Paintwork part 4 – the bodyshell

Paintwork part 4 – the bodyshell

This was it, the big moment I’ve been having sleepless nights about for so long. Can I respray my own car in a garage once again, and somehow manage to make a better job of it than last time I did it 25 or so years ago?!

Well, the short answer is undoubtedly “yes”, thankfully, but here’s the full summary of how I got on.

With the shell still sitting on the rollover jig, I gave the whole garage a good vacuuming to remove the accumulation of previous paint dust, and renewed some of the polythene that has been marking the workshop’s transformation into my “paint booth” for the last few weeks. Not exactly clean room conditions, but good enough for me.

Next job was to get the shell off the jig and back onto axle stands. It would still be kind of convenient to have the shell on the jig a little longer, but since the brackets obscure some of the areas that need painting front and rear, it had to come off and become static once again.

I had a few areas that did need a small amount of filler work to ensure the finish was as good as can be, so this seemed the appropriate moment to tackle that. One such area was on the seams between the rear valance and the rear wings. In my car’s era of production, this joint was externally welded top and bottom only, leaving the vertical spot welded seam visible, so I wanted to make sure I recreated this as closely as possible (I believe on earlier cars this seam was lead loaded flush). My welding had been pretty good and ground back fairly cleanly already, but a skim of filler finished it off (the vertical joint was also seam sealed after primer had been applied).

The replacement rear wings I fitted were genuine “new old stock” panels, but the E-coat they were painted in had started to deteriorate with age and become somewhat rough in places, so I decided to flat it back. I made a horrifying discovery whilst doing this however, that there was actually a substantial amount of surface rust already forming behind this paint across most of the area of both wings, which left me no choice but to remove all of the paint completely and treat the rust before going any further. The picture below shows the right hand wing after being completely taken back to bare metal, with all the rust removed.

That done, all of the other – substantially newer – panels had their E-coat thoroughly rubbed down with 320 grit abrasive to make sure they were ready to accept the next stage of primer. At this point I also took the opportunity to trial fit the new Frontline Developments anti-lift front valance that I’ve decided to use on this car, since I’ll be painting it alongside the shell. I previously had one of the ubiquitous “Leyland Special Tuning” valances fitted, but I never particularly liked the appearance, and it would not be at all in keeping with the almost-factory sleeper look I’m trying to achieve with this project, so I needed an alternative. The Frontline valance I think is a good compromise between a more classic factory look, and still giving a subtle hint that this car has a bit more under its skin than it might first seem.

Valance all fitted, it came straight off again, and was then itself prepared for paint. I then gave the “booth” one more clean and renewed all the masking on the shell.

First coat of paint! For this first stage, I opted to use Upoxy Super Etch primer, which had come recommended to me. It can be sprayed over both bare metal and prepared E-coat as a base, but additionally has some high-build qualities. I found it to be slightly more pleasant to spray in the home environment than epoxy primer, which can be dangerous stuff without the right PPE precautions. It went on really nicely, and even at this very early stage it was already exciting to see the shell all in one colour.

I applied 2 coats of Super Etch, and then left it to cure overnight with the garage heating on, before gently flatting it back with 320 grit. Next up, I laid down 3 further coats of high build cellulose primer. Note below that I’m painting the new valance separately at the same time.

This was left to dry thoroughly again before block sanding it all with 240 grit, before then passing over it with a DA sander down to 500 grit. It’s clear from all my research that anybody who paints cars regularly has their own tried and tested approaches to this stage, and it’s certainly one of the most important steps to get right to ensure a good final paint finish, but this approach seemed to work really well for me in this instance.

With the primer finished, I did a bit more cleaning, got all the primer dust off the shell and went over it with a tack cloth to try and ensure there were no contaminants present, before finally it was on with the colour coats. By this stage I was becoming pretty comfortable with my spray technique, and managed to get 5 good coats of colour on smoothly and confidently, and was genuinely very pleased (and a little surprised) at just how good the “gun finish” looked in some places.

I hadn’t perhaps built up enough experience to adjust the gun technique to account for the differences between flat and vertical panels, as there were certainly a few places on the flat panels where the paint had gone on a bit too thick, with some overly noticeable orange peel, but overall I achieved a reasonably consistent finish. There was definitely enough material to work with in the later sanding and polishing stages to try and improve the finish further however.

The fully painted front valance is shown below, and also came out very nicely.

On the weekend I was painting I was facing a bit of a race against time, due to both the imminent onset of winter (it actually stayed fairly mild that weekend, but the temperature quickly dropped a few days later), and also because I was due to leave the country for a week on a work trip just after, so it was a real mission to get it all done. It did mean that the paint had plenty of time to cure whilst I was away though, so by the time I came to this next stage, almost 2 weeks had elapsed.

For sanding the colour coats, I began by using an 800 grit disc on the areas most obviously affected by orange peel, and for removing a tiny amount of dust that had landed in the paint. I did go over the whole car and “de-nibbed” a few larger dirt inclusions in the paint prior to sanding, but overall my attempts at cleanliness had paid off and I was quite surprised how little rectification it needed in that respect. From then on I had worked out a careful plan for further sanding and initial machine polishing that would hopefully get the car to a very presentable level of finish, which involved:

  • 1200 grit, followed by 1500 grit – Mirka Microstar dry film discs (dry sanding)
  • 2000 grit, followed by 4000 grit – Mirka Abralon finishing discs (wet sanding)
  • Machine polish with 3M Perfect-it Fast Cut Plus

I had already worked through this sequence on the panels I painted a few weeks prior, to very good effect, and it worked very well again on the main shell. It was a lot of work indeed, over several evenings and a full weekend, but hopefully all very worthwhile. It’s probably still not quite the kind of flawless paint job that a professional would put their name to, but I’m more than happy with it, it cost me a tiny fraction of the price of a professional job, and it’s probably at least as good as the paint job this car originally left the factory with, so a good result in my opinion.

Unfortunately the garage lighting is not particularly great at bringing out the shine in photos, so will hopefully get some better outdoor shots in due course, but here’s a bit of a taster of the end result.

Right then, better crack on with putting this thing back together – it’s just like a big Lego kit from this point, right? 🙂

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