The window trim used on 1983-88 Cougars was made of aluminum, which was either chromed and/or painted, depending upon the model. Restoring the window trim isn't particularly difficult but as always, there are tricks to doing so correctly and safely.
For a lot of situations, the window trim may not have to be removed from the car in order to refinish it. We've seen people tape off the glass and paint surrounding the trim, and then work on the trim itself, which is great if it works out that way. Otherwise it may have to get removed…and that is where a lot of people get nervous. And rightly so, as it's incredibly easy to crack the glass if you're not careful. There are some plastic or rubber-based trim removal tools on the market that take some of the anxiety out of this. But if you're still uncertain, a good glass replacement shop will be able to pop the trim off (and on) for you for a minimal fee.
Generally speaking, removal of the window trim on a Fox Cougar involves the following:
The aluminum trim used on 1983-86 base (GS) and LS models was chromed. This ensured a very long life and a nice, bright finish that withstood Mother Nature fairly well. We'd love to say it was revolutionary but the reality is that its roots go back to 1960s technology. There really isn't that much difference in trim between muscle cars and these cars, in all honesty. They attach the same way and they look almost the same.
In general, any light scratches can be removed with steel wool or very light (1000-grit or higher) sandpaper, then carefully hand buffed to a shine using a good finishing compound. Deeper scratches are going to take a lot more effort.
We do not recommend using a buffing wheel because that can—and will—easily remove the factory chrome coating. This leaves the bare aluminum exposed, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it will cause the aluminum to dull up a lot quicker and require much more maintenance in the long run. Any effort to keep the factory chrome intact should be attempted first. You will definitely be able to tell when the chrome is removed, as the difference in shine is apparent.
Should you need to have your aluminum trim pieces rechromed, it may be best to have the chrome shop strip the old finish, as they'll have the technique and equipment to do so properly. Comparatively-speaking, the aluminum trim on these cars is thinner than some older cars, meaning there's a higher chance of warping if not careful with prep work.
While brand-new XR7 models got painted window trim, it was evident that, not long after the cars were on the road for a few years, a few shortcuts were taken by either Ford or its trim supplier. Peeling, chipping, and flaking paint was a common problem. The paint was applied directly over the chrome trim with seemingly no adhesion promoter or etching, which meant the paint was very fragile from the start, and time has only compounded the issues.
If your XR7's paint is flaking off, there really is no other good solution to fix the issue other than stripping the paint and repainting the trim. If it helps, finding good, used, non-XR7 trim might be a better starting point, rather than trying to refurbish yours. However, you may be able to reuse your trim by cleaning off the old paint with lacquer thinner and a lot of scrubbing. But that can be a ton of work.
We've found through the years that sandblasting the trim greatly helps with paint adhesion. It needs to be hit with the sand from a greater distance so that the surface doesn't warp from excessive heat, and the surface should be evenly dull with no shine when blasted properly (media blasting may or may not produce a similar result; consult your local professional before attempting that). The key is to get the surface properly knocked down enough for paint to adhere; you don't necessarily have to break through the chrome to get this accomplished.
After that's done, a light sanding (400+ grit) and degreasing will get the metal ready for paint. You may want to consider using a self-etching primer on all surfaces, as that will nicely cover the metal and possibly fill in any imperfections, plus it will provide a permanent base for the paint.
As for the paint, your trim is not black. It is technically a very dark charcoal that Ford called "Blackout Grey".
We have an extensive thread on the message board about the intricacies of the paint, if you're so inclined.
But long story short…
Pre-bought spray paint:
SEM 39163 looks to be a very good match.
Mixed at auto paint stores:
PPG (Flat Gray) - 33717
PPG (Dark Gray) - 33696
DuPont (Blackout Grey) - C8436
The finish should not be totally flat; there should be a hint of a shine, more like a flatter satin finish. There should be no clearcoat involved to be technically correct. Once it's dry and reinstalled, your trim should last much longer than it did from the factory. It should not be waxed but just gently cleaned with soap and water (no chemicals or powerful cleaners).
The B-pillar trim on all 1983-86 cars was a dark charcoal, not black. The 1983 cars and all 1984-86 LS models had a thin chrome ("bright") accent strip; all other models had a solid panel (Turbo Coupes had an additional fluted accent panel pop-riveted to the B-pillar panels).
To remove the B-pillar trim on the car side, remove the two screws shown here and move the weatherstripping over. The panel just comes out with no additional screws or clips. On the door side, roll the window down and open the door. Pull the trim panel toward the outside of the door and pull out to clear the back clip, then push the panel forward to clear the front clip. It's a little tricky but you'll get it.
Refinishing the B-pillar trim isn't difficult and is, in fact, something you can rather easily do yourself. It usually involves light scuffing, degreasing, and then using a quality spray paint. There should be zero-to-minimal shine to the B-pillars. We would recommend using SEM #39163 spray paint for the correct color and finish. Since it's rather easy to remove the B-pillar trim from both the door and the body, this is something you can do off the car—no masking involved. Care and maintenance involves simply washing with soap and water; we do not recommend waxing or harsh cleaners.
With the new flush glass layout for the updated 1987-88 models, the window trim is a little more complex than the earlier cars in that it's flatter, but not so much that they cannot be restored easily.
Ford shifted the color over to a true satin black for this trim, technically called "Midnight Smoke". The LS models had a chrome ("bright") accent strip throughout all window trim. The XR7 and 20th Anniversary Cougar models had this section painted. Whatever Ford prescribed from the supplier seemed to work: there is much less paint flaking and peeling on this trim, and it holds up much better over time. It does seem to fade a bit, but that's still better than dealing with chipped paint.
We've found SEM Trim Black (#39143) to be the perfect match in color and finish. It is lacquer so it's easy to apply and lasts very well over time; some of the panels we've painted over 15 years ago still look fantastic.
Prep work is generally about the same as with earlier cars. A light scuffing with a red Scotch-Brite pad should be all that's needed to prep the old paint, which you'll now use as a kind of "primer" for the new paint. After dust removal and degreaser, the surface is ready for paint. Owners of LS models will want to mask off the chrome accent section before the paint is applied. The SEM paint sprays like a dream and after several coats, you'll be amazed at the finish and quality.
All of this can be done with the trim on the car. In most cases there won't be a need to remove it, as you can easily tape off the glass and paint on the car around the trim. Due to the C-pillar trim being part of the glass assembly for these two model years, taping around this trim is actually preferred. Additionally, the B-pillar trim doesn't need to be removed; it's a bit more difficult to do that, so best to leave it on the car if possible. Most people report that this can all be prepped, sanded, and painted in a single day, typically taking a few hours from start to finish.
Above: 1983-84 Cougar/Thunderbird cowl trim bolt, passenger side.
Above: 1983-84 Cougar/Thunderbird cowl trim bolt, driver's side.
The lower windshield cowl trim panel, upon which the windshield wipers rest, is a related panel that often sees fading and peeling. Therefore you may wish to restore this as well.
On earlier cars (at least 1983-84 but possibly later), the metal panel was coated from the factory with some type of bonding paint that loved to peel off in sections. The peeling would start at the edges and continue to work its way across the whole of the surface. This would allow water to collect and further peel the paint as well as promote premature rusting. We have found very few factory 1983-84 panels to be in good shape after 30+ years. They typically rust to the point where they cannot be reused.
Fortunately Ford fixed the issue eventually. At least the 1987-88 cowl panels (possibly earlier) had what seemed to be a powdercoated finish that lasts longer and virtually eliminates the peeling issue. Not that they cannot rust, but rusting is much less of an issue than before.
It is possible to replace an earlier panel with a later one, as the design was generally the same between all 1983-88 cars. The only real difference is that earlier cars had two additional small screws at the bottom, where later ones did not. By drilling out those holes you can use a 1987 panel on a 1984, for example, and be technically correct.
Prep work for paint is exactly like all other painted window trim panels: red Scotch-Brite pad, degreasing, and a good primer (epoxy primer is probably the wisest choice here). For the finish, the panel was a flat black and you can indeed use the same SEM Trim Black paint on this panel with great results.
If you're so inclined and wish to go even further, the panel can instead be media blasted and powdercoated in a flat black for additional rust protection. This would closely approximate the factory finish and method and therefore would be considered correct for the vehicle.
We are unsure if a Lincoln Mark VII panel works, but it may be possible since we shared windshields and cowls with that car as well.
The clips that hold the trim around the top of the windshield and back window to the body are sometimes difficult to find new, and at the Ford dealer. However, we've spotted them on eBay in recent years and they're not that expensive. The same clips were used for both the windshield and rear window trim. If yours are still in good shape then you can reuse them, but if they've rusted or split, then it's just as well to get new ones.