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A Modest (Financially Speaking) Experiment

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For quite some time now (I figure about three years…not bad for a guy who’s painstakingly punctual about procrastination), I’ve wanted to either refurbish or replace the Fiamm air horn on the Betty Jane. While the old girl’s brightwork usually looks pretty good and folks occasionally say her gelcoat resembles a patina of Awlgrip, that ancient horn up there on the flying-bridge cowling looks like the Wreck of the Hesperus, comparatively speaking. So here’s the deal—I have finally decided to take the bull by the horns or, rather horn, and put one of the following two options into play:

The first is what you’d figure it would be. I’d buy a new horn. Indeed, for various reasons not worth going into here, there’s a CarQuest store out in Cadillac, Michigan (Phone: 231-775-9772) that, besides selling auto parts, is the over-the-counter Fiamm source for North America. And a guy named Ralph at the store sells a reasonable facsimile of my old horn—it’s called the “Toronado 17 Single”—for about $124 (minus air compressor, plastic tubing, and other components). But while photos of this particular specimen look okay on the web, it’s fairly obvious that the little jewel would not precisely replicate the undoubtedly obsolete antique I’ve got. Would it be as solidly made as the original? Would its slightly shorter profile and vaguely different shape look goofy on Betty’s cowling?


 Who knows?

So here’s the second (somewhat experimental) option. Consider, for starters, the commonly held belief about applying new chrome finishes to old, pitted (that’s all the rough-and-ready stuff you see on the bell in the photo of my old horn above) automotive and boat parts. The process is typically said to be too harsh for true success—it destroys, or partly destroys, the thin walls of the parts, thereby sending well-earned moolah down the drain.

But is this really true? About all parts? Even antique-y ones with seemingly extra-thick surfaces, like my old horn has seemingly got? I am not sure, but…I am seriously contemplating handing my Fiamm over to a local guy who does custom restorations of old chrome automobile parts. The guy tells me he’ll start fixing ’er up with a thickening layer of electroplated copper, followed by an electroplated layer of nickel, and then a layer of electroplated chrome. “It should be fine,” he promises. “You’ve got plenty of metal there for me to work with.”

A couple of questions linger, nevertheless. What if the electroplating process somehow affects the operation of the diaphragm inside the horn or the chamber that houses the diaphragm? And what if I need new parts for my old horn somewhere down the line—Ralph says good luck! Got an opinion on this experiment? Or some experience with electroplating old chrome parts? Or buying new ones? Please let me know by e-mail at

The saga continues here ➤