Editor's Note: This is the fifth installment in CHP from Mark Stielow, builder of many Pro Touring-type '67-'69 Camaros. He's building this '69 Camaro, the Thrasher to illustrate what it takes to create a show-stopping, super-performing ponycar. This month's story details body prep and paint, what materials he uses, and how he goes about getting the job done in a timely fashion--if you've ever had your car painted, you know it can be tough to get your car back in the same season it went into the paint shop!
Let's start this off by saying I don't do bodywork and paint. I pay people to do the job. When I was younger I tried my hand at it, decided it wasn't for me, and have refined the art of having my cars painted by someone else ever since. This might sound a little over the top, unless you've been down this road. From my experiences (which have ranged from euphoria to terror), I have learned how to make the job as simple and straightforward as possible. In general, I have found that automotive painters are not the most time-conscious business people in the world, but if you make the job easy and are willing to pay them promptly, they will get it done when you need it. This story is about how to select the painter, product, procedure, and color so that when your car is finished you'll be happy with the job.
BEHIND THE GUN
Finding a painter that will do a great job, not charge you a king's ransom, and do it in a reasonable amount of time is what every car owner wants. From my experiences, actually finding that painter is harder than most might think.
When I am looking for a painter, I usually eliminate as many variables as I can. For example, I have the car media blasted to remove all the paint. This allows the painter see how good or bad the body really is. This process requires that the car be completely disassembled, which is the only way to do a paint job correctly. In the grand scheme of things, blasting is inexpensive. For example, the Thrasher was plastic media blasted locally for $450. For that price, the car comes back spotless and the surface of the body has a slightly rough finish that allows the primer to really bond solidly.
When I meet with any craftsman, especially a painter, I look very closely at the cleanliness and organization of their shop. Body and paint work is very messy, so if a shop is dusty and has overspray on it, that's OK, but if there are cars and junk piled all over the shop that's been there for three years, don't be surprised if your car sits there for three years too. It's a generalization, but my experiences, and the experiences of others I know, has shown this to be a good indicator of how timely a painter is going to be with your car.
When searching for a painter, I make an appointment with them and rent or borrow a trailer to tow the car (after it has been blasted clean) to their shop so they can see it, decide if they are willing to do the job, and write up a quote on the job. The way the painter acts throughout all of this is important to whether I choose to spend the thousands of dollars required to get a good paint job. If the painter makes me wait when I get there because he's thrashing together a car for a customer or he's not even there when I show up, you can pretty much bet he's not going to get my business. If he refuses to give me even the most basic quote, instead telling me it will cost whatever it costs and I best be ready to pay, I'm getting in my truck and driving away. As far as I'm concerned, these are the guys that are definitely not going to make you happy.
If you think these situations are too far fetched, believe 'em, because they all happened to me. Sometimes I trusted my instincts and drove off, other times I left my car there--but each time it's become more clear how important the process of choosing the painter is to the quality of the final job, when it'll be done, and how much it's going to cost you.
For the Thrasher, I went to three paint shops, selected one that I thought would work out, then watched my car gather dust for four weeks. My gut told me to move on, so I pulled my car out of there and found the paint shop that is doing the work you see here. I don't fault any paint shop, but have learned that when things don't feel right, they probably aren't. That's when I move on.
To give you an idea how much a good paint job costs, the body and paint work done at Danny's Paint Shop, in Ontario, California, cost about $5,000, and the materials from PPG were another $1,500. I would consider this to be an upper-midlevel job. You can definitely get cheaper paint jobs, but my feeling is that if you're building an entire car, why cheap out on the most visual part of it? I'm not wealthy, but the body and paint is too important an aspect to try to save money on.
Here's my theory on paint: If you are going to paint the car, paint all of it. That's why I have everything plastic media blasted. It removes all the goo, paint, and tar that would take hours to remove otherwise. To prep for the blaster, I power wash the car thoroughly and remove all the components that I don't want stripped, like chrome trim, interior components, and drivetrain components. As a note, on one of my previous cars, I had the felt insulation blasted off the inside of the roof. Big mistake. When it rained, it sounded like I was sitting in a drum!
It is critical to catalog all the components that come off the car, make notes on how to install them, and note what new parts need to be ordered for the car to be completed.
Some examples of components that I replace are the windshield, all the rubber in the doors and windows, the carpet, most of the interior, and any sheetmetal components that are rusted. I plan to wait until just before I reassemble the car to purchase the rubber parts.
If you live in any rust-belt state, you know all too well about rusty sheetmetal. This car is a California ride, but it still suffered from rust. The blasting process clearly reveals where and how bad the rust is, which is good and bad. You can buy patch panels for just about anywhere on first-generation Camaros, but getting them installed properly and prepped for paint is not cheap. The short story is: Buy as straight a starting point as you can; it'll make it that much easier to end up with a spectacular-looking car.
Like I said, painting isn't my thing, but it's important for the customer to understand what the next step in the process is going to be before you get there. I sat down with the crew at Danny's beforehand and we created this outline before the paint work started.
- Disassemble car
- Media strip
- Install cage
- Metalwork (rust replacement and dents)
- Bodywork (filler in low spots)
- PPG self-etching primer
- Dry block sand (150 grit)
- PPG epoxy primer again
- Wet sand (360 grit)
- Wet sand (600 grit)
- Epoxy primer/sealer
- Paint color coat
- Let sit one week
- Color sand with 1,000 grit
- Color sand with 1,500 grit
- Buff using PPG compound
I chose not to use a basecoat/clearcoat paint because many in the paint business feel the single-stage paint is easier to work with when fixing rock chips and damage to the paint surface. I drive my cars and they get chipped, so this is a major concern. If you don't plan on putting a ton of abusive miles on your hot rod, the basecoat/clearcoat does provide a deep, alluring finish that is easy to maintain.
As you can see, the Thrasher turned out beautiful. It takes a lot to end up with a car that looks this good, but it's worth it. In the next installment, the Thrasher will be in its final assembly stages. This is a difficult time as everything is starting to look pretty--a time when every nick and chip can make you crazy. I'll show you some ways to get the car together without ruining the look, and think things through so the car actually works well on the street. CHP