Bringing A VIC-20 Back From An Oily Grave

No matter which platform you’re into, retrocomputing is usually a labor of love. The obsolete, the unpopular, the downright weird – old computers of every stripe are found, restored to something like their former glory, and given a new lease on life. It’s heartwarming, in a way. But when a computer has obviously been abused, it takes a little extra effort, of a lot in the case of this oil-submerged VIC-20 restoration.

In the two-part video below, [The 8-Bit Guy] goes through the gory details of bringing this classic Commodore back from the grave. The first video shows the cosmetic rebuild, which given the filthy state of the machine was no mean feat. Cracked open, the guts were found to be filled with an oily residue; [The 8-Bit Guy] chalks that up to a past life in some kind of industrial setting, but we see it more as flood damage. Whatever the sad circumstances on the machine’s demise, the case required a workout to clean up, and it came out remarkably fresh looking. The guts needed quite a bit of cleaning too, mainly with brake cleaner to cut through the gunk.

Part two focuses on getting the machine running again, and here [The 8-Bit Guy] had his work cut out as well. With a logic probe, signal injector, and some good old-fashioned chip swapping, he was able to eliminate most of the potential problems before settling in on some RAM chips as culprits for the video problems he saw at power-up. It all worked out in the end, and the machine looks and acts like new. We’re impressed.

Maybe we shouldn’t question [The 8-Bit Guy]’s call on the VIC-20 being from an industrial setting, though. After all, the “little Amiga that could” ran a school’s HVAC system for over 30 years.

17 thoughts on “Bringing A VIC-20 Back From An Oily Grave

  1. This guy has some really nice videos on testing restoring yellowed plastics on retro computers casued by UV damage. He got some nice (if slower) results using an ozone generator an a plastic bag which is a little less messy than smearing everything with hydrogen-peroxide paste.

      1. Could you provide even one example from his channel where anything was powdery, warped, or became titanium white that wasn’t originally that color when new?

        In many years of retro-brighting the worst case I’ve seen is “only” a 90% reduction of UV yellowing, where the best case is 100%. I’ve never once seen any plastic warped even the slightest.

        1. I like his videos very much – his is one of the very few channels I subscribe to – but he has had some missteps:


          He’s also made some restoration choices that I haven’t particularly agreed with, like his replacement IBM PC Jr keyboard badge:

          I do think that his Apple //c came out a little bit too white ( but that’s because I chose not to take mine past the slightly yellow, cream color I remember from when I was a kid.

          Ultimately restoration isn’t an exact science – you make an aesthetic choice based on the results you get from your process and the memories you have of the original machine. For example, here’s a demonstration of how different “colors” result from different treatments:

          Which one is right? Well, at the end of the day it’s all up to the person doing the restoration. To his credit, he never tries to sweep these issues under the rug and he’s always trying new stuff. He does some great work.

      2. I havn’t seen over bleaching you described, but he has shown and pointed out mistakes and errors in his process. thats something I actually appreciate. Like 3D printing, people in the early days were reluctant to actually show their mistakes and fucked up prints. I always appreciated people showing the fuckups, how they can be avoided, and what can be learned.

  2. I recall a story of something worse… this was an old, possibly 8080 or Z80 era machine with dual 8″ floppy drives, that had lived its life on a ship in a room where people smoked.

    Apparently the case was stained a dark yellow, and inside there was tar (not oil, tar) built up on the motherboard that was level with the top of the daughter board slots!

  3. Is funny to me. I spent a great deal of time modding VIC-20 at that time so that it didnt look or function anywhere near original and rid myself of all its shortcomings. Here someone is resurrecting it in all its Hot- wrist breaking -no memory having -low resolution poor column/row dysfunctionality. On the other I do have an urge to play GORF, Lunar Lander, and Omega Race on 120″ projector screen now.

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