The pitting, corrosion, and general shabbiness of my old Fiamm air-horn (my best guess is that the Grand Banksians installed it on the cowling of the Betty Jane’s flying bridge roughly a quarter of a century ago) had been bothering me for a while, so a few months back I decided to take some action. The first thought to toodle through the noodle was: Get the horn re-chromed, a somewhat pricey process (estimates ranged from $100 to $200 from various shops in Florida) that I was fundamentally unsure of. More to the point, I’d heard from various sources that re-chroming an old horn (from virtually any manufacturer, not just Fiamm) was pretty much pointless. Word was that the metal beneath the chrome would not be thick enough, and resilient enough, to endure the re-chroming process and would wind up looking like the maritime-signaling equivalent of Swiss cheese.
So I began looking at buying a replacement and soon found what friends said was the best Fiamm-horn source in the country, a guy named John who works for CarQuest (www.carquest.com) in Cadillac, Michigan but moonlights as a specialist in Fiamm products. John charged me $123.38 and sent me the new version of my old horn—a Fiamm Tornado 17—which, he said, had been out of production “for years.” When the Tornado came in the mail I was, in a word, disappointed. While the old horn had obviously been fabricated from thick, chrome-plated material, the Tornado had obviously been fabricated from thin, chrome-plated mystery metal—it was flat-out cheesy (indeed, the metal badge at the rear had been replaced by a somewhat wrinkled stick-on piece of foil), cheesy, cheesy. So I sent the darn thing back to John, who promptly refunded my money, except for shipping costs.
So back to square one. But what if all the experts (and non experts) were wrong about re-chroming a 25-year old air horn? What if it could be done? With a mixture of curiosity, hope, and dread, I called up a guy named Charles at Custom Coatings and Pot Metal Restorations (www.customcoatings.net), a Florida-based biz that specializes in returning antique car parts to their former glory. Charles said, “Bring ’er in and lemme take a look.”
Spectacular things happened shortly thereafter. First of all, Charles examined my old Fiamm horn and said it was made of solid bronze and plenty thick. Then, with a go-ahead from me, he proceeded to apply a copper-nickel-electroplating process, after removing the old pitted and shabby chrome via an acid bath. Judge for yourself how the whole deal turned out. For my money ($177 plus tip), Betty’s old horn now looks brand new! The job took about two weeks.