Avid car magazine readers may have realized that each of their favorite newsstand publications, everything from STREET RODDER to CLASSIC TRUCKS magazines, prints a couple paint and body issues a year, predictably. No, it’s not because of global warming, there’s actually a simple reason why: Paint and body issues tend to do well on the newsstands.
We feel that these types of articles not only feed the veteran hot rodder’s passion to rejuvenate old iron, but paint and body stories must even inspire that random grocery store patron who may have a classic in their garage they’ve been meaning to work on. Simply being inspired to get moving on your own build is a valuable asset to have going for you, so as editors we like to think we deal in said inspiration. We enjoy sharing the findings of our car research, in hopes to get you, the reader, moving on your own muscle car or classic project. Whether we are inspiring you to build a new engine or, in this case, improving your car’s aesthetics, we hope our words and pictures give you the kick in the pants you need to get working on your project car.
In the following pages we compiled a bunch of paint and body ideas we gathered while planning to clean up our own ’63 Nova project. Nicknamed “The Hellion”, this two-door hardtop is a perfect specimen for showing off bodywork and paint problems. Although the floor is un-rusted, the body is straight, and most of the trim is in place (even the rare hood emblem piece with the cast letters that spell “Chevrolet”), there are about seven rot holes in the car’s body that need some patch repairs and the curdled cream paintjob has just got to go. Besides looking into the general bodywork it’s going to need to become a respectable muscle car, we also plan on adding some custom touches to the car that you could also use on your own ride; things like custom trim molding and powdercoated bumpers as an alternative to chrome.
We contacted a few high-end body shops such as Quigley’s Auto Body and O.C. Cars in Lake Forest, California, recently to get some inside info on products, tools, and techniques to use when repairing the paint and body of old cars. Think of the following pages as an oil pump primer for your paint and body ideas, something to get the gears grinding in your mind of paint schemes and styles. Hey, we learned something about bodywork in the last couple weeks, maybe you will too after reading this.
When it comes to fitting body panels and doors, many bodymen look for consistent distance between all the door and fender gaps. Quigley’s Auto Body in Lake Forest, California, is regarded as a top-tier body shop in the Southland. Bruce Berry says, body panel fitment and gap consistency depends on quite a few factors. “Every car is different,” Berry says. “Sometimes it takes 15 minutes to get the panels straight (which basically consists of loosening and tightening various panel bolts until the panel gaps are equal), and sometimes it takes eight hours.” Depending on how picky you are, getting body panel gaps square can be costly. On older cars, because oftentimes they’ve been in accidents, the body panels become mated to a particular car. When a customer wants to fit a fender from another car, although being the same year, it can be a bear to get the gaps equal. When they are too far off, some body shops will actually remove material or add material to the gaps to ensure they are straight, however, like we mentioned, that can be time consuming for the body tech, and costly for the customer, so it really comes down to budget. You can always try to align them yourself, it just takes patience. Also, Berry pointed out that even aftermarket panels sometimes need more “massaging” to get right, as opposed to a factory panel that’s relatively straight.
There is a trio of basic types of paint available for autos today: enamel, acrylic urethane, and water-based. We won’t count lacquer paint as it’s illegal in almost all states, just know that every old car painter you talk to will reminisce about how great lacquer was back in the day and nothing can stand up to it today. We guess it’s pretty toxic, so nowadays lacquer-based paints are nearly extinct in the hot rod and muscle car world.
Enamel paint is a hard-drying substance that typically gets baked on in heated bays. Enamels are tough when they dry, but can be tricky to apply for the inexperienced painter. Enamel with a top clearcoat is referred to as a two-stage system, and the enamels that don’t require the clear are categorized as a single stage. Urethane paints are fairly new to the auto world, they can be pricey, but are easy to spray and have the toughness of enamels. Urethane paints are made using three ingredients: the color, a reducer to thin the color to the right viscosity for the spray gun, and a catalyst used to accelerate drying time. Once these elements are combined, the painter must use it posthaste or the paint could get ruined. Finally, the newest type of paint is water-based paint. This is a nontoxic product that can bond effectively to metal, primer, or even over an existing paintjob. This is the top choice for the hobbyist; however it does require a topcoat of clear urethane to protect the paint. All three paint types can be found at Eastwood.com, even lacquer based.
As we drove home in a ’63 Nova hardtop that we just couldn’t pass up despite seven rot holes, all we could think was, “please have a solid floor”. Assessing your project after a purchase can prove to be a mixed bag; sometimes you get more than you bargained for. In our case, we got lucky and found a running shoebox a couple months ago on Craigslist.com and although some rust had started to eat away at the roof in some areas, the fact that it was a straight and running specimen made it irresistible. Now since we are not metal fabricators, we are leaning toward remedying the rot using some DuPont rust inhibitor then filling the holes with All-Steel, the metal-bonding body filler. We know it’s not the absolute best way to get your car straight, but when you’re frugal and/or content with your projects being less than perfect, then this method may work for you too. Just know that rust bubbles can still show up years down the road if you just treat and fill the rust crevasses. Look for a series of buildup articles on this Nova in future issues of CHP, where we make it go from a regular beater to a face beater.
When you finally decide that adding that new coat of paint over your car’s 17 other layers of old paint is not the best idea, you’ll need to start thinking of your stripping options according to your elbow-grease-to-expendable-dollars ratio. We recently thought we’d try to manually strip our project’s paint to bare metal using some Aircraft stripper and a grinder, but after realizing how tedious and time consuming it was, we started looking into other options.
Soda blasting is a process we found out about that uses sodium bicarbonate (similar to baking soda, but formulated especially for blasting) applied to a surface using compressed air. Similar to sandblasting, soda actually does not harm the surface of your work (or the environment), during or after use. And because it’s a relatively gentle substance, you can oftentimes leave the chrome and windows in place.
Carbon, grease, oils, gasket material, surface corrosion, paint and coatings from a variety of alloys, plastics, and composites are annihilated with the blasting process, however, soda blasting leaves hard-anodized coatings intact.
Look for an article in an upcoming issue, where we head to Cal Blast in Upland, California, with our new project car to get its terrible ointment-colored paint blasted away to bare metal. We’ll be able to see exactly what kind of metal repairs and patching it will need.