After getting the Beetle painted, the wheels looked especially awful. Since we couldn't have ugly wheels, I decided to do something about it. I started with the hubcaps.
Here's what the four hubcaps looked like when I started. They all looked rather dirty, but I couldn't quite figure out why that lower-right one looked so
terrible at first. After a little examination, I realized that that really nasty one is a cheap replacement cap. Those Germans sure made good chrome!
Here's the back of them in the same positions. They each have their own share of nasty rust here too, but again that lower-right one looks especially bad. I'm rather intrigued by the other three - they each have the exact same corrosion pattern on their backs. It's obvious on the two on the left, but the one on the top right is rotated 180 degrees. I have no clue why this is. Manufacturing process? Dumb luck?
The first thing I did was simply wash each hubcap with soap and water. Other than the little rusty pits, they all looked much better as long as they were wet. Once they dried, however, their luster once again went away. Whatever the case, it is obvious that simply washing the dirt off helped a lot.
I next started experimenting with how to get rid of rust without scratching up the chrome. Since the cheap replacement cap was already beaten up pretty badly, I used it as my test case. After reading various people's suggestions on the web, I decided to try the "crumpled up aluminum foil" technique. Since aluminum is stronger than rust but softer than chrome, rubbing the rusty spots with a water-dipped ball of foil will scratch the rust away while leaving the chrome relatively untouched. I was pretty amazed at how well this worked. Here's a half-and-half view of the nasty cap in the middle of the process.
And here it is after I was done. The big scratches visible in the upper-left quadrant were from a long-past curb check, but the other little hairline scratches might be my fault. This was also before I applied any polishing goo to the cap, which helped clean those up considerably. In this case I used the aluminum foil across the entire face of the cap; for the others, I only used it where there were actually little rusty pits.
Here are the four caps once they have been cleaned, de-rusted, and polished up with polishing goo and a clean rag. They sure do look a lot better! I'm going to hold on to the nasty one for a while to see if I can pick up an original replacement sometime. Maybe just driving around with it on will make somebody feel bad for it and hand me a new one. Now I just need to clean up and paint the wheels!