We’ve seen all types of paint jobs in our travels and heard all sorts of joyous tales and equally horrific stories from readers about getting their cars painted. It’s a process that can bewilder, frustrate, anger, and break the bank. There is a correlation typically to how much you pay for a paint job and how good it will look. For someone who plans on driving their classic Chevy until the wheels fall off, spending $10k on a paint job doesn’t make that much sense. On the flip side, building a trailered, hard-core show car and then taking it to the local Maaco for a $500 spray job is equally nonsensical.
We know a lot of our readers won’t be painting their cars themselves. The benefit to that group in reading this story is better understanding the job you’re paying someone for, the products used, and how they’re applied. For those tackling the job themselves, this will hopefully give you an idea of what you’re getting into and how to avoid making a mess of it. One thing you’ll definitely need for painting is a high-capacity air compressor so you can maintain a constant pressure during the painting process. A fluctuating air supply will wreak havoc on your paint job. You’ll also need a separator to keep moisture out of the lines.
In this story, we’re not using any metallic, candy, or pearl finishes. Those require much more in-depth applications and processes to turn out correctly. We’re sticking with a straight-up solid color, black, just like our subject Impala was from the factory.
We wanted this paint job to fall more toward the real-world, budget-friendly sort. With that in mind, we went to Summit Racing for our basecoat and clearcoat. Summit carries a full range of paint and body supplies, including Summit’s own brand of primers, paints, and clears. It’s basically one-stop shopping if you’re doing the paint job on your Bow Tie or buying the supplies to take to a painter. Our painter for this story is Aldrin Rodriguez of A&R Motorsports in Tampa, Florida.
1. At some point, something was rolling around loose in the trunk and beat the hell out of the lower rear quarter area. Our bodyman and painter, Aldrin Rodriguez, started here with a body hammer and larger socket serving as a dolly to work the dents out of the metal.
2. For all the sanding work on our Impala, we had Summit Racing send us a Dura-Block sanding kit, PN TAI-AF44L. It features different shape sanding blocks and that are just flexible enough to assist with the sanding process on different areas of the body, but rigid enough to keep the user from causing more harm than good. These things are the truth and well worth getting if you’re doing bodywork!
3. After we sanded on the part of the quarter where Aldrin was repairing dents, we could see the low and high spots still remaining. It also revealed where previous bodywork had been done in this area, because old body filler started showing through.
4. For removing the old factory emblems, Aldrin used this sharp-edged spreader to get underneath the emblems and pry them off the body without causing damage. The old adhesive was pretty brittle, so it didn’t take much to get them off.
5. With our dent repair done, we’re ready for body filler. Before that, the panel is wiped down with a degreaser solvent to make sure it’s completely clean and the filler won’t have any problems adhering to the metal.
6. Once mixed, the filler is spread over the panel in thin, even coats. You want to use as little body filler as possible to smooth out a panel. The more you apply, the thicker the coats, the more post work you have to do, and the more variables you introduce to the body- and paintwork. We’ve seen where heavy filler use eventually separates and bubbles under paint, necessitating expensive correction work be done, up to stripping down the whole car and repainting it.
7. Part of the Dura-Block kit is this cylindrical-shaped block for getting into the curves of different body panels. It was extremely useful on the ’96 where the body has a sharp curve just above the lower body line.
8. After sanding, we found this dent and old repair that needing massaging.
9. See the spots where the sandpaper didn’t touch? Those are low spots that are small dents. Rather than infuse the metal with more heat that can cause further shrinkage by hammering them out, Aldrin will use a finishing putty to fill in these shallow dings.
10. Once the filler has cured/hardened enough, start with 80-grit paper to shape the filler, then progress to 180-grit, finishing with 320 grit. If you start sanding on filler and notice shavings that look like you’re grating cheese, the filler hasn’t cured long enough. If you prime and paint over uncured filler, as it cures it will cause bubbles underneath the paint.
11. Here’s how a finished area looks after sanding and shaping. Before applying primer, all areas where filler are applied will be allowed to cure fully so they don’t cause problems later underneath our new paintjob.
12. On parts of the car where trim was attached using double-sided tape, an eraser tool is used to remove the remnants of the tape from the panels without harming them. The spinning wheel is made out of the same material as a pencil eraser.
13. Where there was adhesive residue from the emblems, Aldrin sands off the remaining glue with 320-grit paper.
14. The roof of our Impala had lots of small dings in it from hail damage that required repair. The problem is, the roof metal on this car is thinner than the metal other panels on the car are made from. This means hammering out dents is problematic, especially small ones. For every one dent you massage out, the shrinking and stretching of the metal can create new ones that also have to be repaired. After sanding the roof to highlight all the low spots, Aldrin uses filler to fill in the dents and smooth out the roof’s surface.
15. The adhesive used on the factory spoiler was some particularly funky stuff. A razor blade was used to remove the majority of it from the decklid, then solvent to wipe away/dissolve the remnants.
16. Now it’s time to mask off the car for priming. For the door, hood, and trunk jambs, 3M’s soft edge foam masking tape, PN 06297, was used. This stuff works brilliantly, conforming to the jambs’ shape and keeping any direct or overspray out of the interior, trunk, and engine compartment. If you’re painting a car of any sort, have a good supply of this on hand.