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Today’s look back at automotive history: Whatever happened to Rain Dance wax?

By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette / Shade Tree Engineering

Monday, Aug. 9, 2021 — In my much younger days, I was a car fanatic. Due to my lack of income, I learned at an early age that you can save a lot of money by changing your own oil and doing other car maintenance yourself and not paying someone else to do it.

My first car, a 1971 Volkswagen Type III Fastback.

As a young car owner, I learned the basics of auto mechanics from some of the best — three members of the Dickerson family. Youngest brother Earl was a year behind me in school; his older brother Damian was a couple years ahead of me, and their older brother Connie worked at the Ford Assembly plant and lived in Bardstown. It was Connie’s home and garage on West Forrest Ave. that served as my classroom for Auto Mechanics 101.

I learned a lot from the Dickersons, not only car mechanic basics, but also car care, including the proper way to wash and wax a car. As a young car owner, you wanted a car that was well-maintained and looked sharp. As luck would have it, my first car was a dependable but butt-ugly 1971 VW Type III Fastback. No amount of washing and waxing was going to really improve its curb appeal.

Over time, I built on the automotive basics I learned from Connie, Damian and Earl; I expanded my skills and found my favorite products to wash and wax my car. For my money, the best car wax was a product called Rain Dance.

Rain Dance was available as a paste or liquid wax, and it served as both a cleaner and a wax. The shine it provided was deep and extraordinarily slick.

My 1955 Chevy Bel Air hardtop, circa 1982.

I used Rain Dance on all my cars, including my 1955 Chevy Bel Air 2-door hardtop I bought for the princely sum of $1,600 in 1979.

I enjoyed the old Chevy, but getting married and starting a family pushes car priorities to the back of the line; a car becomes less about personal expression and more about transportation from Point A to Point B. I seldom took time to wax whatever it was I was driving at the time.

I sold my 55 Chevy several years ago, and eventually I harbored the desire to own another classic car. Last October, I was browsing social media and saw something that I couldn’t believe — a two-tone blue 1956 Plymouth Belvedere for sale. But not just any car, but one I recognized from my past.

For years, the car belonged to a man I knew from our high school years — Gary Brady. Gary owned the Plymouth during the years I owned my old Chevy. My Chevy was a hot rod, while Gary’s Plymouth was original. After Gary’s unfortunate passing a couple of years ago, his Plymouth ended up in the hands of an Elizabethtown man who decided to sell it last year.

1956 Plymouth Belvedere V-8 2-door sport coupe

After looking over the car and a little haggling, the Plymouth was mine — which brings me back to my discussion about car wax and Rain Dance.

When it came time to wax the Plymouth this cruising season, I thought I would return to my old routine from “back in the day” — go pick up some Rain Dance, park the car under a shade tree, and wax it.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite that easy.

21st Century Problem No. 1 — There’s no Rain Dance to be found — not the Rain Dance like I used 40 years ago, anyway. The brand is owned by another company, but the wax product I was familiar with is gone (with the exception of eBay, where vintage, unopened cans of Rain Dance wax bring well over $100 each).

Rain Dance: Gone but not forgotten.

Apparently the Rain Dance brand has changed hands several times over its history. Former owners include DuPont, Borden, and Armor All. But with my favorite wax no longer available, I was off to the car care aisle of a local parts store to find a suitable replacement.

21st Century Problem No. 2 — Car waxes have gone high tech in a big way. I thought I could drop in the store, grab some wax, cut up an old t-shirt, and start waxing. But it isn’t so simple nowadays.

First, you nearly need a chemistry degree to figure out what sort of wax product to buy.

Clear coat or no clear coat? Do I need a wax with “advanced SiO2 hybrid nanotechnology?” If I did, would I even want to put it on my car? And just what is a “synthetic hydrophobic wax?” Sounds like one of the childhood diseases I was vaccinated against.

And it seems that in the 21st century, no self-respecting car owner uses old t-shirts to polish a car — they sell a wide variety of microfiber towels, terrycloth polishing cloths, and other fancy products to help do the job. While I succumbed to the marketing and bought a small bundle of microfiber towels, I also dove into our rag box at home for some worn out cotton bath towels and holey t-shirts. Old habits die hard, I guess.

Two trips to the parts store later, I had three bags of various chemicals, compounds, and odd-sounding elixirs that were supposed to make washing, cleaning, polishing and waxing the old Plymouth a breeze.

I ended up narrowing the field to one product brand that was around in my youth. Years ago, my Daddy introduced me to Meguiars liquid wax. My father preferred Meguiars over Rain Dance, and I used it at times too. While browsing the many brands and unusual products, I recognized the Meguiars name. It was reassuring that among the high-tech chemistry-laden wax products on the shelf, a simple maroon bottle of Meguiar’s Cleaner/Wax was still available in the 21st century..

And just as it was many years ago, I found that Meguiars is easy to use and so far, has done a nice job bringing out the luster and restoring the color of the Pymouth’s old paint. While I plan to try some of the other new-fangled chemical compounds that sound like something from the set of Star Trek, for now I’m happy to find an “old school” product that still does what it says it does.

EPILOGUE. I’ve enjoyed my reintroduction to the world of classic cars that the Plymouth has provided. My wife and I have enjoyed the chance to go cruising Bardstown once again — even without the benefit of Dairy Chef, Riley’s Drive-in, or Burger Queen.

I have enjoyed working on the old Plymouth, but that work brings with it some issues I didn’t have to deal with 40 years ago — things like stiff knees, sore shoulders, muscle pain and a creaky back from all the bending, stooping and rubbing necessary to get the old Plymouth shining again. And unlike my search for a new car wax, there’s nothing at the car parts store that’s going to help my aches and pains — other than perhaps a can of WD40.

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