Chrome plating isn’t exactly something you do at home in your garage, since the process involves baths of cyanide, sulfuric acid and some form of chromium (usually chromium trioxide, chromium sulfate or chromium chloride). Never inexpensive, the cost of getting something chrome plated has skyrocketed as more and more restrictions are placed on the chemicals used. Today, when you find a shop that still does chrome plating, chances are that the prices will be astronomical, especially if the shop does first rate work.
So what options do you have for putting a chrome finish on small parts? You can’t just hit them with silver spray paint, because that never looks good. You can try painting them in a different color, but some things just look right in chrome. Besides, if you’re restoring an old car for the show circuit, you don’t exactly want to show judges your interpretation of what the designers had in mind.
Jay Leno gets all the good toys, so leave it to him to find a process that replaces chrome plating for small parts. Marketed by a German company calling themselves Chrome Solutions (www.chromesolutions.de), the process involves four steps. First, the item to be chromed is prepped by sanding and filling in any pits with a suitable material (solder, Bondo, etc.). Next, a base paint is applied via spray gun, as it the item were being painted instead of chromed. When the base paint sets up, a thin metal layer is sprayed on the item, with no regard for runs, orange peel or paint flaws. When this surface cures (shortly after application), a clearcoat is applied to protect the “chromed” surface. The cool part? The clearcoat, which is water based, can be tinted any shade you’d like to enhance the appearance. Make mine black chrome, please.
Originally developed for the mirror industry, the process adapts well to the automotive restoration business. You can’t tell from the video how durable the finished product is, and Leno himself admits that it’s not for use on large surfaces like bumpers. Still, for updating tired parts on a restoration, this may be just the lower cost, environmentally responsible solution that gear heads have been waiting for.
Update: Since I posted this article in July of 2010, there’s been an incredible amount of interest in Chrome Solutions. Unfortunately, the company seems to have gone out of business, since I’ve had no luck in tracking down any further information. The closest competitors I could find are Spray On Chrome and Alsa Corporation; for additional information on the products they produce, please contact the companies directly via the above links.