Bumper expense #1965
/ Andrew English
Citroën, that most French of car makers, used to have an ad for its Visa hatchback boasting of it having ‘a big boompear at the front and a big boompear at the back’. This piece of copywriter’s Franglais accurately describes in the negative the state of my two old jalopies, the Aston and the Triumph.
Back in the day, taking the bumpers off was almost de rigueur if you wanted to do any sort of high-performance motoring: it reduced weight and made the car go faster and handle better. For some of us, it still is the done thing; witness Ian Callum’s recreated Jaguar Mk2, from which he removed the bumpers ‘because it looks better like that’.
The dead hand of the FIA, however, dictates that however a car is adorned when it goes on track, for its technical passport it should be photographed from both ends, with boompears. So back to bumpers it is.
This, however, is slightly easier said than done. I have the Aston’s originals but not the ’60 Triumph TR3A’s – and, more to the point, fitting any bumper is far from a simple bolt-on task. They might well have to be bent, reshaped, redressed, relieved and sometimes redrilled; even to make them fit the car from which they came.
Mindful of what a big task this can be, David Reed at Davron encouraged me to take the Aston’s to Capital Chrome on London’s Old Kent Road. This is where, for 36 years, Mick Chamberlain, son Richard, foreman Micky McHahon and their team of time-served fettlers, titivators and polishers have been toiling at relics from the past. They even chrome-plated the whole of David Bowie’s old Mini.
The place is so Dickensian, I half-expected to see Pip from Great Expectations drinking tea with Wilkins Micawber from David Copperfield. Ranks of bumpers hang from old deal brackets, timeserved polishing machines sit under layers of metal dust and, in the workshops’ sunken centre, sinister tanks of electroplating solution bubble, hiss and steam, some as gold as a desert dawn, others as emerald as a sequinned gown or as blue as anything ever imagined by Jacques Majorelle.
Trivalent chrome is the last of three electroplate layers that go into the process, the first being copper, then nickel, and finally the chromium plate. ‘We use nickel sulphate and nickel chloride, plus boric acid and various brighteners and levellers,’ says McMahon. It’s all about the preparation, because any imperfections in the material before they start plating will be highly visible at the end – ‘Rubbish in, rubbish out,’ adds Richard.
Unfortunately, only the Aston’s front bumper could be saved. The rear, although the right shape, is pitted with corrosion and would take too much time to prepare.
I’ve already bought a stainlesssteel front bumper for the TR as it was a) on offer; b) a decent fit; and c) corrosion resistant. But it’s very vulnerable to scratches, which must be expensively polished out (Capital Chrome’s bill was £222) and, as Mick says, ‘They’re not the right colour.’ That’s true, but the economics are inescapable.
Harrington, the British-owned firm that fabricates replacement stainless bumpers in Vietnam, will sell me beautifully finished DB5 stainless bumpers that can be teased into the individual shape at about half the cost of one repro plain steel bumper from Aston – and that’s before the extra expense of fitting and chromium plating. In other words, it’s originality versus my wallet – and at the moment my wallet is winning. I’ll report back on this one.
Above and below: #Capital-Chrome
is where these craftsmen work their plating magic; Andrew’s in two minds what to do about DB’s boompears.