Killer Kong Mini Update: Reviving Aluminum Wheels With Meguiar’s

We’ve gotten some grief about our choice of Weld Draglites for our perennial Killer Kong ’69 Dodge Charger R/T project car. Of course, the whining is mainly from younger readers who have no idea that muscle cars came with 15-inch rims (and according to Editor Kevin, should always remain as such) or wannabe gangsters who would rather see ‘Kong rolling on 28’s like some kind of donk (it’s a real thing. Look it up).

Our Weld Draglites - even when kept out of the elements and in a garage - manage to fade over the months. Thankfully, aluminum cleans up nicely especially with a couple of hours worth of work.

We chose to build our mighty Mopar as something that could very well be seen at now forgotten tracks Lions or Orange County during the early 1970s, so the lightweight aluminum fat and skinnies are staying, so get over it.

We’ve toyed with the idea of turning ‘Kong into an autocrosser in the future, which will require a serious wheel and tire exchange – along with suspension upgrades, and possibly a swap to a manual gearbox – but like we said, that’s a long ways away.

For the time being, ‘Kong is keeping it retro.

Picking The Right Rim

When choosing ‘Kong’s rolling stock, our choices boiled down to either Centerlines, Cragar S/S’s or the Weld Draglites.

While Cragars would’ve been spot-on for our Dick Landy-inspiration, we felt they were a little more expensive than what we wanted but met our requirement for a lightweight, old school-looking rim. Plus, we were really picky about finding an aluminum wheel that looked good on a Charger.

Weld Draglites are so popular among older street racers and drag racers that the wheel has become almost cliché. Yet, just because something is cliché doesn’t mean its bad. The Draglite design is one of the most well known and timeless wheels around. Cold-forged and welded, the two-piece wheel is light and strong compared to similar cast rims. Oh yeah, and they’re all made in Kansas City, Missouri.

We opted for the traditional “fat and skinny” combo of 15×8’s out back (with a 4.5-inch backspacing) and 15x4s up front, leaving off the push-through center cap.

Since we had 'Kong's wheels off to upgrade our brakes (more to come on that later), we figured it was a perfect time to put a new polish on our Weld Draglites.

Made From Sterner Stuff

There are some downsides to going with an aluminum rim. While the weight savings and clean look are definitely a plus, aluminum wheels are soft and susceptible to “curb rash,” pitting, and scuffing far more than a cast or stamped steel wheel.

Aesthetically, aluminum wheels’ polished look requires far more upkeep to retain their luster, particularly if that car is parked outside. Aluminum wheels are often – but not always – coated in a protective sealant. While this will greatly increase an aluminum wheel from pitting, scratches and scrapes, it does hinder its ease of polishing – especially if its been exposed to the elements over a long period of time.

This is common for trailer wheels, not your prized classic that you’ve spent the last decade tenderly piecing together. Since ‘Kong has a cozy little single-car garage to call its own, our Welds have stayed in pretty good shape. Yet, just like how a car parked in a garage can get dirty, so too can your aluminum wheels.

Do-It-Yourself And Do It With Ease

When a light polishing is needed, there was a time when you had to pull out the old can of hard rubbing compound, kneed it up a bit and hand polish every inch of your rims until you developed chronic arthritis or the job was done.

Thankfully, the compounds and tools needed to bring your aluminum wheels back to their as-new luster have drastically improved over the years. Meguiar’s, one of the most well-known names in automotive detailing (as well as marine and commercial) is not only improving the chemicals, compounds and sprays used to make your ride look its best, they’re also giving you the tools to make it happen.

Meguiar’s Brilliant Solutions Wheel Polishing Kit is only one of several detailing tool kits offered by the ever-expanding brand. Together with Meguiar’s Hot Rims Aluminum Wheel Cleaner, we had just about everything we needed to rewind the clock on our lightweight street/strip rims.

Starting with a bucket of water and the Meguiar's Hot Rims Aluminum Wheel Cleaner, we washed down the rim with a Meguiar's wash mitt and sprayed down the rim, letting the foam cut through the grime and penetrate the dirt that the mitt didn't get off. Rinsing it and drying it off with a microfiber towel, we added a dollop of the Meguiar's Metal Polish to the soft foam DynaCone.

Meguiar's DynaCone and metal polish is ideal for already-polished wheels like our Weld Draglites. The conical shape and soft material permits the DynaCone to reach tighter corners and radii that other polishing wheels or balls can reach.

It’s As Easy As One, Two, Three…

We opted to take off our wheels so that we could polish up every inch of the rim without the lugs getting in the way. First, we washed down our rim using a bucket of water and our wash mitt, loosening free any dirt, grime or brake dust that we didn’t want getting ground into our wheel’s surface. Next, we applied a liberal amount of Meguiar’s Hot Rims Aluminum Wheel Cleaner.

Just for illustrative purposes, we flipped one of our front skinnies over and polished only one side of the back just to show how effective the Meguiar's Brilliant Solutions Wheel Polishing kit is, even on a surface that had never been buffed before.

The spray foams up immediately on contact, and needs to rest while it breaks down any remaining contaminants. A final rinse and dry down with a microfiber towel left our rim ready for polishing. We applied a dollop of the Meguiar’s Metal Polish to the tip and sides of the DynaCone.

The DynaCone is designed to attach to most all household power drills. Starting at a low rpm, we made several passes, wiping down any excess polish compound as to not try on the rim. In fact, lower rpms are preferred over high-speed rpms, as the lower speed allows the polish work itself into the porous metal.

Key to a quality polishing job is patience, lots and lots of patience. Going too fast, trying to cover too much surface area at once, or at too high of an rpm will actually take more time than “taking your time,” as you’ll have to go back and redo your first “rush job.”

When a Heavy Hand is Needed

In the worst case scenario, where the finish of the aluminum wheel has been left to cloud or dull, a larger degree of “elbow grease” will be required. Many metal polishers suggest that you use a sequence of varying grit sandpaper and steel wool pads.

Depending on how rough or unpolished the rim may be, grits ranging from 220, 400 and 600 are suggested. This is, of course, in the most dire of circumstances, and is only suggested if the wheel is completely opaque or coated.

For dull wheels, a larger degree of “elbow grease” will be required.

If the wheel is only somewhat dull, starting with a Brillo or Scotch-Brite pad (1,000 grit) and following up with some rubbing compound and aluminum polish is all you’ll require. The need for such heavy scuffing is to expose raw, uncontaminated material. The multiple passes – from varying angles – removes heavy gouging, striations, and swirls, leaving an even, virgin surface.

Ain’t It Sweet

Like we said, doing a good job means taking your time to do it right. After a couple of hours, we could see the difference in polishing our wheels slowly and patiently versus hustling. While the Meguiar’s Brilliant Solutions Wheel Polishing kit cut our time waaay down, it didn’t actually eliminate the need to be a stickler to detail.

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About the author

Kevin Shaw

Kevin Shaw is a self-proclaimed "muscle car purist," preferring solid-lifter camshafts and mechanical double-pumpers over computer-controlled fuel injection and force-feeding power-adders. If you like dirt-under-your-fingernails tech and real street driven content, this is your guy.
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