For anyone that is in the process of restoring a classic automobile there comes a time when you reach the exciting part – the dirt, grease and grime has temporarily gone, and now you can consider the wheels and the paint. It’s often been said that these two things can make or break a vintage car. Especially if you are creating a custom job rather than an authentic period model.
A good paint job can cost thousands, and I’ve seen lacquers on metallic painted Beetles that are so deep and clear that you feel giddy just looking too deeply.
Originally, automobiles were varnished with the same varnish that was used to protect horse carriages. Due to the amount of coats needed and the drying times, one vehicle could take a few weeks to complete.
These days, car paint is as much about fashion as it is about advancing technology and rust protection. I remember with some amusement the ‘calico’ paint that was available on some vehicles while I was at Nissan. Depending on the angle of the light, the paint could appear to be any of a number of different metallic colours. Great for car thieves as some sarcastically pointed out.
Talking of Nissan, I read recently about the development of paramagnetic paint that the company is showing a keen interest in. This is an even more advanced colour-changing paint that can alter its colour at the flick of a switch.
The car is coated in iron-oxide particles which are sensitive to an electric current being passed through them, altering the way the particles reflect light. With no current, the default is white – so you could end up in the future trying to find you car in a local supermarket car park where every vehicle is white. Enjoy that then.
Nissan are actually no strangers to new automobile colour technology. A few years back they developed Scratch Shield – a paint that can heal itself, helping your beloved new vehicle maintain it’s just out of the showroom look for a few years longer, as all those fine scratches that show up in sunlight will (in theory) be no more. Nissan claim that this paint will enable cars to have 5 times less the number of scratches compared to a car of the same age painted with standard paint. This bizarre healing process can take anything from a day to a week.
The one draw back of all this technology is the increasing difficulty in being able to carry out paint repairs at home to any decent standard. Especially since the introduction of 2 Pack (also known as 2k or Twin Pack) paint which, apart from being rather toxic due to the isocyanate that it contains, generally requires an oven to increase the drying time. 2k is a professional only product if you want to keep your lungs working.
So what of your classic? Well, having a basic paint job, I managed to get by with cans of VW Brilliant Orange for many years in all weathers, but the downside is that it is not a hardy solution, suffering from weather damage over time. The need to shell out for a decent respray always loomed in the back of my mind as I stood foolishly in the street shaking a rattling can over and over.
In fact, many restorers cite 2 Pack as a dream come true, for this paint is able to be layered upon itself over and over reducing the need for primer-filler on battered old, less than straight panels. 2 Pack also contains less solvent so there is less chance of a reaction when over painting on classic cars covered in cellulose paint.
So where are we now? 2 Pack is still the standard, but there is now hope for the classic car home restorer – several companies are developing 2 Pack that doesn’t contain isocyanate, which would make the product safe to use in a home paintshop.
Worth bearing in mind though, that if you want a paintjob of the quality of House of Kolor’s near legendary ‘kandy kolors’ that many of us aspire to, then it’s a large chequebook (keeping retro’ here) and a professional paint sprayer’s time that is going to be required. Once you’ve achieved your dream motor’s colour, don’t forget to make sure your classic car insurance is up to date for all those war-zone visits to the supermarket.
Next time I will look into the sometimes quite mesmerising art of custom paint jobs.