Nothing can ruin the presentation of your restoration more than a scratched, stained, faded and dirty set of wheels. This is the challenge that I was recently faced with for my 68 GTO. I wanted to show the car more but was a bit embarrassed by the appearance of the original wheels. My wheels were greased stained on the inside, so much so that they looked black. On the outside, each wheel also showed signs of multiple lost battles with the curb. The paint was faded and lacking luster.

Before After

Beginning in 1967, the Rally II wheels were introduced as an option for the Pontiac GTO. The wheels have a spoked look, with a 2-tone finish of charcoal gray and silver.

When deciding to do a wheel restoration, you should first answer some questions to determine how deep you get into the restoration. It is possible that a rejeuvenation might be all that is necessary or worthy. How straight are the rims? How bad is the rust? How much do you want to spend on tools? Are the wheels even worth restoring? For example, if you're doing a concourse restoration of the car, it might make more sense to buy a new set of Rally II wheels instead of attempting to revive an old, beat up set. Also, if restoring, if the rims are in great shape and will look new once restored, you may want to go the route of taking the tires off the rim and sandblasting the wheels to remove all the old paint and dirt. 

In my case, the wheels weren't in good enough condition to warrant a professional job. Also, I'm not going for a concourse resto. So I took the rejeuvenation approach, degreased, sanded, cleaned, masked, primed, and then painted - with the tires on. Here are the steps that I took.

  1. Pick your paint
  2. Thoroughly de-grease and clean the wheels, front and back
  3. Remove any surface rust and wet sand the wheels
  4. Clean the wheels and let them dry
  5. Mask the tires
  6. Prime and top coat wheel insides
  7. Prime and apply multiple top coats to wheel outsides
  8. Apply multiple clear coats
  9. Remove mask and enjoy!

Pick your paint

Following the advice of the experts at Ames Performance, I decided to go with the following paint in order to get the closest match to the original:
  1. Dupli-Color Silver M Truck, Van and SUV paint #T229 - This is the base silver color
  2. Eastwood Charcoal Gray Wheel Paint #10003Z - This is the gray for the spokes
  3. And as you can see in the before and after pics, the colors are extremely close. Both of the top coats are lacquer finishes. This is important because you can't paint lacquer over enamel (I guess you can but it will look like crap). I also chose a lacquer based clear coat, Dupli-Color Acrylic Lacquer #DAL1695.

For the back side of the wheels, I really didn't paint match, instead choosing a Dupli-Color Metalcast Groundcoat #MC100. This doesn't matter to me because I'm not going for a concourse resto and nobody is going to be looking at the underside of my car.

Clean the wheels

In my case, I had 40 years of grease buildup on the inside of the wheels. The outside wasn't nearly as bad. Obviously, this is important because paint won't adhere properly to the wheel if it comes into contact with dirt or grease. The result is a coat that won't apply well or last long. Lots of scrubbing, lots of de-greaser, lots of elbow-grease required (no removal necessary).

Prep the wheels for paint

For me, this required removing some rust on the outside of the wheels and thoroughly wet-sanding. Obviously, the best way to prep the wheels would be to bead-blast down to the bare metal. This is a huge amount of additional work and should probably only be done with a set of worthy wheels. Mine were not in great shape, and I'm lazy, so I kept the tires off and sanded enough to remove the last couple coats of paint.

Clean the wheels and tires and let them dry

You'll want to get all the dust and dirt from sanding off the wheels and tires. Soap and water will do for the wheels. Removing all grease, tire black or any other applicants from the tires will pay dividends towards the next step.

Mask the tires

You don't want to get any paint on the tires. This will look ghetto and getting paint off rubber is not easy. One trick you can use is the application of Vaseline along the edges. This will help keep overspray off the tires. Vaseline is also easy to remove. I didn't opt for this, instead relying on really sticky masking tape over grease-free tires.

Prime and top coat the inside of the wheels

Prime and top coat the outside of the wheels

Apply clearcoat finish

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