K.J. Jones
November 30, 2006

This installment of our T-top coupe's build coverage starts where we left off in last month's update. The 'Stang's bodywork needs have been assessed and repairs are underway at Johns Customz & Performance in Torrance, California. The company's co-owners, John Barbera and John Morrow (John B. and John M.), Paul Morrow, and everyone else at the shop have been diligent in making things right again with the car's body, which we learned had quite a few more issues than we initially thought.

We're happy to tell you the body's problems have been addressed. Our special 'Stang with a trunk and a T-roof now beams with an awesome Deep Black hue on all its straightened body panels. When we introduced this project ("Raisin' the Roof," May '06, p. 94), we said the car would be refinished with black paint. We're glad we decided to use the nearly blue mixture by Auto Air Colors, as it definitely pops even though it still needs to be color-sanded and buffed. John M. complemented the Deep Black even further with his own special mixture of Charcoal Gray Metallic that highlights the body trim and covers the Chris Alston's Chassisworks FAB9 rearend housing.

Our project car is finally closer to the ready-for-painting stage. Final touches of glaze putty, which contains a higher percentage of resin and is smoother than the putty we used during initial repairs, are applied to fill in small dents that were undetected earlier. We like to call it "you missed a spot" putty.

In our first article on repairing the car's damaged body ("Damage Control," Oct. '06, p. 144), we detailed what we learned during our crash course in autobody repair. This was the first time John M. had worked with Auto Air Colors' water-based paint, and we all learned a lot about the application characteristics for this type of material. The paint should be shot with gun set at a fine mist, with a short flash time for drying.

With Hot Rod's Drag Week being the endurance challenge it is-five days, five dragstrips, 1,500 miles with no trailers permitted-a lot of our focus is on our project Mustang's performance. But we also want the car to look as great as it runs when we're on the open road.

JCP, Auto Air Colors, and Latemodel Restoration Supply helped us restore our T-top coupe's body to near-original form and opened our eyes to everything that quality autobody repair and painting entails.

Horse Sense: Trying Auto Air Colors products on our project car has put Johns Customz & Performance a step ahead on becoming familiar with what's soon to be a standard in auto painting: water-based paints. Sources tell us that by 2009 the Environmental Protection Agency will have a "zero" Volatile Organic Compound ruling in place that will prohibit auto painters from refinishing cars with any chemical-based products such as enamels and lacquers.

To minimize the chances of paint getting on parts and areas of the car that should not be painted, green masking tape and paper are applied to the glass, chrome, and trim/accessory pieces that remain on the car. The color of masking paper does make a difference. John B. says the green paper is the most common, as it is fairly thick and paint does not penetrate through it. White masking paper is the cheapest, and using newspaper is absolutely the kiss of death for a paint job. The fiber of the newspaper creates "fur balls," which can get all over the paint while the painter is spraying.

Paul uses a high-speed wire brush to clean out the residual urethane in the rear-windshield channel. Every piece of the body that will be painted must be clean and free of debris.

John M. applies Grow Automotive's Super Klean grease, wax, and silicone remover (PN 1705) to the rollcage. John says that wiping down the 'cage and the complete body is an important step in the final preparations before shooting sealer, primer, or paint. Debris or contaminants of any sort are a painter's nightmare. All measures should be taken to make the body's surfaces as clean as possible.

We're also painting the Chris Alston's Chassisworks FAB9 rearend housing and the antiroll bar. John M. says that any metal surface should have paint or some type of sealer on it to protect it from rust and deterioration. In this photo, John M. is masking off the sections on the housing that will not be painted.

The T-top coupe takes its first trip into the brightly lit, 25x14x9 galvanized-steel paint booth at JCP.

John M. believes that applying some sort of primer or sealer is mandatory, as they both are used to seal/protect metal surfaces from contaminants and elements that can cause rust.

While Auto Air Colors paints do not require primer, the company offers a direct-to-metal primer (PN 4009; $51.15 per quart) that John uses on the coupe's rollcage and body. He says the primer is somewhat thin, but it does not require a lengthy amount of time to dry.

Once the primer is dry, John M. applies spot putty to the small, and final, chips or imperfections in the body, then wet-sands the panels for one final go at ensuring that all the surfaces are straight, smooth, and ready to be painted. A fine-grade sandpaper is used here. The water helps keep the sandpaper clean and free of the debris that can chalk up and clog the pores in the paper and transfer back onto the body, which would screw up any paint job.

It seems as if the 'Stang's body is forever being sanded. The process is the most time-consuming aspect of bodywork and painting, but it's the only way to ensure the body panels are straight and even, from the start of bodywork and heavy-grit paper such as 24 or 40 to the paint-finishing stages with the ultra-fine grit (1,500-2,000).

Since our plan is to run in Hot Rod's Drag Week and enjoy occasional track outings long after that endurance event, we decided to have JCP close off the holes in the passenger side of the firewall. Our reasons are twofold. We want a clean look in the engine compartment, and sealing off the firewall will help keep flames out of the cockpit area in the unlikely event of a fire while at the dragstrip or driving down the road.

Body shops are dusty environments. All you can do is make sure that the car's body is free of dust and debris before painting begins. John M. gives everything a blast with the air nozzle...

...and Paul follows up by wiping down surfaces with a sticky tack cloth.

Everything in the car that is not to be painted is masked off in some manner. The wiring harness for the lights is wrapped up and bagged in plastic to keep the red, yellow, blue, green, and other colored wires protected from the paint spray.

Auto Air Colors Dark Sealer (PN 4002; $166.90 per gallon) is applied next. John M. says the sealer, in contrast to the direct-to-metal primer he applies first, is thicker and more difficult to spray on without having it run. John works from the inside to the outside to prevent spraying over or across an area that's already been done. Auto Air Colors Deep Black paint (PN 4220; $166.90 per gallon) is applied in the same manner.

Body shops are dusty environments. All you can do is make sure that the car's body is free of dust and debris before painting begins. John M. gives everything a blast with the air nozzle and Paul follows up by wiping down surfaces with a sticky tack cloth.

The two Johns and Paul are not exactly watching paint dry, but they are admiring how quickly and evenly the Dark Sealer "flashes," or transitions from a wet texture to the eggshell-like finish that indicates the sealer is dry.

The moment we've been waiting for! After a day of ensuring the Dark Sealer is fully dry and more sanding to even out areas where the sealer ran badly, John M. finally applies the paint.

Here's our car and a collection of freshly painted parts that include the FAB9 rearend housing and the door bars for the rollcage.

The new bumper cover from Latemodel Restoration Supply looks great with the fresh paint. John B. notes that fitting this bumper cover was a challenge because it is not as flexible as the OEM piece and more difficult to stretch. It's important to use a flex-additive when painting urethane parts such as this, as they endure a lot of stress. If the paint mixture does not include this protective agent, it will only be a matter of time before the paint on the bumper covers starts to crack.

Three coats of Auto Air Colors Deep Black paint and four coats of clear are sprayed on our project car. "The paint applies much smoother than the Dark Sealer (which was runny) does and it dries quickly," John M. says. "I think the paint's tendency to orange-peel will be a lot less if it's shot in a heated booth or dried with the assistance of heat lamps, but since we have to rely on only the ambient air and temperature, I shot four coats of clear over the paint and believe that a brilliant shine will be achieved once the body is color-sanded and buffed out."

Even though we have every piece of body molding that Latemodel Restoration Supply carries, we still don't have a complete set. So we put this little custom touch on the mid-waist trim that separates the top of a 'Stang's body line from the bottom, incorporating the pieces we had with the simulated trim on the body. Follow the line from the bumper and into the rear-quarter molding. See how the molding flutes down into the body itself? The four-eyed Mustang purists who believe there is no room for "custom" anything for a car like this are probably gonna freak, but we like the way this worked out. Some have even said we should be working with a plain four-cylinder coupe instead of "ruining" this T-top notchback. The irony here is they're probably the same folks who drool with delight when they see a Boss 429 or other more rare Mustang being flogged on the track on a regular basis.

John Morrow (left), John Barbera (center), and Paul Morrow (right) stand proudly by our freshly painted coupe. These guys and the crew at Johns Customz & Performance worked hard and did an awesome job with the body repair and painting of our project T-top coupe. We appreciate all their efforts to complete this major segment of our project in record time.

We noted this problem early in the stages of our project. The damage to the bumper and improper fitment with the lower portion of the fender are obvious. We chalked it up to the generally poor state of the front fascia. What we didn't realize until we stripped the paint, however, is that the original passenger-side fender had been replaced.

Fender extensions are the square-shape panels that are affixed to the lower corners of each front fender; the fenders actually bow downward at this point. The extensions help maintain consistency in the body lines at the front of a 'Stang below the body molding, where the fenders transition into the front-bumper cover.

Fox-Mustang fender extensions (pre-'87 GT and LX, and post-'87 LX) are not all the same! This fact slapped us hard when we found ourselves without an extension for the passenger side of the project car one day before we were supposed to begin spraying the paint. We were fortunate to score a clean one for the driver side through our buddy Frank Ross.

Matt Sims of JCP stepped up big time and put together a handmade sheetmetal replica of a pre-'87 fender extension that worked perfectly. Even the guys at Latemodel Restoration admit the supply of usable panels-in junkyards or through Web sites-has effectively dried up.

JCP will soon offer the hard-to-find pre-'87 Mustang fender extensions in metal or fiberglass, probably by the time you read this. 'Stangbangers in need should call the shop for additional info and to place orders.