When we picked up our 1956 Chevy 210 it was in a pretty neglected state and hadn’t been on the road in decades, maybe longer. It appeared to be an abandoned project where somebody tore it down and, for whatever reason, just set it aside. Fortunately, it was set aside in sunny, dry California, so rust was at a minimum. We picked it up for a good price and then set about turning it back into a cool car again. The floors were fixed and what little rust was present got patched up.
The biggest problem was the black coating someone had sprayed on the car to protect it. It did the opposite, allowing moisture to wick down to the metal causing a whole lot of surface rust. This meant we needed to strip the Chevy to bare metal and neutralize the surface rust or our new paintjob would eventually fail. For this time-consuming task, we hit up the paint and body guys over at Superstition Restorations in Mesa, Arizona. Eventually, the car was in good enough shape to paint, but we decided to ditch the factory hood. The damage and surface rust wasn’t the main issue, but the hood was badly warped and it just wasn’t worth the time to fix. We were surprised to learn the aftermarket didn’t sell hoods for ’56 Chevys. Who would have thought? But, we lucked out, because Golden Star Classic Auto Parts was just releasing a set of 1956 hoods. We opted for one that came already smoothed (no hood bird) and ready to go! Once the hood arrived, we were once again back on track toward the paint booth.
People always talk about “painting their car,” but the truth is, the painting part is only a tiny fraction of what happens. The real work is in prepping the car for paint and then cutting and buffing it after the paint. For the first part, it’s all about time, materials, and more time. Take it to bare metal, prime, sand, prime again, sand, high-build prime, sand some more, and repeat as necessary until the gaps are right and the panels are straight. It’s why places like Earl Scheib can paint a car for $500; very little prep work before or after the paint is sprayed. That’s fine for your winter beater car, but to get something nice it takes time, and as the saying goes, “time is money.”
Our ’56 is being built as a driver, so we wanted paint nice enough to hit a local car show, but not so nice that we would cry about every rock chip. We also want the ’56 to have more of a vintage vibe, so we went with a traditional two-tone paint scheme with lots of chrome and polished trim. But before the shiny bits can go on, we needed to get the rest of the car painted and polished. So, with that, let’s take a look at how we saved one extremely neglected ’56 Chevy.
Our starting point was this 1956 Chevy 210. It looked fairly straight and it was mostly there so we thought it would be an easy rehab project. It turned out, we didn’t know what we didn’t know.
The front floors were rotted; a problem easily fixed with some new panels from Danchuk and our Miller welder. The rest of the car was as California rust-free as one could expect. Where there were spots of rust we simply fabricated some small patch panels.
The biggest problem turned out to be what hid beneath what we thought was black primer. Whatever it was, it let water get through and created surface rust everywhere, especially on the roof and hood. This meant we needed to strip the Chevy down to bare metal. A job made much easier thanks to our Contour SCT from Eastwood. The electric stripper made a mess, but it also made getting down to the metal much faster.
Prepping a car for paint mainly involves two things: time and materials. If you do it yourself the time won’t cost you a thing, but you will need materials. We hit up Summit Racing for a stack of 3M grinding discs, various sandpapers, and items we will need when it comes time to paint, such as polishing compound, tape, and masking paper. Keep in mind that you will most likely need more of this stuff than you expected, so budget accordingly.
Over at Superstition Restorations in Mesa, Arizona, we kept sanding and finding more paint—in varying hues—on the ’56. Repairs were made as necessary and we just kept sanding down to metal. We also employed a few of the anti-rust products from Eastwood, including their rust converter and rust encapsulator products.
Once the parts were stripped bare, and the major bodywork was done, the parts were moved to the spray booth and given their first coat of Eastwood Direct-To-Metal Epoxy Primer.
The Eastwood epoxy primer is a two-part product that’s mixed in a 1:1 ratio. It can also be thinned 20-percent and used as a sealer coat as well. The epoxy primer makes for a great foundation for a paintjob since it can be used DTM (direct to metal), which means it doesn’t require a self-etching primer be used first. It can be used over freshly mediablasted surfaces or ones that have been hit with 180- to 400-grit sandpaper.
The body of the ’56, as well as the trunk lid, fenders, doors, and other bits, were also put in primer once they were suitably stripped and the major problems fixed.
Lots of time was spent bodyworking the ’56, which is a sometimes frustrating process of putting material on and then sanding it back off. But a good paintjob is all about the prep work that happens before the paint goes on.
The epoxy primer we had been using could be painted over, but using a high-build urethane primer, like this 2K Urethane Primer Surfacer from Eastwood gives superior results. The build characteristics let us further block-sand the ’56 to a higher level then we could have achieved using the Epoxy Primer alone. It was mixed with its activator at a 4:1 ratio.
Once we layered on the high-build 2K Urethane Primer, more sanding was done to the ’56 and its various panels.
Once Superstition Restorations’ Mike Rossi was happy with the panels on the ’56, it was time for it to get some color. First up was the firewall which was coated in Eastwood’s chassis black to match the frame. The firewall was then masked off so the upper cowl and dash could be shot in the car’s primary hue: GM Torch Red.
With that done, it was time to hit the Chevy with a coat of white sealer from Axalta. The Cromax ChromaPremier Pro sealer is three parts (sealer, reducer, and activator) that’s mixed based on the temperature of the spray booth it will be used in.
The stainless VIN tag on the A-pillar of the ’56 was so buried in decades of paint, primer, and more paint, that you couldn’t even read it. So, while stripping the car we carefully cleaned it off and then masked it off prior to paint. It’s the little details like this that makes the finished product nicer.
Mike then gave the whole Chevy a medium coat of sealer in preparation for paint.
Once the sealer was dry it was time to get some color laid down. Our ’56 will have the classic two-tone deal with red on the bottom and white on top. First was the red, so Mike used our masking tape and plastic from Summit to cover up everything we didn’t want to end up red. We shot the red first since the area that will be red will be easier to seal off to keep overspray getting on it when we shoot the white paint.
Getting the break line right is critical, as is dealing with how to break the color separation in the doorjamb, since there’s several ways to skin this proverbial feline. For the most part, the masking was a game of connect-the-dots using the holes that will later be used to affix the trim.
In Arizona, where the government doesn’t mandate waterborne paint use, you have more paint options. So, our choice was Axalta’s Cromax ChromaPremier paint. The color we chose for the red was a GM favorite: Torch Red (also referred to as Flame Red). And, since it was well into the 90s outside we opted for Axalta’s High Temperature Basemaker.
While not as critical with a solid color, such as the ones were using, having the paint thoroughly mixed is still important. You can get exercise by trying to shake it by hand, you can run down to your local paint store and have them do it, or you can save time and effort by using a Rockwood Pneumatic Paint Shaker from Eastwood like we did.
Mixing up basecoat is a three-part procedure. Of course there’s the color, but there’s also basemaker and activator. The basecoat and the basemaker are mixed at a 1:1 ratio and after it’s mixed the activator is added (1-ounce for a quart, 1/2-ounce for a pint, etc.). Once activated, it’s best to use the base within 2 hours. You can use it up to eight hours later, but your results may vary. Given that, we mixed what we intended to spray.
Mike then went to town on the ’56 by laying down several coats of Torch Red Axalta paint. Mike suggests getting down low to make sure you get even coverage on the lower areas that are commonly missed.
Unless you have a giant paint booth, you’ll most likely have to shoot some of the car’s panels separately. Such was the case with our doors, trunk, interior trim, and our new Golden Star Classic Auto Parts hood. What happened to the stock hood we had? Well, between the surface rust, collision damage repair, and bad warp, it would have taken a ton of work to get right. As luck had it, Golden Star Classic Auto Parts had just released a ’56 hood that came already smoothed out for a custom look (they now offer a stock style as well). When we did the math, it was way cheaper to buy the new hood than spend a ton of labor hours fixing the old one, plus, in our opinion, it looks better.
With the red laid down and dry, Mike could then mask off the red in preparation for shooting the white. Whereas before we didn’t care if some red overspray got on the white sealer coat, we absolutely didn’t want any white getting on our red. So, extra time was spent making sure the red was completely covered up. Take your time here since a mistake will cost you time and cash to fix.
We wanted a creamier white so we went with Stone White, a color commonly found on newer Jeeps such as the Wrangler. The white was mixed at the same ratios and shot just like the red. After the paint flashed, we pulled the tape and paper off and let it sit in the booth awhile. How long you need to let the base dry will depend on your temperature and humidity in the booth. Axalta can provide guidelines to help ensure the best possible results.
After letting the basecoat dry for 30 minutes, we started the last step in our painting process; laying down the clearcoat. For this we used Axalta Cromax ChromaPremier Premium Clearcoat, Normal Chroma Premier Pro Activator, and their corresponding High Temperature Reactive Reducer.
Mike then gave the ’56 four coats of urethane clear, letting it flash a bit between coats. Our mix ratio was 2 parts clearcoat to 1 part activator to 10 percent reducer. The pot life (how long you have to use it) is only 90 minutes once it’s all mixed up.
And just like that, our ’56 was painted. We left the booth on for a couple of hours and then shut it down and left it alone until morning. Having to fix a panel because you bumped into soft clear is a real buzzkill.
While the body of the ’56 was drying, we started color sanding and buffing the parts we had previously shot, starting with the Golden Star hood.
This included our now two-tone doors. This GM hue of red has to be one of the most beautiful reds you could choose and the off-white secondary color is really going to stand out when done. In total, Mike spent around 30 hours color sanding and buffing the car and all of its various panels, but this is the step that turns good paintjobs into stunning ones.
And just like that our ’56 was back in California at Hot Rod Specialties in Upland to get a whole lot of trim from Danchuk, a fresh suspension from Classic Performance Products, and a new fuel-injected drivetrain. We can see the light at the end of our restoration tunnel and it’s not even a train this time. For more pictures of our paint and body transformation, be sure to check out the online gallery.
Photography by Steven Rupp