The last time I played with clay was during art class in elementary school. I remember it clearly, because I smooshed a big chunk of yellow clay in Heidi BeGole’s hair, Mrs. Alford made me sit out in the hallway, and I thought I’d be sent to jail.
So you can’t blame me for staying away from the stuff until a few weeks ago. That’s when the folks from 3M invited me to check out their Car Care Auto Fair that they’d set up at Michigan International Speedway during the 3M Performance 400 NASCAR weekend.
I jumped at the opportunity, because I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to spruce up the appearance of my, uh, weathered 1967 MGB/GT. When I bought my MG in San Francisco last fall, it was very solid but came with a paint job fairly typical of vintage California cars: sun-faded, chipped, and altogether tired. Since I was already planning on driving the MG to MIS (where I moonlight for the track’s media center staff), the 3M people said I could have one of their experts take a look at it.
Enter 3M’s resident car-appearance guru, Dan Wittek, who took one look at my MG and grabbed a clay bar and a couple bottles of wax before I even had a chance to park the car. By the time he was finished, the car looked completely refreshed, better than I thought it could look without a fresh paint job.
3M currently offers eleven consumer Car Care appearance products, in addition to a huge number of products for professional body shops and the like. All those products can be a bit overwhelming (and pricey), but the results proved to me that the investment can be well worth it. Here’s a summary of how Dan and I revitalized my Grampian gray MG:
1. First up was 3M’s Quick Wax, which we used as a lube for the 3M Cleaner Clay, which–like an extremely fine sandpaper–quickly and easily removed the slightly rough-feeling finish of the paint, “surface contaminants,” as Dan calls them. Instead of the Quick Wax, Dan points outs, “a soapy water solution would work well, also.”
2. Applying the clay makes your hands and your sheetmetal stickier than the business end of a 3M Post-it note. 3M One Step Cleaner Wax on a cloth rag was Dan’s prescription to clear away the stickiness: “This product has a small amount of mineral that will remove light oxidation but also leaves a protective waxed finish,” he says. “It’s designed to be used by hand.”
My dad always taught me to apply wax in a tight, circular pattern (wax on, wax off), but Dan suggests supplementing this roundabout approach with up/down and left/right attacking motions to reduce streaking.
On the most basic shadetree, Saturday afternoon level, that was it–3M’s near-miracle-working products transformed my MG’s grungy finish into a much smoother feel and shinier look. (Thankfully, from my perspective, the car still retains its charming patina–it’s just significantly cleaner-looking.)
Dan wasn’t satisfied, though.
For some extra zing, he used a more aggressive approach on the hood to create the requisite Before & After look to impress the Sunday pre-race MIS crowds.
Dan explains: “We used masking tape to split the MG’s hood and give a bigger WOW for the difference in finish. We started by using 3M Cleaner Clay again, followed by 3M Rubbing Compound in combination with a wool pad attached to a high speed buffer running at 1500 rpm. This process quickly removes surface imperfections like oxidation, stains & water-spots. The gritty cut of this compound, in conjunction with the wool pad leaves a courser finish than the One Step Cleaner Wax though, and it must be followed up with a refining step to remove any swirls that may be in the finish. We used 3M Scratch Remover with a black foam polishing pad to tackle those swirls.
“The best way to finish the job,” Dan continues, “is to apply 3M Performance Finish, a synthetic wax that gives class-leading results in gloss and durability. This product improves gloss slightly and helps get rid of any remaining fine swirls from the second buffing step.
Of course, there are numerous other quality car care products (Armor All, Lexol, Meguiar’s, Mother’s, NuFinish, etc.) on the market that can give you great results. You might be surprised how much better your car can look if you invest a bit of money and part of your weekend—just try to stay out of the direct sunlight on a 90-degree day, as we had to do. “Shaded areas are a must!” says Dan.
My MG’s paint wasn’t the hottest thing at MIS, though. While Dan and I polished my car, automotive babe and former cohost of Overhaulin’ Courtney Hansen stopped by to compliment me on my ride.
Photos courtesy of Lorin Robinson, 3M