Chrome is great. It’s one of those classic finishes that never goes out of style. It’s also something that we get to revel in on vintage cars since it’s present in abundance from bumpers, to trim, to the interior, and even under the hood.

That’s great and all, provided the chrome is in good shape. The biggest problem with chrome is that once it’s neglected and begins to break down and become porous, there’s not much that can be done to save it. And you can’t just pretend it’s not there. Bad chrome is the bane of projects; a car will forever look neglected and unfinished no matter how nice the paint and wheels if the chrome is still pitted, bubbly, or rusty.

Traditionally a trip to a re-chroming shop was the only acceptable answer, or a new replacement part if available. Anything else was viewed as cheaping out and even tasteless. That’s been changing in a big way the few years; we’ve noticed a trend toward alternative finishes to chrome; they keep popping up on everything from track cars to show cars. Sometimes it’s about standing out, other times it’s embracing the fact that while chrome is classic, it isn’t always the right sheen to complement every build style.

With that in mind, and some questionable chrome on some of our own projects looking ratty, we decided to see what alternatives the aftermarket holds. Some of these options will require a professional touch, but we discovered quite a few great DIY options as well. Even better, a lot of these alternatives ended up coming in cheaper than re-chroming, so you get to be a style trendsetter and save money!

Ten cool visual surface treatments for engine, trim, and graphics that will set you apart from the crowd.

Bare Metal

You might be surprised how perfect the absence of paint looks. There’s just something about the appearance of perfectly worked bare steel that really captures the interest of hard-core hot rodders and casual enthusiasts alike. It’s too bad it’s nearly always covered up with paint. This photo shows a perfect example: the ’67 Camaro built by RideTech known as Velocity, which had a unique set of SS stripes. Rather than go with the expected white or black, these guys decided to paint everything but the stripes, leaving them in raw steel. Sounds simple, right? Just mask off the stripes during painting and uncover them when it’s time for the clearcoat? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple since clearcoat won’t adhere well to an unprimed or prepped surface.

The trick is to prep the steel without covering it up or removing the sheen we’re after. To make it happen on Velocity, the stripes were progressively sanded starting with 180 up to 600-grit paper, then treated with DuPont Metalok PN 230S followed by DuPont Hot Seal 2k (PN 4140). This is the critical step that will give the clear something to bite onto. To add in texture, Velocity’s stripes were scored with varying steps of 80-, 180-, and 320-grit sandpaper, then re-coated with Metalok and locked in with DuPont Hot Hues Urethane Panel Clear (PN HHC 5000). The result is a glossy steel look that can be waxed and treated like normal paint. If you’re more inclined toward a satin finish, opt for DuPont’s Hot Hues Matte Clear (PN HHC 5300).

Brushed & Scuffed Finishes

Speaking of bare metal parts, to really get the most out of the bare metal look the surface needs to not only be perfectly metalworked flat (we’re not building rat rods here), it should also be given consistent texture of some kind. Typically, brushed is the look of choice for most, and it’s actually much easier to achieve than you might realize. All you really need is varying grits of quality sandpaper, and a very flat board or sanding block to attach it to, both of which are available through Eastwood or Harbor Freight.