The grille on your car or truck is its most distinctive feature, and the first thing people notice when you're coming down the road. In fact, the grille on some vehicles is so recognizable that most car buffs can tell the make and model with just a glance. Your grille then, is the perfect place to start making your car or truck unique. With a custom grille, instead of just glances, you'll get stares from people wondering what kind of vehicle you're driving. Instead of driving something that blends in with the crowd, you'll hear: "What make is that great looking car?" or "Look at that awesome truck!" However, when you decide to buy a grille the next thing you'll be confronted with is a lot of terminology you may not be familiar with, like billet, mesh, punch and CNC. Read on and we'll try to help you navigate through the world of custom grilles.
Mesh grilles are simple, yet elegant. They're original equipment on some of the finest sports and luxury cars in the world and very popular in the aftermarket. These grilles are also available in aluminum, stainless steel or ABS plastic. The mesh pattern can be cut and formed by machine or created by weaving together strands of stainless steel. Mesh grilles can be polished, chrome plated or powder coated in various colors.
The widest varieties of grilles today are made by CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines. CNC machines are computer controlled machining centers. Instead of a machinist manually manipulating the table and spindle of a machine tool to perform machining operations, a computer program is designed to control the actions of the machine. The CNC machine positions the work piece, activates the spindle, selects the proper tooling, and performs the machining operation. In most cases a solid piece of metal can be loaded into a CNC machine and the cutting tool(s) will perform all the machining actions from start to finish.
Even the loading of the machine is frequently automated. Complex patterns of holes like those seen on "punch" grilles, as well as intricate designs and patterns machined from solid metal are all created on CNC machines. These machines are not only necessary to produce such custom work; they are also required to make finished parts in quantity, as well as to maintain interchangeability and consistent quality control.
Billet is the term you'll see most frequently, and in some places it's become so synonymous for "custom" or "aftermarket" that all such grilles are referred to as "billet" grilles. However, for our purposes billet refers to a grille style consisting of a series of vertically or horizontally stacked bars. The term may have originated because such bars look like billets, the square section castings or extrusions created when steel or aluminum is formed. There are billet grilles with many thin bars stacked closely together and grilles with only a few thick bars. Billet grilles are made from aluminum or stainless steel and they can be polished, chrome plated or powder coated in your choice of color. They are also available formed from ABS plastic, which is a thermoplastic made by polymerizing styrene and acrylonitrile in the presence of polybutadiene. The result is a material that combines the strength and rigidity of the acrylonitrile and styrene polymers with the ruggedness of the polybutadiene rubber. ABS plastic is impact, chemical and heat resistant, and widely used by the Original Equipment automobile Manufacturers (OEMs) for body panels.
Besides the appearance of your grille, another consideration is how the grille installs. There are overlay grilles, insert grilles and grilles that completely replace your factory grille. Overlay grilles install over your existing grille and most are attached with hidden clamps and bolts. However another type of overlay is the "grille skin". A grille skin is a patented form of overlay from CCI that literally snaps in place over your factory grille. Installation takes only seconds and is done completely by hand, no tools required. Grille skins are made from tough ABS plastic.
An insert grille fits into your grille opening once the main part of your existing grille is cut out. The insert fits inside and attaches to the original grille shell. An insert requires more time and effort to install than an overlay; the front fascia may even require removal to cut the factory grille from the opening.
A replacement grille installs in place of your entire factory grille assembly, including the grille shell. Installation will vary according to how the factory and aftermarket grilles are designed. It may be a bolt-in procedure or the instructions may specify an alternative method of attachment. A variant of the replacement grille is the grille shell assembly. This is a factory grille shell that comes from the aftermarket manufacturer with a custom grille center already installed. T-Rex installs a custom billet or mesh insert inside the factory grille shell on a "made to order" basis, so if you've envisioned your car or truck with a classy, custom look, this may be the choice for you.
by Justin Gazzara on