Steve Baur
Former Editor, Modified Mustangs & Fords
October 29, 2012

Painting an automobile is probably the most labor-intensive thing you can do to a car, even more so than pulling and rebuilding a drivetrain. For a paintjob to be exceptional, a certain amount of finesse and excruciating attention to detail is required, along with a large amount of patience. Combine the mental requirements with the ever-increasing prices of refinishing products, and you can see that there is a sizeable investment in the endeavor. That being said, we wanted to share with you some tips that we gathered while working with Rusty and Brian Gillis at Gillis Performance Restorations (Port Richey, Florida) on our '66 Mustang fastback project. You may find that they save time, or probably more importantly, help you obtain a better end result.

Before you sand...

Try using a razor blade or other type of scraper to remove the paint. That's what Gillis Performance Restorations' Rusty Gillis said to us as he shaved the black paint off of our Colt of Personality project. The paint hadn't bonded well to the surface of the metal, and was easily peeled up with a blade. As the previous owner had explained to us, he didn't really know what he was doing with the modern paints when it came to mixing, and he was far more familiar with the lacquer paints of yore. The hazy finish was a sure sign of this. The paint came off very easy with our project, but as Gillis pointed out, sometimes it comes off in smaller chips, so make sure you have a face shield. You can media blast, but don't soda blast unless you know how to properly neutralize the surface afterwards, otherwise your paint may start coming off later on. Gillis always starts with the razor blade scraper and tries to remove the paint, leaving the primer.

Bare It All, or Not?

The jury is still out on whether or not it is better to strip the car to bare metal or leave the factory primer as a base. For classic cars, taking it all off is probably the best route, as you don't want to lay thousands of dollars of custom paint on top of 40-plus- year-old primer. Late-model cars can get away with using the original primer as a base because it is generally of better material, and you are more than likely repainting the car's stock color.

If you have to strip it, start out with a DA or orbital sander and some 80-grit paper. If you find any body filler, step down to a coarser 50-grit. Gillis prefers a 3-inch mini grinder, as the single-action machine will remove the filler quicker, and allow you to get into smaller areas.

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Clean It And Cover It

Clean the bare metal by using a wax and grease remover. Paint and/or lacquer thinner are generally bad choices. Gillis prefers to utilize SPI products, and in particular, its Wax & Grease Remover, using the #700 waterborne for clean metal. If you are painting over something that has had oil or grease on it, use #710. Also, don't use rust converters once the metal has been cleaned. Just get your primer/sealer on the metal quickly.

Gillis mixes his SPI epoxy primer in a 1:1 ratio with the 6700 activator. He waits 30 minutes before spraying two coats, with an hour of drying time between the two. Check with the manufacturer of the products you are using, as they will most likely specify an ambient working temperature, as well as a material temperature for what you are working on. As a general rule, Gillis makes sure the metal temperature is at least 60 degrees F when shooting the epoxy primer.

Curve Ahead

You need an assortment of sanding blocks in all shapes. Gillis uses various sized rolls of self-sticking sandpaper along with a host of blocks and/or tools to fit just about every shape. Keep in mind that all sandpaper is not created equal. Though the grit number may be the same, the quality of the paper and how it works varies among manufacturers.

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Form-Fitting

If you don't have the right tool for the job, make one. Here, Gillis used a Tupperware canister to form the shape for this gas filler opening. When it comes to using objects for sanding, the key is to make sure that you cover as much surface area on the back of the paper as possible to even out the pressure.

Make A List, Check It Twice

Make a list of all the steps for each piece of sheetmetal for your car. Once you complete a step, cross it off. That way, if you stop working on it for a while you can remember what you did last. It can be overwhelming if you try to work on the whole car at one time, so it's easier to work on one thing at a time than cross it off your list.

Just as we were putting this story together, Rusty Gillis was completing the paintjob on his '67 Mustang coupe. You may have seen it on the cover of the June issue of MM&F. Since everyone who has painted a car has his/her own process, we decided to show you the steps that Rusty Gillis of Gillis Performance Restorations took to paint his own personal car. Granted he has no intentions of it being a six-figure Ridler winner, it will serve as a model for his shop's body and paint prowess.

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Like A Glove

When you are finished with the bodywork, wipe it down with 700 wax and grease remover, wait 30 minutes or more, then use a tack cloth and wipe it down. Remember to use gloves so you don't contaminate your clean surface. Whenever you are using wax and grease remover, use two clean cloths--one to spread and the other to wipe it off. You may have to do this a couple of times to get the panel clean.

Extra, Extra

Order two gallons of paint so that you have some left over in case a problem requiring a repaint comes up. Future accidents or even issues with the paint or clear might require a respray. Also, get yourself four clean, empty quart-sized cans, open one gallon of the base and mix thoroughly. Then empty the gallon into the quart cans. This is very important for metallic and pearls, especially if you are painting many of the panels off of the car. It certainly doesn't hurt to do this with solid colors as well. Use the other gallon for the first two basecoats, then use the paint from the quart cans for the final coat. Be sure to mix the paint the same every time, and have your spray gun and air pressure set the same.

Order two gallons of paint so that you have some left over in case a problem requiring a repaint comes up. Future accidents or even issues with the paint or clear might require a respray.

Let It All Hang Out

If you are planning on shooting your body panels off of the vehicle, make sure you hang the fenders, doors, and more as they would hang or sit on the vehicle. This is very important to get a good color match with metallics.

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Wax On, Wax Off

The time period for this will differ between paint manufacturers, but the general rule is not to wax the vehicle for at least 90 days or more. The paint needs time for the solvents to cure, and this means the paint finish must be able to breathe. If you wax right after painting, you are preventing this process from occurring, which can cause problems down the road. While we're talking about letting the paint breathe, leave the car cover on the shelf for a while, too.

No Booth, No Problem

If you don't work at a body shop, and can't borrow or rent a paint booth, just build your own. Some plastic sheeting hung from the walls and a good soaking of the floor with the garden hose will keep the dust down and the paint from giving your garage a nice new color. Companies like Summit Racing and Eastwood even sell kits for the DIY'er that accomplish this as well. Keep in mind that if you are in a high-humidity location, wetting the floor can promote solvent pop and paint blisters. Good air movement is key here.

Rusty's Plan Of Action

Just as we were putting this story together, Rusty Gillis was completing the paintjob on his '67 Mustang coupe. You may have seen it on the cover of the June issue of MM&F. Since everyone who has painted a car has his/her own process, we decided to show you the steps that Rusty Gillis of Gillis Performance Restorations took to paint his own personal car. Granted he has no intentions of it being a six-fgure Ridler winner, it will serve as a model for his shop's body and paint prowess.

Photo Gallery

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