Models, Chapter 3: Wheels & Tires, Chrome Plated Parts

January 29, 2015 Comments (0)

by Marshall Buck

One of the first areas I like to have final parts for when starting a scratch built are the wheels and tires. For me these are very important since the rest of the car, body mainly, has to work in unison with them—all for the model to have the correct look. The only way to judge a “correct look” is to have and work with the important parts that influence the entire look and stance of the model. With a car it is the wheels and tires.

Closeup of Model Car tires for a Ferrari 250 SWB, by Marshall Buck

This particular SWB had highly polished Borrani’s shod with Avon Turbosteel tires. I knew that aside from needing to have wheels made specifically for it, there were also no Avons available anywhere, as in… never made! So… after much time spent laying out all the specs: dimensions; sidewall details; and tread pattern for one very accurate master to be made, I had to decide on the making of said master. Was I going to spend my time doing this or sub contract it out? I had a few choices, and well… I chose poorly. A fellow model builder whom I have worked with over the years, asked me to give him this job. I had seen a lot of his work, and knew he could do the job, and I also knew he needed the work/money… so I gave him the job. Seemed like a good idea at the time. He was going to make the master, and also make a mold of it, and produce tire castings for me. One stop shopping, yippee! Unfortunately it ended up being one big ‘oops.’ Once again, the best laid plans went out the window. Murphy’s law. Murphy must be a close relative of mine. Not only were there a number of delays, but the method he chose was overly complicated and, in the end, the results were in a word, unacceptable. Each tire casting had mold slippage, the color of each was too light, and the treads and sidewall lettering had many imperfections, which were on his master. This of course caused more work for me as I had to then clean and improve those areas, and then have the tire molded and cast again, of course by a different vendor.

Closeup of Model Car tires for a Ferrari 250 SWB, by Marshall Buck

The wire wheels were made ahead of time, before the tires, and they came out very well, some would say spectacular … as for me, well I was very pleased with them, but not entirely happy with the hue of their finish.

Closeup of Model Car wheels for a Ferrari 250 SWB, by Marshall Buck

The wheels were made for me by my friend Sean McKenna, whose work I am also his sales agent for. I spec out various miniature wheels and steering wheels, and Sean makes them to order for me. We had these mini Borrani’s made in his usual way, out of bronze, and also plated by him. The results on the first set as I said came out very well, but the hue of the plating was just not as close to the real 1:1 wheels as I wanted. I also knew that it would not match the bumpers (later) or other plated parts closely enough. After discussion, we determined that the results I wanted could be achieved by mimicking the real ones. A new set was made of aluminum, highly polished, and voilà. The wheels were painstakingly made. Rims were machined with the correct step edges and shapes; same for the center hub. Holes were drilled in at angles, spokes then made and cut, and fitted in one at a time, as were the individual truing nuts placed at the base of each spoke. I have also made the small Borrani labels to affix to the center hubs, which I will attach later. Oh, and I also made left and right 3-ear knock-off spinners with the Borrani hand logo engraved in their centers. Those were plated along with other small detail parts. And that my friends, leads into the next bit.

The mystifying art of chrome plating.

Closeup of Model Car wheels for a Ferrari 250 SWB, by Marshall Buck

The mention of ‘chrome plating’ to any top flight restorer will often illicit a reaction, and it’s often negative, ranging from just a sour look, to foaming at the mouth along with language colorful enough to make a prison inmate blush. I sit very close to the colorful camp. This is a process by which it is difficult to achieve “very good”, let alone “great” results. Not impossible, but, difficult. I have looked into plating systems for my work shop, but with the exception of a simple system for some metal parts, there is nothing easy, good, or reasonably priced. (I just returned a chroming kit from ALSA—horrible experience.) Therefore I use outside services, as do most professionals. Many of the chrome plating services talk a great game, but are incapable of delivering good results. I have worked with a number of services over the years, some yielding superb results, while others have made me consider having a truckload of fresh manure dumped on their doorstep.

Closeup of small parts for a model car Ferrari 250 SWB, by Marshall Buck

For this project I knew that I would be sending all the little parts out to a vacuum plater whom I have used numerous times over the years; he specializes in plating little parts for model makers, and gives me very good results. He doesn’t advertise at all, and is very busy. Makes you wonder a bit. By the way, all the parts came back from him with a great finish, just as expected, yay! One of my little victories. That said, I was more than concerned that he could not give me the finish I needed on much larger parts such as the bumpers where their finish would be very noticeable. For obvious reasons, dust, drips, runs, any roughness in the finish would simply not do. His work is very good, but potential problems on these bigger pieces do exist when vacuum plating. (A very basic explanation of vacuum plating: the parts are first sprayed with a conductive coating, and then put in a chamber with the metal, which adheres to the parts, and then they are spray coated with a clear finish.)

Closeup of Model Car bumpers for a Ferrari 250 SWB, by Marshall Buck

The bumpers: I made masters for each, shaped all by hand, not easy - especially the front bumpers, making left and right that had to be mirror images of each other. Then I had all three molded and cast in resin; I needed to have extra castings as safety backups. Then my search began once again for platers who could plate plastic (resin is a high tech plastic) for which some of the process is different than for metals. I’ve had this done before, but with mixed results. My quest started mainly with automotive platers. Naturally I crossed off the platers I had terrible experiences with … those idiots are all better suited to cleaning toilets than plating.

Closeup of Model Car bumpers for a Ferrari 250 SWB, by Marshall Buck

Eureka! Paul’s Chrome Plating comes to the rescue… sort of. The SWB bumpers are different than others I have made in the past, and hefty enough to withstand the process specifically used by Paul’s for plastics; theirs is actually similar to metal plating. After many conversations and questions of what and how to set parts up for them, and a little experimentation with a test set of parts, I later received my mini Ferrari bumpers with the most superb plating I have seen in years. Expensive? Yes, and well worth it!

Closeup of Model Car bumpers for a Ferrari 250 SWB, by Marshall Buck

Previous Installments: Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2.

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