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This weeks interview is with Steve Whalen, President of AIH Chrome in Dubuque Iowa. AIH Chrome was started by Steve’s father in 1974 as a paint and supply company. In the mid ninties Steve and his brother Russ bought the company from their dad and changed it to concentrate on the chrome plating side of the business. There are two sides to AIH Chrome, a production side and a restoration side. The production side employs around 50 people and is involved with the motorcycle,marine, recreational and aviation markets. The restoration side employs around 10 people and some of them have been with the company over thirty years.
I asked Steve about the process for restoring a bumper for a classic muscle car and he said the first thing he asks is what level of quality they are expecting. If the customer indicates they are just looking for parts to go on a daily driver type car then AIH Chrome will direct them to go some where else. AIH specializes in the best show quality plating and preparation and nothing less will leave the shop.
AIH Chrome will even fabricate parts so they have the absolute best part to start with before plating them. They have hand made bumpers for one off show cars and have taken apart previously modified bumpers just to bring them up to AIH expectations.
A bumper project may go back and forth between the customer and the shop numerous times just to finalize the fit. It takes time to get the final product straight as there is no filler, no shortcuts, just straight metal. Steve even stated that most of the time it is better to let them actually modify a bumper instead of having it modified and then send it to them just to save time and money. They will probably wind up cutting it all back apart just to make it straight and smooth enough for their standards.
Steve talked about “pot metal”or die cast parts and why they pit from the inside out. The chrome is tougher than the base metal and there have been times where AIH Chrome went to strip down a knob or piece of trim and there was nothing left underneath the original chrome. They would then source or build from scratch another part in order to have a good enough base to work with.
You can hear much more in the interview and you can go to AIHChrome.com for contact information or call them directly at 800-782-8235.
Also, just for fun – in case you’re curious what a hard charging business owner does in his “free time,” Steve is an avid speed hound and has played around considerably in standing mile top speed events……on motorcycles! This weekend he’ll be running a Suzuki Hayabusa that geared for a top speed of 206 MPH at the Ohio Mile. Below is a picture of him on his 1125R Buell, followed by a little video of him crossing the finish line.
Thanks for the interview Steve. I cannot wait to see the chrome on the Chevelle!
This interview sponsored by our pals at National Parts Depot – your premier source for muscle car restoration parts!