1937 Buick Special Business Coupe: A Restoration Journal — Part 14
By Chris Ritter
In my last entry I left you with a picture of my four fenders stripped to bare metal. What you couldn't see from that picture was the fact that my rear fenders had a secret and they hid that secret for quite some time. At some point in the car's life it was hit from behind or possibly backed into something. Perhaps this happened multiple times; perhaps it was only once. Either way, I will probably never find out. Evidence of an incident first appeared when stripping the body, as some crinkled sheet metal below the trunk opening popped out. The real discovery, however, came out while stripping both rear fenders when body filler, dents and wrinkles saw the light of the day for the first time in decades.
Throughout my project I've been thankful that there were no areas of major rust. There was no sheet metal to patch or fabricate and this worked very well with my welding skill set! My body work skill set is better than my welding ability but I was still a bit discouraged to see my rear fenders all dinged up. I have to admit that my first thought was to stop removing the filler and then just scuff and prime over the existing work. That thought was quickly dashed as I saw that every area under the old filler had rust under it. It wasn't aggressive rust or even what I would consider surface rust; instead it was more of a rust colored discoloration. Even so, I knew it wasn't the right way to do the job so I continued the filler removal. Once I got a little way into removing filler it was simply a matter of understanding that I would simply have to learn how to effectively apply, sand, and blend the areas.
Bare fender metal was scuffed with 60-grit sandpaper and the first application of 3M Platinum Plus body filler was applied. Then I sanded it down and applied more. Then I repeated the process. Again. And again. And...well you get the point! There isn't a whole lot to mess up while applying body filler and a worst case scenario just sees you sanding it all off. I preferred to apply the filler in small steps because, as my restorer friend Rick reminded me, "It's not how much you put on, it's how much you take off." Slow and steady wins the race here. The fresh filler was block sanded with 60-grit paper and then blocked and feathered with 180-grit paper.
Body filler is first applied to a rear fender.
First application of filler to the front fender.
Rear fender mid-sanding.
Front fender after sanding.
Rear fenders in etch prime.
I thought my edges of the filler were feathered very nicely, creating a seam that would be undetectable when primed. This theory survived the application of my etch primer but, when I applied my first coat of 2K primer, it seemed like I could easily see every area that I filled! I was horrified, thinking "What have I done!!?"
Then I stepped back and realized I wasn't finished with the priming process so I shouldn't jump to conclusions. I took the fenders outside and proceeded to sand the first coat of 2K primer as directed with 180-grit paper. Low and behold my visible seams vanished! This first sanding also highlighted any low or high spots — areas that the next application of 2K will fix.
Block sanding the first coat of 2K primer with 180-grit paper.
After I sprayed the second coat of 2K primer to all four fenders you could only see one or two small imperfections. I plan to sand the rear fenders one more time and apply a third coat of 2K before finish sanding and spraying color. The front fenders were nowhere near as bad as the rear but there were a few small dents and dings around the top of the wheel opening. This seems quite logical to me as it is a common area where mechanics, owners and anyone else peering into the engine compartment would lean against this area.
Rear fenders after block sanding the first coat of 2K primer.
Rear trunk lid freshly stripped.
After the fenders, I turned my attention to the trunk lid and started stripping paint. I wasn't surprised to find dents, and most of those centered on the lowest portion of the lid and also the handle. After excavating down to bare metal dented areas were scuffed and filled.
Some filler spread across the trunk lid.
Inside of the hood looking at the louvers. These were held in with steel clips.
It was during the trunk lid where a light bulb went on regarding body filler. I was able to fill, sculpt, blend and sand much more efficiently than I had earlier in the project. I found great success by working in small stages and not expecting perfection on the first application of filler. All of these hours are paying off and Rick's advice was working well! In regard to all of this body filler talk I should probably point out that the thickest area of filler is only 1/8" thick and most of the area was only 1/16" thick. Rest easy knowing that I haven't been using filler for anything other than smoothing out dolly work and dents I couldn't work out.
As my fenders sat with two coats of 2K primer and my trunk lid in its first coat, I decided to apply an undercoating to the underside of my fenders. I used 3M Rocker Schutz — an undercoating that needs a special gun to apply and sprays a tan colored coating that turns rock hard. I was lucky to borrow a (required) Schutz gun from a friend but I must say the process still wasn't cheap. The price of a quart of Schutz cost nearly $40; I needed three quarts. The stuff sort of fizzles out of the gun like soda out of a partially opened can. It leaves a textured surface that supposedly releases any dirt or grime buildup with a quick spray from the hose. I will have to apply one more coat of primer over my Schutz before top coating the underside of the fenders.
So here I was, with freshly primed and Schutzed fenders and a primed trunk lid when I decided to tackle one more little project before a week of vacation at the beach. That little project was the disassembly, stripping, prepping and priming of my hood sides. Each side needed handle disassembly, rubber rest pad removal and the extraction of the side louvers. It seems every project I tackle never goes quite as smoothly as I hope but to my great surprise I was able to perform all of this hood work in around 8 hours. The hardest part was removing the clips that held the louvers in place. The clips had been rusted and covered with undercoating so they took a bit of time. Patience, a small screw driver and a couple different sets of pliers were all I needed.
Outside of hood after the corner rest pads and louvers were freed.
What pleased me most about the hoods was the fact that they needed no metal work or filler! This was the first component since my doors where I didn't have to sand filler. My shoulders appreciated the respite and I was also able to prime both sides of the hoods within 24 hours.
Hood in 2K prime.
Hood in 2K prime. It was impossible to remove the hinge that holds these two pieces together so I had to prime on this horse which allowed me to spray into the hinge area.
The last components that I need to clean and prep for prime are the headlight buckets and the forward portion of the hood that contains the grille, hood ornament and headlight mounting area. I won't know for certain if they require any sheet metal work but I will head into the project optimistically. These components also contain quite a bit of undercoating (even the inside of the headlight buckets) so it will be one final opportunity to battle my nemesis which has haunted me since the beginning of the war...I mean project.
While on vacation I am going to decide what top coat paint to purchase. My car will return to its original Sudan Blue Poly color which is a paint that was an early user of metallic flake. Of course the metallic content is quite low and really only visible in sunlight — it will definitely not look like today's metallic paints that often resemble a bass boat!
I will be using acrylic urethane and I will need two gallons of paint plus reducers and catalyst. My big decision will be brand as I've priced everything from professional grade PPG products at over $850/gallon to paint sold at Eastwood for around $150/gallon. So much preparation has gone into this project that one part of me wants to use the best paint available. The other part rationalizes the use of lower priced paint by pointing out I've never painted a car before so I could make expensive mistakes.
My paint selection criteria are that the paint color must be the original Sudan Blue and I want the paint to last 15 or more years. Finding an exact match to the original Sudan Blue does limit my brand options. With indoor storage 15 years of life shouldn't be a problem with any paint. Plus, in 15 years my son will be old enough to do all of the hard work I've been doing for the last few months.
So, for the next week I will be sitting on the beach thinking about paint. Life is good.