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Galvanization sensation: How automakers fought off the scourge of rust

Exposing older cars to winter’s unfavorable elements—specifically, the dual-pronged attack of moisture and road salt—is a quick way to end up facing off with metal’s age-old nemesis: rust. Any classic car fan calling the Northeastern or Midwestern half of the country home has felt more than a passing twinge of envy for their compatriots in many southern and western states, who enjoy a drier climate that allows for year-round enjoyment of their rides without living in constant fear of the tin worm.


Corrosion, however, tends to attack vehicles of a certain vintage far more aggressively than their modern counterparts. It’s not just a question of being “old,” either. In certain eras, brand-new cars could shed their metallic skins while still sitting in the showroom.


The answer as to why today’s vehicles are more resistant to such a sudden fate is somewhat complex. Automotive industry’s long, slow march toward more durable materials is the result of advancements in design, engineering, and manufacturing, as well as the corporate buy-in required to implement an actual anti-corrosion plan.


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Another issue arose when cities were using a sand and salt mixture on the snowy roads in the winter. I remember growing up in Milwaukee how the sand would blast through the paint and the salt would start the corrosion. Milwaukee eliminated using this mixture after a while, but it's still being used in Colorado. Also thicker metal didn't necessarily mean no rust-through. I had a 1962 Ford Falcon with a side-ventilated trunk because both fenders rusted clear through. Nothing a patch job with riveted sheet steel and Bondo wouldn't cure (for a while).