I see a grey mirror and I want it back to black.

At nearly 30 years old, and probably past its design life, there are some parts of the BX which are showing their age. One of the more notable are the grey wing mirrors which I’m pretty certain are meant to be black, but how do I get them back to their original colour?

Grey faded old plastic

There are a number of solutions to restoring late 80’s plastics. Ultimately the UV has caused the outer polymer bonds to break down resulting in increased refraction of light and making the mirrors appear optically lighter in colour. Well, that’s my understanding. Different plastic types, mixture and processes along with UV stabilizers help to reduce the effect, but ultimately on a car this age, fading is avoidable.

Silicone, in a black plastic bottle

There are a couple of methods of restoring the ‘black’ appearance, all are effectively trying to seal off the broken polymer chains to stop the reflection of the light which causes the grey appearance.

First up is the fluid surface treatment. Nearly always containing silicone, these treatments usually work after a fashion, but not for particularly long. I’ve had this ‘Turtle Wax – Back in a Flash‘ taking up shelf space since getting it free with a house purchase. I’ve no idea how old it is, but it has a website address so its not as old as the car! Let’s give it a whirl.

Black in a Flash, but for how long

The whole mirror took about a pea-sized blob, applied with an old but clean cloth. Some areas took a bit more force to get it into the texture of the housing. I probably should have washed/prepared the mirror a little better. Its still a bit light in places, and far shinier than I would have liked. Perhaps I should have read the instructions which do say how to avoid the shiny finish, oops.

It’s an okay result, it hasn’t cost me anything, and it’s about what I expected. I think it will be interesting to see how long the colour and shine hold up, it’s warm and sunny right now but being in the UK a biblical storm is probably on the horizon.

Drivers Mirror – Before heat treatment

Second up is the application of fire. And I am totally serious, but partly because I know I have a spare mirror for the driver’s side. Application of heat, to bring the plastic to it’s, erm, plastic limit, will allow the surface to change its composition. I’m not sure if the broken polymer strands ‘fall’ into the good plastic behind or simply bond back together.

The difference in colour is immediate.

Okay, I admit it, I’m not brave enough to use a naked flame, I use a heat gun. A word of warning, you need an even application of heat within a small temperature range (far lower than the flame temperature). A little too much heat and you’ll lose definition and the part will look smooth and runny forever. A bit more than that and the housing will start to droop and deform. Keep going and the fire brigade will nip round and give you at least a half-hour of not-exactly-gentle ribbing.

Driver side – After heat treatment

The end result is closer to what I want, but still not quite a new-car appearance. Consistency of the finish is variable because there is only so much winding up I can take from the fire brigade in one lifetime. The final colour is better than the silicone ‘wax’ approach, and from experience, should last quite a bit longer.

A note of caution. Heat application doesn’t work on the section directly against the door, nor the door handles. The section against the door is filled with a reinforcement (probably glass) and will just burn. I’ve tried the door handles and with just-less-than-paint-destroying temperature, there is no colour change.

As usual, when trying to cover over grey at 30 something years old, you can give the appearance of youth for a little while, but ultimately the grey will show back through and time between reapplication will get shorter and shorter. Good job I’ve got a whole bottle of ‘Black in a Flash’ to get through!

M

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