Illustration for article titled Stainless Is Cool But How About A Rust Car

I’m not a big fan of “patina”. The word I mean, not the faded and corroded look of an old car. It’s somewhere between the name of a bad teen pop star and a rejected pharmaceutical brand. It’s also seemingly exclusively used by people who are so insistent that their car’s patina is natural that it makes you sure it isn’t. “It has a patina but I didn’t sand it or anything, I found it just like that.” There’s built-in dishonesty to it, like when real estate agents say “cozy” or “potential.”

It does often look good, though. My original plan with my Honda S600 was to hot-rod the underpinnings and then restore the exterior, but after I finished the first part I remembered how much I hate bodywork. I also grew to love the dilapidated look, so I left it. The problem is that the rust doesn’t stop rusting, and I don’t want to clear coat it because that’s somehow worse.

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Illustration for article titled Stainless Is Cool But How About A Rust Car

This got me thinking: why aren’t there any weathering steel cars? Weathering steel is a type of steel that stops rusting once a surface layer of rust forms. Stainless steel does a similar thing; it has chromium in it which oxidizes and creates a thin candy shell of chromium oxide protecting the steel underneath. Stainless doesn’t look like rust, though, it looks like steel. But weathering steel looks like rust. It’s used on shipping containers for durability and buildings and art for the aesthetic. Why not use it on a car?

Illustration for article titled Stainless Is Cool But How About A Rust Car
Photo: Pontis21 (Wikipedia)

Weathering steel takes time to rust, but it can be accelerated. I think it would be cool to let it naturally rust. Cars in some states would look rusted quickly, while others would take a long time to rust. Where and how it is parked would affect how the car looked after a few years and over time they would all have their own personality.

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There are some disadvantages of weathering steel. The alloys don’t lend themselves to the kind of formability needed for stamping out car bodies. Also, some uses of it haven’t been successful at stopping rust; the former Omni Coliseum in Atlanta never stopped rusting. The U.S. Steel Tower in Pittsburgh was constructed of weathering steel and while it is holding up well, the initial weathering discolored the sidewalks around the building.

So it’s not perfect. But maybe worth a consideration if you’re building a vehicle with mostly flat panels and selling it to obsessive fans who will forgive some rust stains in the driveway.

Matt Brown is an automotive engineer, writer, and builder of unconventional things. Mostly vehicles.

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