‘Chrome’ or vac-metal finishes on plastic looks great and can provide the illusion of real metallic parts to accent the colour scheme of your favourite toy.
But as anyone who has owned a toy with vac-metalised parts would know: the chrome effect doesn’t hold up to continual play or handling and it doesn’t take long before your favorite toy starts looking drab and scruffy around it’s once-shiny chrome bits.
G1 TRANSFORMERS contained many parts that featured a ‘chrome’ finish, such as Optimus Prime’s upper legs and smoke stacks or Sunstreaker’s blown engine air intakes. Most of the G1 weapons and accessories also featured a vac-metal ‘chrome’ look.
Continual play with these toys meant the ‘chrome’ parts would become rubbed, wearing away the metal effect leaving the base plastic, usually black or off-white, showing through. Many is an adult Transformers collector who stares at his beloved G1 collection with lament, wishing those chrome parts looked as good as they did the day they busted them out of the package.
Until recently there was no practical way of restoring the worn vac-metal chrome without replacing the part from a donor ‘bot. Metallic paints don’t really cut it as the level of shine they provide can’t match the near-mirror finish you get from the vac-metalising process.
Recently I was watching a video by one of my favourite YouTube toy restorers, Toy Polloi, in which he was using a new product that came on the market last year. This product appears to enable you to easily bring those old vac-metal chrome parts back to life: Molotow’s Liquid Chrome pen. Was this the magic bullet cure for all that worn vac-metal plaguing the typical G1 collection? I decided to get my hands on one to find out.
Now I should point out that these pens are not easy to find in stores. Not yet anyway. I had to purchase this through Ebay from the UK. And they’re not cheap either, at least when compared to other permanent markers or paint pens. The pen is available in three different nib sizes: 1mm, 2mm and 4mm. I opted for the 2mm nib as that seemed the most user friendly and good for small parts.
As soon as you get the ink flowing out of this thing you start to realise what all the fuss is about and why toy restorers and modellers are getting excited about this product. This thing IS liquid chrome. Testing this on my thumbnail before applying it to a Transformer revealed an amazing mirror finish. Time to start putting it to use.
My first test subject was my G1 HUFFER who has some mild chrome wear around the tops of his smoke stacks. Here’s Huffer before Liquid Chrome:
Here’s Huffer 30 seconds later:
The photos don’t quite do the results justice, but rest assured, the results do look great.
Next it was time to fix the legs of my G1 TAILGATE. It’s hard to tell in the photo, but the chrome has completely worn off Tailgate’s upper legs revealing the off-white base plastic underneath:
I took Tailgate apart to access the legs better. Undo the two screws in his body and he comes apart.
A couple of minutes of Liquid Chrome application and…
I couldn’t get the nib into tiny slots above his ‘kneepads’. I’ll have to use a small paint brush to get in there. But man, the difference is amazing.
Next it was time to tackle the main man: OPTIMUS PRIME. The chrome on my Prime is pretty worn around the smoke stacks and backs of his legs. I decided to just address the smoke stacks at this point. You’ll notice in the ‘before’ pictures my early shithouse attempt (done about 25 years ago!) to fix the chrome using metallic paint.
Here’s the ‘after’. I just painted straight over my early attempt:
So far the results are pretty pleasing. There’s no way of knowing how this Liquid Chrome will endure over time but it is sold as a ‘permanent marker’ so we’ll have to just wait and see.
I should stress that once applied, you should NOT touch the fresh chrome for a number of hours. Probably best to leave it overnight. My feeling is that like vac-metal itself, the Liquid Chrome won’t stand up to continual handling once applied. I think if you just like to display, rather than continually play with your toys, then it should hold up fine.
Also, applying a layer of clear coat over the top in an attempt to preserve the Liquid Chrome will just dull the mirror finish and make the whole exercise pointless.
So can I recommend Liquid Chrome? If your intent is to just restore some shine to parts of your vintage toys for display then the answer is yes. I don’t think you’d want to completely repaint a Megatron with the stuff, it would just look streaky and horrible. But for cleaning up small parts and leading edges where most of the chrome wear occurs then Liquid Chrome seems to do the trick. Google it, get some and try it for yourself. Test it on some junker ‘bots first then move onto the precious stuff. It’s fun to do and the results should impress.