At first glance you'd never know this '55 Chevy sedan wasn't built in a GM plant more than 60 years ago. Good, solid Tri-Five Chevy sedans are harder and harder to come by these days and are mighty expensive on the rare occasion when they do come up for sale. We couldn't find a solid original '55 sedan for our next Week To Wicked project so we had Real Deal Steel build us a new one. Seriously, an all-new Tri-Five sedan was built from a huge stack of Golden Star Classic Auto Parts stampings, which were welded together on an assembly jig in Florida similar to the way the factory did it. Once that task was done it was sent a thousand miles up the road to AA Customs in Ohio, for bodywork and a two-tone coat in R-M urethane paint.
It takes a remarkable amount of perspiration and blisters to get even a new body to where it looks like it was dipped in paint and free of flaws. And our '55 Chevy sedan was no different as we prep it for its buildup at the Week To Wicked Motor Trend Tech Center in Southern California. Preparation is everything to the success of a paintjob. If you have a rough and tumble surface you will wind up with a rough and tumble paintjob. Surface prep, even with a new steel body, calls for strict attention to detail. Even the slightest dimple or wave in the body is going to show in the final finish. That said, expect to become intimately familiar with the use of body filler and block sanding until all of the imperfections are worked out, even in a new body. You've got to fill and block-sand the hell out of a panel to get it dead smooth.
We're following along as the guys at AA Customs work this Golden Star Classic Auto Parts/Real Deal Steel '55 Chevy body to perfection. They make it look so easy. It's not of course, it's a time consuming process of putting product on and sanding it smooth. Compared to the prep part of the equation the painting part is pretty easy.
Another challenge for this project was choosing just the right color combination. Wasco's Paul Finn, lead tech specialist, was tasked with conceiving the color for our '55 sedan. He was able to come through with a great color combination that looks solid yet shines in the light. We are thrilled with the result and can't wait to transform this shell into one very wicked ride.
When the '55 body arrived from Real Deal Steel a thousand miles away in Florida it was in the raw. AA Customs scuffed the body and laid down R-M polyurethane primer to both seal the metal and give their body professionals a surface to work with.
The black mist over the grey primer is what's called a guidecoat—nothing more than a light dusting of black spray paint. When we block-sand these panels the combination of the black mist and the sanding operation enable us to see the low and high spots in the surface. Low spots stand out because they hold onto the guidecoat and will need to be filled and sanded. High spots will have to be dollied and hammered down, then filled as necessary.
Sanding involves the use of a variety of tools. This is a series of sanding boards from short to very long. The very long boards are used on broad surfaces like the quarter-panels, hood, and decklid. The shorter ones get used for smaller areas. An assortment of differently sized dowel rods are the preferred tool for tight concave and convex surfaces.
AA Customs uses a long board for the shoebox's long quarter-panels. The low spots show up right away, though there are very few in these fresh steel stampings.
Do you see what's happening as we work the guidecoat? The black dusting gets sanded away. Any low spots will retain the black spray paint. By contrast, high spots will go right down to the steel.
Fortunately, our Real Deal Steel body sports virtually no imperfections, which means we didn't have to mix up much in the way of 3M body filler. We caution you to follow the manufacturer's instructions to the letter when you mix the filler and hardener. Too much hardener and the filler will cure too quickly and become crumbly. Not enough hardener and it may never cure and will forever remain sticky.
We have applied filler sparingly to minute imperfections, which will be block-sanded smooth.
Filler has been applied to the smooth firewall Real Deal Steel installed and block-sanded smooth. The firewall, made by Hot Rod Dynamics, is a great option and really cleans up the '55's engine bay.
With all of the block-sanding completed, the final coat of R-M primer/sealer is applied to the body in preparation for the basecoat, pearl coat, and clearcoat.
One of the most critical phases of bodywork is door, hood, and decklid fitment. This is not something you want to do after paint is applied because of the risk of chipping the paint. Perform all fitment in the mockup stage prior to painting. Gaps should all be 1/8- to 3/16-inch.
Individual body components such as the headlight bezels, hood, decklid, and doors should be prepped and painted off the body. But don't forget to lock in their fitment and gaps before you remove them from the body for paint. You're going to need reference points for all of these parts before you remove them from the body for painting so they can be reinstalled with the correct fitment/gaps. As an example, for the hood, drill a 1/8-inch hole through the hinges and into the mounting surface so you can use an alignment pin to get the fit spot on after paint. Also remember that empty doors weigh less than assembled doors, which affects fitment. Painting these parts off the car also make shooting all the jambs easier.
AA Customs uses only 3M paint prep products and there's a reason why. When you use 3M sanding materials, you don't have to replace sandpaper as often and it offers clog-free performance. The 3M Stikit Blue Abrasive Sheet Roll is bonded using upgraded resins so it sticks better and is easy to change. An anti-loading coating across the abrasive surface helps keep dust from gathering between the abrasive grains for a faster cut and consistent performance throughout the life of the sheet.
Using a high-quality masking tape is critical since it doesn't allow the paint bleed through. The specially formulated 3M adhesive bonds instantly, which reduces unnecessary rework on a variety of surfaces including EPDM. This stuff has worked exceedingly well on our Week To Wicked rides.
We're using 3M's Platinum Plus filler (PN 01131) on the slight imperfections in the body. The key to success with these fillers is following the instructions provided. We've opted for 3M's Seam Sealer (PN 08869) on the panel seams that need to be sealed and blended.
We've chosen BASF's R-M brand for our Week To Wicked project. R-M is an affordable, durable finish available from Wasco in metro Columbus, Ohio. We're working closely with General Manager Marc Huddleston and Technical Specialist Craig Williams, who are providing technical support for this project. Craig is actually laying down the R-M Diamont finish, which includes the basecoat, pearl, and clearcoat.
Pesky, seemingly hidden details like these trunk gutters need attention, too. Spot-welds should be filled and sanded smooth prior to primer and paint. Not everyone does this, especially in hidden areas that will be covered by weatherstripping.
Getting good adhesion and cure comes from mixing the paint, reducer, and hardener per the instructions. This is chemistry in its truest form and involves everything from the temperature in the booth to the relative humidity. You must mix the proportions per the instructions or you will not get a proper cure. Because paint these days is quite expensive, you don't want to have to do this twice.
The very first phase of painting should be jambing, where the doorjambs and the backside of all body panels get their first coat of paint, known as the basecoat. Because we're working with R-M three-stage paint on this particular project and only on the red part, there will be a pearl coat, which is the second stage and will give the '55 a glistening pearl glow. The final clearcoat over the base and pearl coats makes the third stage.
The doors, which have already been jambed, get their red basecoat, which will be followed with pearl, then clear.
The trick to a professional paintjob is technique. The gun is carried across the panel from end to end with the trigger squeeze terminated at each end of the pass. This prevents the paint from being "heavy" at the end of each pass. It also prevents runs along the way. Coats are applied lightly and allowed to flash off before the next cost is applied.
Our Real Deal Steel/Golden Star body is clad in red R-M basecoat, ready for the pearl coat. Once the pearl coat is applied and flashes off, we're ready for the clear.
With the red R-M Diamont basecoat cured, it's time to mask off the red for an application of the silver metallic basecoat. We're using 3M masking tape, which won't bleed through, giving us a perfect parting line from red to silver.
The Silver metallic basecoat is applied across the upper areas of the body. This thing is going to look really sharp when it arrives in the Motor Trend Tech Center in Southern California for final assembly.
Here's our Week To Wicked '55 clad in its color and clearcoat. It will soon be ready for color sanding and buffing.
Wasco provided us with 3M's Perfect It Machine Polish (PN 06095 and 06094) for the final rubout. That final wet-sand and buff evens out the clearcoat, knocking down the orange peel and removing any imperfections. A good color sand and buff can easily consume over 40 hours.
The final rubout using 3M products is being performed by one of AA Customs' professionals. We stress the talents of a professional because it is so easy to burn through the clearcoat and basecoat and wind up having to repaint the damaged area. Experienced pros know just how much pressure to apply and when to stop.
At a glance, and even with a lengthy stare, we challenge you to tell the difference between this Real Deal Steel/Golden Star body and a genuine shoebox sedan built in a GM plant more than a half-century ago, except ours is actually much nicer. Next time you see this ride it will be in California getting ready to receive a stack of performance parts and finally hit the road.
Golden Star Classic Auto Parts
Real Deal Steel
Photography by Jim Smart and Randy Pugh