Saturday, September 1, 2012

1971 GTX - Body and Paint Work By Roman Sobilo

Body and paint work is usually the most costly expense of a restoration.  In my opinion dealing with body and paint work is also the most difficult part, both selling the job and knowing when to call it good enough. 

We must keep in mind that these old muscle cars were never engineered to look as good as they do these days.  By yesterday’s standards we are over restoring these cars.  Body gaps were not always consistent, color depth and shine was nowhere near what they are today.  Today’s paint products have the capability of laying down flat, with a deep shine that brings out every imperfection. 

A few weeks ago at Carlisle I had the pleasure of taking pictures of a Superbird.  It was a documented original 6500 mile car.  All of the paint work was original and untouched.  The door to quarter alignment was terrible, there were paint runs on the rear tail light section, and the entire body was loaded with orange peel.  However, it was an awesome car and I would love to be the owner!


There are many tricks used to make these cars look better than they did when new.  However, these tricks take time and time is money.  So when a customer restores his/her vehicle they must decide what level the paint work should be when completed.

Since most customers do not have extensive body/paint knowledge it is sometimes difficult justifying the expense.  As a restorer one of my biggest fears is delivering a car to a customer that would later be scrutinized by others at a show. 

The customer may be satisfied with the paintwork at the time of delivery due to their lack of body/paint knowledge.  But after showing it at a few shows and receiving negative feedback they will realize why cutting cost on body/paint work is not recommended.  For that reason After Hours Restorations will only take part in museum quality restoration work.

It is standard practice to install and properly align all body panels once the car has been stripped down to bare metal. 
This is the time any alignment issue can be corrected.  Keep in mind some of those alignment issue may be factory flaws. 

From my personal experience I find 1971 and newer cars have better body fitment than 1970 and older cars do.  In our case the 1971 GTX did not have any major fitment issues.
As we discussed in the deconstruction / metal work column there are many pros and cons of both media blasting vs. chemically striping.  In our case the GTX was media blasted which created an excellent biting surface for applying primer. 

Matt Martel from Master Works Automotive Services was chosen to tackle the body / paint work on the GTX.  Matt has almost 25 years’ experience and is definitely an authority in custom car body / paint work.  I've asked him to jump in and help with some of the specifics.
"Thanks Roman, when I approach any new project I think it's best to give an interview/orientation to get a feel for what is and what is not important to the customer. As you've already noted, budget and quality are one of the big subjects to talk about, and there are many different ways to go about the bump and painting process.

I always use modern products that are tried and true.  If you try to save money here it usually cost you in some other way.  Trust me, there are no free lunches!  There are many name brands out there that will do the job well.  I’m currently having good results using PPG and 3M products. With that in mind, I think a good rule of thumb is to stay within one brand from start to finish for your painting products and always try to use upper end materials for all processes.

During the interview process I try my best to educate the customer as to what is needed for their specific vehicle.  Roman's project needs broke down like this:

Delivered to me was a bare metal body without rust. I would need to replace the corrosion protection, caulking and sealer as well as sound deadener. Also the body needed to be smoothed out and painted a gold mist poly which is correct for this vehicle.  Roman communicated that quality was most important and timing was second, so we got started right away.

Upon delivery, the body was thoroughly blown out and cleaned of the remaining media from stripping. Next we applied two medium / heavy coats of PPG DP 50 epoxy primer.  Epoxy adheres very well chemically and mechanically to blasted metal so I always put it down first on my bare steel.  It is also recommended by many paint lines to comply with their warranty.  With the epoxy applied the body it can be handled without having to worry about rusting.  From here we assemble and fit all the body panels.  Spending time here is required because everything else will be built off of this.

With everything fitting, we moved into plastic filler territory to help smooth out ripples and imperfections.  I always use filler manufactured by Ever Coat.  We want this car to have that laser straight look down the side and time spent during this stage will show in the end.  This work is done with aggressive sanders and lots of elbow grease (this is where most restorers lose patience).  Once everything is worked down into the 80 grit sand paper range you can finally prime.

I go with one coat of the epoxy primer for adhesion and corrosion protection and then apply 3 to 4 coats of the recommended  PPG K36 urethane filler primer.  Now it's time for more sanding.  120 grit, long blocks, patience, elbow grease, you get the idea. More of the same filler primer is used for final priming. Then the car gets final sanded using 500 grit sand paper.

Masking and painting are next.  Just like all procedures, extra time spent will be rewarded.  I try to do a nice neat masking job without any holes or loose paper to blow around.  It cuts down on turbulence during the paint process.  Less turbulence equates to a cleaner paint job.

The painting procedure requires application of basecoat to achieve coverage and uniformity and clear coat to achieve the shine and depth.  I put on an extra coat of clear if I'm going for a show car appearance.

Finally color sanding and polishing

A good painter with a little luck can skip this process for a factory type finish but to achieve a show quality finish it's a mandatory step.  I'm old fashioned but I believe you have to sand it out by hand if you're doing show finishes.  For this step I use 1500 and 2000 grit paper, a foam backing pad and lots of water (did I mention the elbow grease).

3M makes some great compounds and polishes that are applied with a machine and or by hand.  Don't rush this step or you will ruin all your hard work burning through an edge.  Every job is different and everyone has their own twist on what works for them but basic rules apply.  There is no substitute for patience, hard work and quality products."

Thank you for your input Matt.  It is always great to hear information directly from the horse’s mouth. 

As of this writing the GTX is not completely painted.  The engine compartment, trunk, and the underside of the fenders are painted.  The next step is to paint the exterior of the body.  Since metallic gold is a difficult color to spray Matt has decided to paint the GTX all at once.  However, the car will be completely disassembled with exception of the doors.
The fenders will be hanging on a rack and the doors will be mounted on the car.  The hood and deck lid will also be set up on racks in the same position they are mounted on the car.  This will ensure a uniform metallic appearance.


Once the exterior is painted the last step will be to paint the over spray on the underside of the body.  Since Matt is using a base coat / clear coat system he will tape the bottom off to prevent any overspray reaching the bottom of the car while painting the top side.

It is impossible to duplicate the factory overspray look on the bottom of the car using a base coat / clear coat system.  As the last step Matt will tape off the complete car leaving the underside exposed.  He then will use a single stage version of the metallic gold paint and casually spray the lower portion of the car covering the bottom with overspray just like the factory did in August of 1970.

As I stated before, body / paint work is the most expensive and difficult part of a restoration.  There is a lot more information to be shared on this topic.  Unfortunately, I only have a limited amount of room in this resto column.  However, here are a few more useful tips:

Before you pick a paint shop interview many and get references.  Stay away from collision shops because there is a good chance your car will only be used as fill in work when the easy fixes dry up.

If you are tackling the job on your own:
Avoid spraying too much surfacing primer in the door latch area.  This will cause the paint to crack around the mounting screws once they are tight. 

Once again keep the surfacing materials light around the exterior door lock area.  If it is built up too thick you will have difficulties sliding in the retaining clip from the inside of the door.  If you force it in you may cause the panel to be wavy around the door lock cylinder.
I hope you found this information useful.  As always questions and comments are always welcomed at

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