Steve Baur
Former Editor, Modified Mustangs & Fords
June 1, 2009
In keeping with our budget-minded project theme, our Recession Special coupe is getting a fiscally responsible makeover.

There's something uniquely relaxing about driving a beater. It serves the purpose of basic transportation and is, by all means, expendable. Project Recession Special has fulfilled its beater duties for more than a year now, and it's been quite an enjoyable experience. There is no fear of road debris, nor flying stones from dump trucks. Tailgate to your heart's content and let the bug guts melt into the car's distressed skin. It feels good not to care about it, doesn't it?

We were quite content with Recession Special's beater status, and now that we have fortified its powerplant with an at-home garage rebuild and added a budget turbo system, it runs far better than it looks. It's a sleeper in every sense of the term. Summit Racing Equipment, however, threw a wrench in our plans when it sent us a recent press release on a new line of automotive paint. Just $299 nets you a gallon of primer, two quarts of activator, a gallon of clear, and a gallon of paint--in one of 20 available colors.

Summit Racing Equipment has everything you need to paint your car.

The budget price got us thinking about Recession Special's battered flanks and how it might be nice to have something that's worth washing. (Did we just make more work for ourselves?) However, painting a car is a long and labor-intensive job. It requires a bit of practice to master the basic concepts of reshaping a bent or dented fender, and applying the materials with just the right mixture of chemicals and the right consistency of product. Normally the paint, primer, clear, and other assorted products cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on their own. Since nice paint really doesn't make your car go faster, most people are content to spend five bucks on a bottle of the latest miracle wax and call it good.

Summit Racing has taken the fiscal concern out of the equation, and even though we splurged for the necessary tools, various sandpapers, masking tape, paper, beer, and pizza that were needed to get the job done, we managed to keep the project under $800. In the end, we were left with the tools and probably enough sandpaper, tape, and paint to shoot another car. That being said, your author enlisted the help of a few good friends, and over the course of a week, we turned the Recession Special into a symbol of smart fiscal spending.

You can tape off the moldings to save time, but it doesn't take much to pull them off, and if you're doing a color change like we are, you definitely should. Our moldings were mostly shot and were replaced with pieces from Latemodel Restoration. These have a screw at the front bottom-edge of the molding. Remove that and gently pull the molding away, as glue holds the rest of it on.

The Paint Connection
Summit Racing Equipment now offers a basecoat/clearcoat painting system designed to give you professional results without a professional education on how to mix the chemicals. The primer, paint, and clear all mix at a 4:1 ratio--easy as pie.

The paint we used is a single-stage acrylic urethane made with premium resins and pigments to make it resistant to damage from UV exposure, chemicals, weather, and stone chips. According to Summit, since it's a pure acrylic urethane formula, there are no oils to stain or yellow over time, allowing the paint to hold its color and gloss for a longer time period than acrylic enamels, synthetic enamels, or lacquer top-coat systems. The paint is designed for the do-it-yourselfer and is available in 20 colors, with prices starting at $79.95 per gallon.

Giving the finish a deep shine is Summit Racing's High-Solids Clear Coat. It's designed to be user friendly and features premium resins to give it a high-gloss finish and make it easy to polish. The High-Solids clear retails for $59.95, which is quite reasonable, but if that's a budget breaker, Summit also offers a Medium-Solids clearcoat for just $49.95. Both clearcoats mix at a 4:1 ratio with the Urethane Universal Activator that sells for $19.95 a quart (PN SUM-UP101). The activator is available in fast, medium, and slow formulas, depending on the temperature where you'll be painting the car.

After breaking the surface glaze of the factory paint with the DA and some 180-grit paper, we mixed the Rage body filler. Mix some of the provided hardener according to the instructions, and spread the filler across the dent.

To complement the base/clear system, Summit Racing offers its 2K Urethane Primer, which features a fast-drying formula that can be applied over sealers, primers, OE finishes, and body filler. It has a high-build property to conceal low spots and is ready for block-sanding in just 3 to 4 hours. It's priced at $39.95 per gallon. We largely used the urethane primer on Recession Special. Summit also offers an Epoxy Primer, which is designed to adhere to bare metal, body fillers, fiberglass, aluminum, or existing finishes. While the Urethane Primer mixes 4:1 with the Activator, the Epoxy Primer mixes at 1:1 with an epoxy catalyst.

Since we can't prime our way out of all the dents, dings, and general destruction of Recession Special's flanks, Summit provided us with a gallon of Evercoat Rage plastic body filler (PN MDS-FE106), which worked extremely well. We also recommend using Evercoat's Metal Glaze putty (PN MDS-FE416) to fill in the small spots. Summit carries this as well.

If you have a number of dents in close proximity to one another, you may want to spread a large swatch over the entire area. While the dent may be apparent only in one particular area, it may have disrupted the nearby metal. Our door looked like it was hit with buckshot--several times.

Tool Time
The Summit Racing Tools and Garage Accessories Catalog has just about everything the average gearhead needs to work on his or her vehicle. Toolboxes, welders, sheetmetal tools, valve-lash wrenches, and everything in between can be found on the pages of the tool catalog. And the items are reasonably priced, as well. We perused the catalog and ordered a Gerson maintenance-free respirator (PN MDS-GEO8211P), which is great whether you're panting or just sanding body filler. We also picked out a Dura-Block six-piece sanding-block kit (PN ARD-TAI-AF44L). We used all but one of the blocks in this project.

When we weren't sanding by hand, we were using a Chicago Pneumatic 6-inch, dual-action sander (MDS-CP870), and Summit also sent stick-on sanding discs and roll sandpaper from Carborundum. We ordered a roll of Carborundum's EZ Sheet plastic sheet and masking tape to mask things off. Here's a tip. If you're doing this in your garage, get an extra roll and lay it on the floor before you paint. That way you'll cut down on dust and prevent the floor from getting overspray.

Using some 80-grit paper and the long Dura-Block, we sanded the filler until it blended smoothly.

Cutting Costs
Obviously, Recession Special has been all about counting the pennies, and in addition to the savings from using the Summit Racing paint system, you can save time and money on your project in a number of other ways. Our front and rear bumper covers were both in bad shape, as the plastic was dry-rotted in places and riddled with pockmarks, scrapes, and gouges. They were, however, relatively straight and level, so we used some spot putty along with the Rage body filler to smooth them out rather than replacing them altogether.

If you're not looking for a show-quality finish, you can save more money by reusing the old body side moldings. Some of ours weren't straight, and some of the corners were bent up, but they were in decent shape overall, and we saved both time and money by not replacing and/or removing them from the car. A little scuff and paint and they were good to go.

Shown here, the body filler should look softly blended, and you shouldn't be able to feel the transition from filler to paint.

It's No Lie--They Call It BodyWORK For A Reason
There's no getting around it--bodywork is hard labor. If your car is perfectly straight, then the amount of labor is greatly reduced, as you only really need to run the DA over it once or twice and then hit it with the primer. Chances are, though, that your ride has a few parking lot dings here and there at the very least--even if you can't see them. So it's time to break out the sanding blocks and apply elbow grease.

For a job like Recession Special, you're looking at about three weeks of labor and somewhere between $4,000 to $7,000 if you want to pay someone to do it. Keep in mind that you're not only paying for the physical labor, but also the knowledge of the auto-body technician. Anyone can slap on some filler and sand it down, but knowing where to fill, when to stop sanding, how to line up a door gap, and whatever else doesn't fall under the fill-and-sand heading is what you're really paying for.

We are lucky enough to know a professional painter, Mark Johnson, who handled the application of primer and paint for us. Here, Johnson is mixing the Summit 2K Urethane Primer Surfacer, which features high build properties to more easily conceal low spots. It mixes 4:1 with Summit's Universal Activator.

Our ace in the hole was Mark Johnson. A good friend with more than 14 years of experience in the field, Johnson came to our rescue by guiding us in our foundation work; then in laying on the primer, paint, and clear. To watch him work is a thing of beauty, as his metal-shaping ability seems to be more of a gifted art than a learned skill. A twist here, a push there; we think we even saw him deliver the Dim Mak (Editor's note: you can Google that if you're curious) to the passenger fender at one point. We watched as he transformed one of the worst panels on the car into one of the straightest pieces of sheetmetal. If you look at the rest of the car, you can see the difference between our unskilled hands and his professional work. Still, with enough time, practice, and research, the average Joe can turn out quality results. And with every paint job you do, you get better and better--that is if you keep an open mind to criticism and consult the experts.

Restoring A Classic
While it now offers performance parts in addition to restoration components, Latemodel Restoration Supply in Hewitt, Texas, has always been the place to contact if you need to restore your aging Fox-body Mustang.

Johnson likes to prime one side of the car at a time, followed by the hood, roof, and trunk. This way he sees progress, and it helps break down a large job into smaller, more manageable parts. We laid down three coats of primer over the entire car.

The outer door-belt seals on our coupe had dry-rotted and fallen apart on both windows, which allowed a significant amount of wind noise, and subsequently draft air, to permeate the cabin. Add to that the fact that the door-seal weatherstripping was ripped and torn away, and you can see how a relatively quiet daily driver notchback could sound like a convertible with the top down.

In addition to the various weatherstrips that were shot, the plastic exterior moldings had taken a beating, too. The roof-rail molding had dry-rotted much like the rear-quarter windows, so it was replaced. While we were at it, we ordered a pair of new mirrors, new door-belt moldings (the flat molding at the bottom edge of the window), and a new cowl-vent grille.




Here's the driver side, cured and ready to be sanded. There are numerous ways to proceed from this point, including using a guidecoat of a dark color to help show the high and low spots. This wasn't an option on our truncated timetable, so we grabbed 400-grit paper and block-sanded the panels. Any low spots were filled in using Icing spot putty filler from the local NAPA Auto Parts store. The Icing putty uses a hardener, where most spot putties do not.

One of the most significant exterior changes you can make to an old Fox-body Mustang is to replace (or restore) the headlight assemblies. These turn a dull yellow and sometimes fill up with water. Latemodel has a host of lighting options, and we went with a set of Ultra Clear lamps. These have a slightly more modern look without looking too crazy. At the back of the car, we ditched the stock LX lamps and went for the SVO look. Similar to the '93 Cobra lenses, the SVO version simply have a black stripe rather than a dark gray one.

One product that really caught our eye was a 2-inch steel cowl-induction hood that we spied in Latemodel's MM&FF advertisement. We didn't want anything too tall for our daily driver, which regularly sees an 84-mile round-trip commute every day, and after installing the 2-inch piece, we'd say we made the right choice. Fit and finish are very good; there are provisions for the stock hood latch, prop rod, and underhood light, and the underside features a factory-type bracing so you can run the factory hood insulator/sound deadener. The downside is that it doesn't really offer any extra hood clearance, but we think there's a way to rework the inner frame work to make it happen if need be.

Manual Labor
When we purchased the coupe, the previous owner gave us an extra passenger-side door and fender, along with another passenger-side rocker panel. We planned to use all three, but the fender was a '91-up fender, which has a larger wheel opening than the '90 and earlier ones. The plastic spats are subsequently different, so we had to make the original fender work. The door wasn't much better, and we decided that in the time it took to pull the wiring harness and swap out the door, we would have had the current one already filled, sanded, and in primer.

The rocker panel was the biggest obstacle in performing this makeover. It was badly damaged to the point that both of the pinch welds were pushed in. Another key member of our body-shop posse, Rob Baldwin, jumped in to handle the repair. With a little help from his father, Gary, Rob had the rocker finished in about five hours. Given the time we had to do the entire car, replacing the entire rocker the correct way wasn't an option, but we did it to where most people won't notice it, and it's structurally safe and strong.

To do the job alone is a long and laborious effort, and a fairly boring one at that. Having friends to share the workload and hang out with while toiling on such an endeavor makes it far more enjoyable, and given that three of us didn't really know a whole lot about painting a car, we all came out a bit smarter--we think. We owe big thanks to Mark Johnson, Brian Bohnsack, and Rob Baldwin, who all played pivotal roles in getting our Recession Special looking great. We are no longer embarrassed about driving it in public, and although it still retains beater status, we keep a bottle of spray detailer in the car now.

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