past couple of seasons, I have noticed that the finish on my 1960 Thunderbird hardtop was not as nice as it once was. I had started to notice water marks and swirl marks in the black paint, mostly on the horizontal surfaces like the hood and trunk lid. So this past winter I decided to do some research on the topic, to see what I could learn about possible remedies.
 
The paint on my car is about 90% original, and close-up is showing its age. When the hood is up and the light is just right, the swirls are very apparent. There is what I would describe as dullness around most of the bright work trim and a couple of spots  of what is probably tree sap. In the summer, she is more-or-less a daily driver, usually garaged overnight but spends a fair amount of time outdoors, rain or shine. Gets hand washed every couple weeks with Blue Coral Car Wash Concentrate and hand-waxed with Meguiar's Mirror Glaze Hi Tech Yellow Wax once or twice a season.  Beyond that, having reached the ripe old age of 62 without ever having owned or used an electric buffer, I admit to being an absolute novice when it comes to proper care and feeding of vintage automotive paint. So, off to the Google I went, hoping she would provide some guidance!  
 
My first stop was the always reliable  Squarebirds.org. This website is composed of discussion boards, or forums, for all the Thunderbird generations. It is a valuable source of information shared by Thunderbird enthusiasts from around the globe.  I started a discussion thread in the 1958-1960 Technical Discussion forum called  Want To Bring Some Luster Back... and while I was waiting for replies, continued to research other sources. The ClassicCars About  website covers many topics and I found it to be pretty informative. I also found some videos on Youtube by someone who calls himself "1 Owner Car Guy". He is a bit of an acquired taste personality-wise, but his videos are good. Here's one showing him buffing out a  Red 1972 Buick . In this 2nd video, he used a  Clay Bar On A Blue Mercedes. On Wiki How I found this about  How To Wax A Black Car  but it seemed to apply more to modern car finishes than vintage. After absorbing all this info, I was pretty well convinced that I had a trip to Harbor Freight in my future to buy an electric multi-speed polisher /  buffer.
 
What did the experts at Squarebirds have to say? Initially not too much. I had expected a veritable avalanche of responses and suggestions, as I assumed many folks, especially with black cars, had had similar problems to what I was experiencing. After posting a reply to my own thread saying that I was considering getting an electric buffer, the comments and suggestions from the experts started to roll in. This first one from a very knowledgeable former Ford Motor Company employee in Royal Oak Michigan. (I use the nickname Del on the squarebirds site.)
Del, if you want to get yourself in a whole lot of trouble, go ahead, buy the buffer and 'wheel' away. I guarantee you will regret it.
Most folks have never used a buffer, and for good reasons. There is a lot to this and there are many variables between car finishes and even paint colors.
I suggest you go to a body and paint shop and pick the brains of those who buff new paint jobs. If you simply 'go at it', you may have huge chunks of paint come off your car from overheating, or you might burn down to the metal in high areas. Metal flake and solid colors polish differently, too.

The idea behind a buffing is to cut the top off your paint. So, which compounds do you use? There are dozens, for different purposes. Seek professional help for your specific needs.

I hope I saved you from disaster. - Dave

And another from a member in Australia...
Hi Del
Take note of Dave's remarks & stay away from electric buffs. It may take longer to hand rub but the results are sooooo much better & no chance of overheating the paint.
I have a raven black 59 Del & had the same problem last year that you have now (water marks on the paint that won't polish out)
Here is the method I used & it was recommended to me by an automotive spray painter where I used to work. Works a treat!!!!

Clay bar is the only way to remove the marks & any other "foreign" matter in/on the paint.
Being in Australia, I can only buy clay bars in a pack together with a 473ml bottle of detailer. I buy Meguiars Quick Detailer including two clay bars. Mothers also supply a detailer & clay bars in a pack. (Mothers California Gold Clay Bar)
Maybe in the U.S you can purchase clay bars seperately but I sure can't in Australia.

Method as follows:
1. Do a small area at a time. Lightly spray the area with the Detailer & use the clay bar in a back & forth movement over that area. The detailer is only used as a lubricant to stop the clay bar from sticking to the surface. I have been told that a light spray of water is just as good as using detailer as a lubricant.
2. When clay barring is complete, use Meguiars Scratch X 2.0 either with a microfibre cloth or a foam applicator. This will remove any remaining light scratches or swirls on the paint.
3. Finish with Meguiars NXT Tech Wax 2.0. Apply with the foam applicator supplied & buff with micro fibre cloth.

I think you will find that this method will work Del.
It sure did for me. The "secret" is it will take time because of hand rubbing but definitely worth it.

Good Luck Del
Lex
And finally...
I use the clay bar but also use Mequiars polish before I wax. On my wife's Guards Red Porsche we polished it, by hand, before waxing and the paint really shines and looks deep. I don't think you can beat Mequiars.
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So. I did not get a single suggestion, recommendation or opinion in favor of the electric buffing method. Looks like I'll be talking to a car finish professional before I go beyond the manual methods recommended. What say you? Have you had experiences -- good or bad -- with electric polishers? Or, are you strictly manual? If you care to opine, send me an email to webmaster@buffalothunderbirdclub.org. I'll provide an update on my progress once Spring has finally Sprung!
 
Don Vincent
Vice President and Web Wrangler
Buffalo Thunderbird Club