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I got my 93 Caterham a year ago. It was well maintained and the aluminum was very bright. There’s definitely been some oxidation since then. I notice the metal finish of the bonnet is more dull than the rest of the aluminum. My plan is to hand polish all the aluminum with Mother’s Aluminum and Mag Polish. I just want to check and make sure that’s ok. My biggest fear is that the aluminum is coated in some way to stop oxidation and the polish will damage the coating. 
 

Any words of advise would be appreciated.

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The Collings Foundation has restored a number of warbirds and for years and uses Nuvite aluminum polish as do Gulfstream and Bombardier. This is available from Aircraft Spruce (they also stock a number of interesting bits and pieces for folks like us) or directly from Nuvite. Not cheap or over-hyped but it really works. There are a number of youtube videos on the process but take the time to view a broader selection because the guys who produce these videos tend to be somewhat highly opinionated on their personal approach to this. 

 

The basic process is as follows:

 

1. Buy several packages of microfiber clothes from Costco or Amazon. Remove all the labels and tags and wash them in Woolite. Do not use fabric softener or dryer sheets! Get a 6" random orbital polisher with the black or orange foam pads (get extra pads). Griots sells a very effective foam pad cleaning solution that works.

 

2. You will need two grades of Nuvite, coarse © and smooth (S). Check their website for application guidance. 

 

3. If you have very dull or heavily weathered aluminum, you might need some G6, an even coarser grade. 

 

This stuff really works. The initial goal is to polish off the machine or mill finish so that there is no visual granularity remaining. From that point on, you are just working on refining the mirror finish. While all of the aluminum one my car is 6061, the bonnet is a different variant of 6061 and was more challenging to get a nice as the rest of the car. It just requires persistence and patience. I have tried other brands and while most of them work ok, none seem to work as well as this stuff. When I was flying a Gulfstream, my mechanic contacted the Gulfstream finishing shop for guidance. This is the stuff they use on new Gulfstream jets brightwork. Once you have polished the car a few times, it gets easier and easier. Mine is down to an hour of hand touchup every month or so.

 

One of the points of pride in these cars is that they are hand built. It just takes more "hand' at the of the build.

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Mike - You’re making me blush.🙂 And tbh, I’ve never been totally happy with my polishing.  More haze than I’d like.

 

But to answer the original question.  First, I don’t think you want to polish it by hand.  If nothing else, get a HF random orbit sander, and get a polishing pad for it.

 

The first few times I polished, I used Mother’s with a Porter Cable random orbit polisher.  I used pads from Auto Zone, and just used pressure to keep the pad in place.  Not ideal, but it worked.

 

After the first few years of that (I do an annual polish, usually for an auto show that runs each year), I started using Nuvite with a Cyclo polisher.  Nuvite comes in a range of grades.  If you have heavy oxidation or scratches, they recommend you start with a compounding/coarse grade, which you apply with a circular polisher - which essentially means a drill with the right pad attachments.

 

You’ll have scratches after the compounding, but they all come out when you use the finish grade.

 

I still use Mother’s here and there, and I think you can get a very good shine with it.  Probably a good place to start, and decide how much effort you want to put into the polishing.  I end up removing my fenders and windscreen, exhaust, etc, before I polish.  But it’s obviously not necessary to go that far.

 

Oh, and regardless of what you use and how you polish, wear neoprene gloves or your hands will be black. 
 

Enjoy! 🙂

 

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Years ago I began the process of polishing the propeller on an airplane.  One of the airport regulars suggested corn starch to clean the sticky black residue off of the metal.  A little corn starch on the polishing cloth and the black stuff comes right off. 

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I just use the cut up tee shirts in the Bag-O-Rags at HD. Lint free and softer than the towels. I sbspoke with a fellow years ago who prepared concours cars for clients. He only used cotton flannel. He bought it by the bolt. I'm not quite that anal (yet).

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