After five years of baking in the California sun, our '86 Corvette wasn't very shiny or very black. In fact, it was dull and lacked any redeeming shine quality. We knew what we were getting into when we purchased the car for $3,000 some months ago, and we wondered if there was any way to liven up the paint short of a total repaint.

After thoroughly washing the surface, it was time to inspect the car for condition and assess what was possible. We purchased a proper car-washing soap, not a dishwashing liquid that would further damage the surface of the car. Frankly, the surface was so poor that anything short of bleach or lacquer thinner would not have been detrimental. But anyone who has a Corvette with any paint shine should use a proper car wash with a pH-balanced base.

We were working with the folks at Meguiar's, and we used its newest car wash soap, Quik Suds Car Wash Strips. Much like those mouthwash "tissues" that melt on your tongue, the strips dissolve in your wash bucket, ensuring the correct, premeasured amount of soap for the car-wash solution. We washed the car completely, away from the sun, to allow the surface to dry slowly. We used a sponge and car-wash mitt to clean the surface, which was then rinsed free of soap and debris. It was dried with a California Car Cover Water Blade and a Meguiar's Microfiber Drying Towel. The wheels and tires were cleaned, and the car was allowed to dry.

Ask The ExpertFor our paint resuscitation, Mike Phillips of Meguiar's came to the rescue. Our car was originally painted black, but had been repainted at least once. Clearly, the black paint was thick enough, but there were areas where it was scratched to the fiberglass. As you know, there's no cure for missing paint short of applying more. Mike can do some amazing things with paint, but he's not a magician.

"I can restore any paint job to its maximum potential," said Mike when he assessed what was possible for the black Corvette. "This is the most neglected and deteriorated paint I've ever encountered. In fact, I'd use 'horrific' to describe the condition of this car's finish."

At least we knew where we stood.

Finding The ShineMike began to "clay" the surface of the car. Claying involves the use of Meguiar's new reformulated clay, a soft, putty-like material that's wiped over the surface of the car. The clay removes debris trapped on the surface that wasn't removed during washing. The clay is turned and kneaded often to position a clean section over the surface.

You can't imagine the amount of debris we picked up with the clay. It was white and clean when we started, but soon turned black with dirt. It left no marks on the paint, whether the surface was good or poor.

Then we used Meguiar's ScratchX, which is made for all paints and works to remove minor swirls, scratches, and oxidation to restore the color and clarity inherent in all paint. ScratchX is a modern replacement for "old fashioned" rubbing and polishing compounds. Unlike wax, ScratchX should be removed after working a section, as it isn't necessary to allow it to dry.

In many locations, the paint was heavily faded especially those top-facing surfaces that had been exposed to countless hours of intense sunlight. Extra time was spent to work these areas. With a soft, 100 percent cotton terry-cloth towel (or Meguiar's Ultimate Wipe microfiber polishing cloth), the dried product was removed. Using the proper towel reduces scratches and aids in product removal.

In our case, the paint required a lot of polishing to bring out the shine, and we were amazed at the results. The surface was badly damaged from the sun and had swirl marks throughout, and the new polish removed the swirls and made the car appear more black. It was as if the paint had gone from gray to black.