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More and more car fans are enjoying the look of patina on old cars. Check out these patina cars and find out how this look is achieved!

Looking Old While Running Great

Restored classic car
Restored classic car

Typically, when a car has been out for a long while without any cover or care, it’ll begin to show some patina around the exterior. Eventually someone comes along to pick up this decrepit looking car and begins the restoration process. Take it apart, remove some rust, add some body filler, sand it up, paint it, and bring it all back together to make the car look like it had back in its heyday.

While this restoration process may be the run-of-the-mill way people handle an old car find, there are those that like to show off the age of their vehicle. Rather than remove the weathering paint and deteriorating metal, some car enthusiasts out there have decided to leave the exterior alone and just keep the vehicle mechanically sound. These patinated cars may look like they’re waiting for a tow truck to come pick them up, but eventually the owner shows up and drives it away.

Truck exposed to the elements
Truck exposed to the elements

It’s a curious car trend really. Having a car that looks like it’s been left to waste away in some barn, but keeping it running. Sounds like my old Dodge, but that was out of necessity and not really for a look. I can appreciate the group of people out there that leave this patina on their old car, but not everyone is actually finding a car with patina. There are those that artificially add or recreate the patina look on their perfectly fine vehicle. Even modern vehicles have been getting the patina treatment. So, let’s look into this car trend and find out why patina on cars has such a following.

What Is Patina?

Car with some patina
Car with some patina

First, what actually is patina? It commonly refers to the film that develops on metals like bronze after undergoing oxidation for a long period of time. This same film develops on some of the metal from old cars too, but the patina definition skews to be more of a surface finish. Car patina is created over a long period of time resulting from age, scuffs, weathering, and direct sunlight. Essentially leaving the car to the elements. These old metal surfaces were painted, so over the years that paint starts to fade, peel, or be removed from the exterior to show the ageing metal underneath.

Rust is the common form of patina on these cars since steel is so widely used in the process. People don’t normally encourage having rusted metal on their cars, but it isn’t enough rust to harm the car mechanically or enough that there are holes in the metal. These cars that keep their patina usually only feature surface rust to achieve that forgotten look.

Car with some patina
Car with some patina

While it’s easy to just boil patina down to “it’s rust that looks cool because the car is old”, fans of the trend sometimes picture it in a more positive way. Patina on a car can be seen as time etching the car’s history into its metal. A dent from an awkward fender bender, a scratch from a careless kid, scuffs from critters making the car their home, it all plays into the car’s history and takes shape in the resulting patina. The paint slowly gives way as the metal underneath breaks through, feeling the open air just as it once had while being assembled those years ago.

Then, just as it seems as though the car has found its final resting space for the rest of its years, it’s saved. Taken from its spot where it has laid unattended for years, letting nature take hold, only to be revived. Now it’s alive on the open roads, a second set of glory days with a proud owner behind the wheel. The patina acts like tattoos on the skin in remembrance of the past. Kind of an overly passionate way to think about it, but I can dig it.

Different Ways to Get that Patina Look

While patina is a natural process that happens over time, there are ways to accelerate the process or replicate the look. While not letting a car slowly show its own patina kind of detracts from the impassioned idea described above, some people just like the look and that’s the bottom line. Can’t stop someone from doing what they want if they have the know-how or funds to do it.

Aged Patina

Mercedes 300SL Gullwing Barnfind - mercedesheritage.com
Mercedes 300SL Gullwing Barnfind - mercedesheritage.com

Aged patina, otherwise known as true patina, is just finding a vehicle that’s been left to the elements. They could have been found in a field, a junk yard, a barn, or wherever, but they were all left to sit for a long time to create their look. These old cars may need some work to get them up and running again along with a new set of tires, but they fit the patina trend perfectly in the end.

Chemical Patina

Paint removed to expose metal - Salvage to Savage on youtube.com
Paint removed to expose metal - Salvage to Savage on youtube.com

Patina can also be artificially created through scuffing and adding certain chemicals to the exterior. This route has a car that has been relatively well maintained over the years externally or isn’t old enough to start showing patina. The car is taken and scuffed, grinded, or sanded to get through the paint and show the bare metal underneath. Not all of the paint is removed, so it creates the look of natural weathering.

On the metal that is now showing through, degreaser or acetone is added to remove any leftover residue that could prevent the chemicals from getting to the metal to create the reaction. Then white vinegar is added. Vinegar is acidic and will etch into the metal allowing the rusting process to happen faster.

Patina created with sprayed solution - Salvage to Savage on youtube.com
Patina created with sprayed solution - Salvage to Savage on youtube.com

Next, a special solution is mixed into a spray bottle to start the rusting process. The rust generating solution is a mixture of white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and table salt. After adding all these components to a spray bottle, it is shaken until the salt has fully dissolved. Once the salt is dissolved in the solution, it is simply sprayed on the bare metal and left to soak in. After letting it dry, repeat the process again.

The rust slowly develops over the course of a couple layers of the sprayed solution and will eventually look somewhat like the aged patina. Once it is to the intended level of patina, it is left to sit before being given a protective coat. Protecting rust sounds counterintuitive, but it’s all for the look. This can be achieved through the use of a clear coat over top or by rubbing the exposed areas with a mixture of boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits. In the end, the car will have some artificial patina that gives off that aged look.

Custom Painted Patina

Custom Painted Patina - B.S. Garage on youtube.com
Custom Painted Patina - B.S. Garage on youtube.com

Next up is forgetting the rust and faking the patina with a custom paint job. Painted patina, sometimes called Faux-tina, can be done in a number of ways. The first method is painting the base car with a rusty brown color or multiple rust-like colors. Then the top coat is added that’s more of the “original” car color. Once that is covered over top, it dries and then sanded to let the rust-colored paint pop through to give off a similar style to real patina. This style looks alright at a distance, but can look fake the closer you get to it.

Another paint option looks a little more realistic while also taking a lot more work to get it right. Detailed airbrush work is nothing new, but it’s usually to create intricate designs or lifelike murals on cars. Creating realistic rust with an airbrush can be hard to get right, because it’ll look tacky if not done right. The devil is in the details here, so every rusted patch needs to carry the varying hues of rust colors and shouldn’t look manufactured (even though it is).

Porsche's Patina Paint - porsche.com
Porsche's Patina Paint - porsche.com

Finally, we have metal effect paint. There are some paint products out there that allow you to paint on a metallic layer that is then chemically activated to provide a patina. This allows the user to get a similar result to the chemically induced patina without having to damage the metal underneath.

Vinyl Wrap Patina

Vinyl Wrap Patina - WhipAddict on youtube.com
Vinyl Wrap Patina - WhipAddict on youtube.com

Lastly, we have the laziest patina example with the help of vinyl wrapping. There’s no need to wait, no need to damage your car, and no need to paint with this method. Just get a custom design printed on the adhesive sheets and stick it around the outside of the vehicle. That may be simplifying the process of vinyl wrapping, but it does come off as the easiest solution. Fake patina vinyl wrap also doesn’t always give off the same effect either. Some of these designs remind me of spooky table covers for Halloween and there’s no true depth to the design that can be found with some of the other patina options. However, this is the easiest patina option to come from if you end up not loving it. Just peel and move on to the next design.

Patina is Just Different

Ratrod - Rat Rod Magazine on facebook.com
Ratrod - Rat Rod Magazine on facebook.com

Like any good car culture, the reason people enjoy this patina trend is because it’s different from everyone else on the road. Having patina on a car gives it character and helps it stand out from the polished, pristine show cars that are always seen at events. Rat rods, classics, and even some newer cars can all benefit from a unique patinated exterior by using one of the many methods we mentioned above. Although, if you’re looking to do patina right, you should find it, fix it, and let that car show off its age all on its own.

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Jesse McGraw

Jesse McGraw brings his life-long car obsession into his writing. A fun childhood that involved growing up around race tracks, working on a rusty ‘99 Dodge Dakota held together by zip ties, and collecting Hot Wheels developed into a strong appreciation for automotive history. If there is an old, obscure, or rare car, he wants to know about it. With a bachelor's degree in Web Development & Design from Dakota State University, Jesse can talk shop about car or computer specs, focusing on classic cars, imports, and car culture.

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