1989 Holden VN Calais Cut & Buff - Our Shed

By: Glenn Torrens

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holden commodore 3 holden commodore 3

Glenn Torrens gives his collector Calais a cut and buff

Bought in Melbourne and driven home to NSW, my new-to-me 1989 VN Holden Calais V8 was driven for more than a month until I found time to properly clean and detail it. Thankfully, my busy-ness meant warmer weather (I’d bought the car during winter) so placing the Calais on chassis stands for an under-side blast with a pressure-washer wasn’t a bad way to spend a sunny spring Saturday arvo.

Holden -commodore -2My detailing began with a thorough pressure wash of the whole car

Sometimes second-hand cars come with a few ‘extras’ but there were no surprises under my Calais. However, these Holdens are notorious for rusting around the boot lid seal: it’s a dust/moisture trap. So as I washed and detailed my Calais from nose to tail, top to bottom, I carefully lifted my car’s boot seal and gave the area a thorough clean.

Holden -commodore -trimCommodores are notorious for boot seal rust: here's why

Another problem is the narrow strip of sealing rubber at the top of the doors’ interior trims. The glue fails, allowing the rubbers to drop into the door. The resulting gap allows road noise to echo up through the door shell and straight to your ears! It’s amazing how much quieter the car is with the sealing rubbers replaced.

Holden -commodore -trim -2The rubber seal at the tops of the door trims required replacing

As a result of storm damage (and no doubt, old age) the Calais’s previous owner had it repainted in its original Phoenix Red. However, there was some orange-peel texture and light etching or watermarks evident even after my thorough wash and polish. So I reckoned my Calais’ appearance could be made much sharper by flatting-down the paint with fine abrasive paper and buffing it to a high shine. Although a daunting – and sometimes disastrous! – task for a beginner, I have some experience with this type of detailing so early one Sunday morning it was time to get to work.

Holden -commodore -1

I began on the driver’s side of my Calais bonnet. By starting with a small area, I could abort my mission if there were any dramas, leaving only a small repair for a professional painter if required. Using 2000 grade abrasive and being careful not to rub-through the bonnet and guard edges, I wet-sanded to the bonnet’s first crease. I ensured I’d not missed any of the paint by allowing the sanded area to dry to a matte finish. Then I buffed the matte paint with a foam pad and polishing compound.

Holden -commodore -bonnet -2I carefully began the paint-correction on one side of the bonnet

Fwooar! Compared to the yet-to-be-detailed section of bonnet, the dry and peely appearance (and water-borne mineral-etching) of the paint had disappeared, replaced by an awesome shine. Wearing a face-splitting grin, I completed the bonnet before moving along to the boot lid and – by standing on some milk crates – the turret. These three important line-of-sight surfaces on my Calais took around five hours.

Holden -commodore -bonnetThe wet-sanded and buffed paiint (to the left of the bonnet crease) makes the off-the-gun finish look like strawberry jam

With an almost flawless shine, my Calais looks better now than when new 28 years ago.


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