By Chris Ritter
I can't remember ever thinking about paint as much as I have in the past 5 months. It has been constant; before I fall asleep at night, all day during work, and even one or two dreams! I've visited a few local paint shops, read plenty of discussion forum threads and reviews, and found a single vendor online who could get me what I need. My needs were simple, I was looking for single stage acrylic urethane that would be an exact match to the Sudan Blue Poly that was originally applied to my 1937 Buick.
While my needs were simple in my mind, the reality of finding this was actually pretty difficult. Local paint shops could supply unlimited gallons of acrylic urethane but they couldn't get a perfect match to the original paint. My original paint chips provided a paint code but nobody seemed to have access to those codes in their computers. They offered to scan flat areas of original paint but told me they couldn't reproduce the color exactly. Instead, the computer would match the actual color with the closest match in the computer. In my case it was an Isuzu color from the mid-1990s that had way more metallic flake in it then it should have. To top this headache off, PPG paint in this "close enough" color would cost over $600 a gallon! Going into this project I was well aware of how expensive paint would be but it made me feel even worse about the whole situation when I knew the paint would actually be the wrong color.
This is when I turned to the internet. When I first bought the car I had the wheels painted with acrylic enamel while I replaced the tires. I found this exact-match Sudan Blue Poly paint through TCP Global's Autocolorlibrary.com. When I made my selection through TCP Global I could choose between $600 PPG or the company's house brand called "Restoration Shop" at $160/gallon. Don't forget that I needed 2.25 gallons of paint plus hardener and reducer too. I struggled for quite a while with this decision. One day I would fill my online cart with PPG and be all ready to order when I would get cold feet and empty the cart. The next day I would have the Restoration Shop paint in my cart and go through the same process. Finally I called the company and asked what exactly the difference between the two types of paint was. On three different occasions I was told that the house paint was simply relabeled PPG product. There was also some talk about no marketing costs associated with the Restoration Shop line. In the end, I was on the beach with my son playing in the sand when I said enough is enough. The difference in cost would be much better off in my son's college fund. Plus, I've never painted a car before so do I really want to waste $600/gallon paint if I turn out to be a terrible painter? I placed the order and the paint arrived in a couple of weeks. As you will read later, I am very pleased with my decision.
While I was waiting on the paint to arrive I had to disassemble my headlight buckets and forward grille assembly. The headlight bucket was disassembled by first removing the forward trim ring and then removing the bulb and reflector. The bucket behind the reflector was a little trickier, but once I removed the beam adjuster screw and depressed a few locking tabs it came right out. The stainless trim strip on top was pried off with a small screwdriver and what remained was the empty bucket. The inside of this bucket was sprayed with undercoating and I removed that easily with lacquer thinner and a few rags. While it was messy, the undercoating protected the metal quite well as there was no surface rust found. I removed the paint with my Roloc bristle disc since I was tired of using chemical paint stripper. The buckets were not bent or dented and no metal work was needed so then I primed the inside and outside of the buckets with etch prime followed by 2K primer in the same fashion as my other parts.
Removing the chrome trim ring
This is the inner bucket behind the reflector.
Adjustment rod and clips that held the inner bucket in place.
The headlight completely disassembled.
One bucket stripped, one to go.
One bucket in etch prime.
The forward grille assembly houses the grille, hood ornament, badge and side mounting area for the headlights. This unit was disassembled by removing the screws securing the two grille pieces (the grilles are surprisingly heavy!), mounting nuts holding the badge and hood ornament, and tabs securing the front stainless trim in place. Many of the studs and nuts were caked in undercoating and paint so removal was a little difficult but, as usual, patience was my friend. I used more lacquer thinner to remove the undercoating and my Roloc disc on the paint. I lucked out again with this piece as the metal was all perfectly flat. Etch and 2K primer were applied and, as I finished, I breathed a deep breath as I realized 99% of my car was in primer.
This is the forward grille assembly.
A look at the Buick coat of arms for 1937.
This hood ornament will need some new chrome.
I finished priming my car just as my paint arrived at the house. It was an exciting day but I realized it was time to sand yet again! When I sanded in between coats of primer I was using dry sandpaper. Now I would shift to wet sanding with 320-grit paper. The wet sanding instruction I was given was "sand until the primer is baby-ass smooth" and "If you think you are finished sanding, go sand some more." It takes a lot of time and effort to wet sand parts but it is quite a good feeling when you obtain that smooth finish! It was easy for me to see where I needed to focus more sanding attention as low spots would appear dark black while properly sanded areas were a dull gray. In total, I probably spent 10-12 hours prepping my headlight buckets, two doors and main body. This does not include the time I will spend prepping the hood, forward grille assembly and four fenders.
After my pieces were sanded smooth I washed them with soap and water and let them air dry for a few days. Just before painting I wiped each piece with Five Star Final Wipe Wax and Grease Remover and a tack cloth. This would give me a clean, dust free surface to spray my paint.
Buckets dry after wet sanding the primer
Here I am wet sanding the door.
Finally finished sanding, this door is ready for paint.
My acrylic urethane is a 4:1:1 mixture and my hands were shaking as I poured the paint, reducer and hardener into my mixing cup. This was a moment I was dreaming about since I bought the car and a moment that took me five months of work to reach. "Don't screw this up now" was the only thing running through my head. I decided to start small and paint my headlight buckets and inner door panels first. As I started spraying, first a tack coat and then three heavier layers, I realized I messed something up as my paint was showing significant orange peel. I finished spraying, cleaned up and went inside my house feeling dejected. All night I felt sick and the next day I grabbed my orange peeled headlight buckets and took them to work. There I snapped a few pictures and sent them off to my restorer buddy. For the first time since buying and working on my car I asked myself "What did you get yourself into?"
The phone rang at work and it was my buddy Rick. "Yes, you screwed something up royally, but, it can be saved." I started feeling better as he started telling me that my wet sanding hours were just beginning and that by using a progression of sandpaper from 1000-grit to 2000-grit, followed by some compound on a buffer that I might be able to save it. I went home, started to sand, and wasn't thrilled at first. While the sandpaper was removing my orange peel it was also destroying my shine. Enter 3M 36060 compound and an electric buffer, and...holy cow, it worked! My paint was perfectly smooth and absolutely gorgeous!!! Sure it was just a single headlight bucket but it was proof that I could actually do this!!!
My orange-peeled bucket.
Headlight bucket "cut & buffed"!
During our initial phone conversation Rick also suggested I make a few changes to my paint gun that included switching from a 1.8mm tip to a 1.5mm and reducing my air pressure quite a bit. While my previous settings were fine for spraying primer (and I can spray primer with the best of them!) it was all wrong for top coat. Had I just settled down when I was so excited about receiving the shipment of paint I would have read the tech sheet that came with the paint. Ooops. It wasn't my first mistake and won't be my last either!
With my properly adjusted gun and renewed patience I proceeded to spray my car's body, outer door panels and trunk lid. As I write this I plan on spraying my hood and forward grille assembly within 48 hours. I am still getting orange peel in some areas but now I know, through the magic of wet sanding, anything can be fixed.
The body in final color.
Before the weather turns too cold I still hope to get my four fenders in final color in addition to my cabin vent and door hinges. I will have to hustle but know that it will be better to wait until spring then to waste time and expensive paint!
Looking forward on my calendar, I plan to reassemble my engine this winter. Just this morning I took my cylinder block to my favorite machine shop only to find out that they've sold all of their equipment and are going out of business! Luckily I had them work on my crankshaft last year so the backup shop where I take my block will only have to bore each cylinder and replace my camshaft bearings. How hard can that be, right?
Loading my cylinder block for transport to the machine shop.