How To Restore Your Imperial's Hubcaps


Imperial Home Page -> Repair -> Wheels & Tires  -> Restoring Your Wheel covers

Tip from Tom:


 I have never tried this, but I have been told that if you take the wheel covers to a business that deals in sales and service to band instruments, they are equipped to removed or minimize the dents. Has anyone gone this route? It makes sense that if one were for example trying to get top dollar on a good three year old tuba or trombone, there might exist a technique for removing small dents, and that technique might transfer over to hubcaps.


Addition from Mark:


You are absolutely correct. I teach band and I also do repairs on brass instruments. I use some of the same tools for removing dents in hubcaps that I use for brass instrument repair. There are some dents that cannot be gotten to because of the construction of the wheel disc, and the area that is damaged. A Stainless Repair place might be able to get the same results.

Question from Dan:

One of my wheel covers has a black tarnish on the center ring surrounding the emblem. I've tried washing it with a scrub brush in a bath of hot water and liquid detergent, with no luck. Steel wool doesn't work either, which I found odd. My next idea was to try some of that cleaner they use to restore tarnished silverware. But, before possibly wasting my time and money on experiments, I thought I'd ask if anyone has had this problem and what works best.


From Kenyon:

Try Simichrome. Comes in a metal tube like toothpaste used to but smaller in red and yellow stripes lengthwise down the container with a white cap.

-Stuff works great on most metals! The tarnish remover that you have under the kitchen sink (or at the supermarket) may also be a candidate.

From Paul:

Actually I believe it is made in Germany, but it is available here. I have seen it advertised from material houses that sell clock and watch repair supplies. You might be able to find some at a crafts shop or a jewelry store that repairs watches.

From Roy:

Forget the chrome cleaner, the dish around the emblem on '67 wheel covers is supposed to be black!

From Roger:

Try Durachrome polishing wad. I had the same problem on a 58 ford rear tail light section which was pitted. It worked wonders and is sold at Wall Mart. I can't help but wonder if the road solution in that area is what ruined the chrome finish. What year is your car? Most of the cars I seen in Anchorage were rusted out in a few years. That sea air is hard on vehicles even the one on the north slope rusted out in a few years.

Question from Mark:

I just went out to fill up one of my tires and noticed that the hub cap had little rust spots all over it,. Then checking the others, I discovered the little rust spots on all of the hub caps. Last time I looked at them (a few weeks ago when I last filled the tire up) they were fine. Any ideas how to get rid of the rust spots and keep them from coming back?


From Bob:

Even though these wheel covers are stainless steel, it is still possible to have tiny specs of rust depending upon where you live. Here in southern California, we're spoiled with good weather (usually) but remembering my roots back east in Pennsylvania, bumpers and wheel covers would ruse. Some times it was because of a low quality stainless steel.

I have used very fine (00) steel wool on lesser cars' wheel covers but on a stately Imp, you might wish to use a fine polishing compound (white), or if the rust is greater, use rubbing compound (red), then follow up with a wax. This should protect them. A tip- -scrub the rust off the inside, too and wax that.

From Bill:

Another trick we used to do in Western Pennsylvania to combat the wet and salty road conditions, was to clean the front & rear sides of the hubcaps or wheel covers, and also the bumpers. Then apply a coat of Simonize Paste Wax and let it dry, and don't wipe it off the back sides. Some people even left it on the outsides through the winter months.

Question from David:

How do you paint a hub cap?

I recently located a used 54 Imperial hub cap that I wish to restore. It has a black center on (chromed-flashed) stainless steel. I have removed the old black paint. Now, without using my air compressor/paint gun, can I use an aerosol paint on this surface that will stick and not chip? Any suggestions?

Reply from Dick:


Paint has a hard time sticking to highly polished surfaces, but if you pre-wash the area to be painted with a very aggressive, residue free solvent (like "BrakeKleen" or one of the other Carbon Tetrachloride type cleaners) and allow it to dry thoroughly, usually the rattle can lacquers will stick well enough for this purpose. I use Krylon brand, available at Home Depot. Be sure not to touch the surface after you clean it, and use very light coats, repeated enough times to get good coverage after each coat has "set-up" for 10 minutes or so.

Question from Don:

I have spent a couple of days refurbishing my hubcaps. This is a neat project as these hubcaps break down into parts that can then be easily be cleaned and/or repainted and wow what a difference when your done (a lot of bang for your time)! Of course when you do this all of the warts show. I have rebuilt these by separating the good parts from the not so good parts.


From Chris:

This is a task of great fun (if ya like that kinda thing), if only to count the hardware and experience the weight of the covers. I believe they tipped my scale at 13.5 lb, which is about 50% more than the entire alloy wheel of one of my modern cars! I have also seen a photo from the factory back in '67 that showed a woman with a stack of them to her side, balancing each one on a fixture. She was balancing just the wheel cover, no wheel in sight!

A few tips when restoring them:

1.) To see the correct paint scheme for your year, use the wheel cover guide on the club website: 

2.) When painting the areas that require paint (usually matte silver and flat black for these years), I recommend stripping the old paint off (fine steel wool will usually do it), masking the areas to be painted (have fun cutting the circles!) and then starting with a coat of epoxy primer. I have found this to be the only way to keep your new paint from practically washing off the next time you clean the whitewalls.

From John:

Yes, keep in mind that those years at least are balanced. They are balanced at the factory, not when they are on the wheel. If the pieces are not reassembled exactly as they came apart, this could contribute to them flying off the car at the least little bounce. They were hard to keep on the car when new & now that they have been on & off countless times, they are very easy to dislodge.

About all that can be done is make sure that all of the ears with the teeth fit nice & tight to the wheel & that the cover is seated all the way around. Check occasionally on this, since I've had them loosen after long trips. Proper tire inflation may be helpful also. Then keep yours fingers crossed.

Question from Ken:

I have recently been agonizing over the "dings" on the hubcaps on my '63 Crown. You probably know what I mean.... the places where somebody attempted to remove the hubcaps at the wrong place and pushed out little spots with the crowbar.  Has anyone (successfully) attempted pound these spots back out, or perhaps had a body shop work on them?




From Jay:


Metal is "stretched" whenever a ding occurs. The deeper the ding, the more extensive the stretching. Once the metal has been "stretched", it is hard to get it to "un-stretch." Anybody that has done body work will know what I mean. Fortunately, when it comes to body work, fillers can be used to smooth things out and paint is almost always used to finish the job. The latter cannot be done to your '63 hubcaps unless you eventually want to paint them (now there's one I haven't seen yet.) When it comes to hubcaps, once the dings are there, you will never be able to get rid of them completely. But there is something that you can to to minimize them and a lot of the minor ones will virtually disappear. Hubcap dings from using the wrong tool/technique for removal will produce a ding the shape of an outward facing bump (unlike a door or body ding which almost always faces inward). Some of the minor hubcap dings can be minimized by taking a rubber or plastic gripped tool from you favorite toolbox and carefully applying pressure to the exact center of the "nipple" of the ding. If you can find a tool that has a curvature to the face of the handle, the better. For larger dings, find a tool that can apply the greatest amount of surface contact to the ding. The idea here is to push the ding back to where it came from (flush with the original contour). Take your time and don't overdo it. You can do more damage than good if you start pounding at the ding with a heavy object such as a hammer. Always USE YOUR HANDS when working with hubcap dents. That way you know exactly how much force you are applying and you can check your progress as you go. Depending on the severity of the dings, most will never completely disappear. This is acceptable to my Sunday-drivers but if you need perfection as in building a show car, your best bet is to find hubcaps that have no dings to begin with. I don't know what a body shop could do for them. They might not have the patience to work with something that they can't fill 'n' paint. But it wouldn't hurt to check.


From Jeff:


If there are no tears in the metal, but merely dents and scratches, a stainless steel polisher can restore them to new condition. Look for recommendations in your area for stainless steel refinishing.

This page last updated March 10, 2004.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club