We'd like to thank Best of...
We'd like to thank Best of Show Coach Works in San Marcos, CA, for letting us use their paint booth for our cover and lead images.
Part of kicking-off PHR's Project g/28, our 1976 Camaro project car, was a slick rendering of editor Hunkins' vision of what the car would look like by artist Kris Horton way back in 2004. Subsequently, g/28 has become the subject of more tech articles than we can remember in recent years, though it was still wearing the clothing it was purchased with: a wellworn and weathered repaint in maroon acrylic enamel paint. We did detail and refinish the underhood appearance in the January 2007 issue ("Underhood Rehab"), and even fully upgrade the tired interior in the February 2007 issue ("Inside Job"). Even with that, and the dream list of performance modifications done to this machine, rolling down the street it looked like nothing more than a clapped-out '76 F-body with a trick set of wheels. Sure, Hunkins was able to work some photographic wizardry, and for all appearances in print, fiction looked better than life, but parked curbside, the Camaro was sure not to receive a second passing glance.
Once on the ground at Johnson's...
Once on the ground at Johnson's Hot Rod Shop in Gadsden, AL, the g/28 was stripped of its loose metal in preparation for paint removal via media blasting. The faded, cheap repaint was sure to hide some ills.
Try as you might, boulevard draw just doesn't come without the finishing touch of masterful paint. Rippled panels and faded maroon patina won't even win any points with a ghetto vibe; the cach of a faded and beat mid sev-enties Camaro ranks pretty low on the streets. The Project g/28 deserved better, and opportunity knocked when none other than renown rod builder Alan Johnson of Johnson's Hot Rod Shop told Hunkins: "Sure, I'll paint your car." Johnson didn't have to offer twice before g/28 was loaded for Alan's digs in Gadsden, Alabama, for some serious automotive artistry, while we looked on and learned the inner secrets of the trade. Just what does it take to create that dazzling "show-quality" paint? Paint so deep, straight, and reflective that it stands out among other cars like a diamond in a heap of coal. Johnson's crew has the knowledge to pass on just how it is achieved.
Fortunately, there was nothing...
Fortunately, there was nothing horrifying to be seen once the Camaro was down to naked steel. This is the stage where an assessment needs to be made on what will remain, and what will be replaced.
Baseline: What Have You Got?
In its distant repaint in a thick layer of dull acrylic enamel, g/28 wore a kind of automotive camouflage; the kind of finish that isn't shiny enough to highlight its flaws, and the kind that willingly buries the true condition of the panels below. Originalpaint cars don't play the same games, like a nave gal with nothing to hide, honest and wholesome through and through. We had to wonder what seediness lay beneath g/28's deceptive repainted faade. The only way to know for sure is to strip away the layers and have a look at what lies deep down, and this was the first step Johnson took with our Camaro.
Any truly serious refinishing effort begins with stripping the paint-stripping it to the bare metal. There are various ways to achieve this, each with their pros and cons, but it boils down to three processes: sanding, blasting, or chemicals. Within each of these categories are a variety of processes, and again we have pros and cons with each. Everything is worth a detailed discussion.
The roof was definitely worse...
The roof was definitely worse for wear, particularly after Hunkins used it as a photo platform for shooting the April 2004 cover. Still, it was decided that repair was preferable to replacement on this panel.
Taking a car down to the bare metal by sanding requires the right equipment, and even then, it's anything but a clean and easy job. Sanders come as simple rotary types, as typified by an electric sander resembling an angle grinder. These machines will aggressively remove paint, but they also generate high heat, can distort panels, and will dig into the surface of the car. A more forgiving machine is a D/A (dual-action) sander, which is far less likely to distort than a rotary sander, but is slower at removing paint. Normally, D/A sanders are air-operated, and are a staple device at any pro body shop. Keep in mind that stripping with a D/A will take a tremendously capable air supply system, a fair amount of time, and will create an unreal amount of dust.
The D/A, with a healthy supply of No. 80 grit discs, will definitely do the job of stripping paint from a car's panels, but it's useless in tight crevices, corners or tightly sculptured areas. To supplement stripping with a D/A, fiberabrasive discs, such as 3M's Clean & Strip products, can clean most of the areas a D/A can't reach.
It took some good old-fashioned...
It took some good old-fashioned panel-beating with a variety of metalworking tools to get the roof back into shape on the g/28.
Paint has been removed by the use of chemical paint stripping techniques for years. The do-it-yourself variety includes various canned products that are applied to the painted surface, after which the softened paint is rinsed or scraped away. The dangers here are several, starting with many of the products themselves. Most of these strippers are very difficult to work with, with the potential to burn through skin as easily as the paint, and require extreme care in their application and disposal. There is the potential for the strippers to seep into seams and between panels, where the product can ruin newly applied paint. These chemicals must be thoroughly neutralized, and the surface perfectly cleaned before any primer or paint can be applied. Finally, for all the difficulties and potential problems, the vast majority of products on the market simply do not effectively remove stubborn automotive paint.
Project g/28's rear finish...
Project g/28's rear finish panel suffered from severe battle damage. After the area was pulled at the lower line using a temporarily welded metal plate as an anchor point, the metal was hammer and dollied to shape.
Chemical paint stripping can also include commercial stripping facilities that immerse the entire panel or vehicle in a vat of stripping solution. This normally includes a paint removal process, a rust removal process, and finally, a neutralizing and protective coating process. Going with the full-dip treatment, like all the other processes, has its pros and cons. You'll definitely get clean metal back, but the car has to be fully disassembled to use this technique. There is also the possibility of a bad chemical reaction down the road causing a failure in the paint, particularly if the shop doing the work does not have an effective process to neutralize the chemicals. Provided the process is competently used, full-immersion chemical stripping is a life saver on a car that really needs to be cleaned of every stitch of paint, primer, sealer, and rust, but it's totally inappropriate for a machine like the g/28.
It was decided that the driver-side...
It was decided that the driver-side door would be easier to reskin than repair, especially considering that new reproduction skins can be had for under a hundred dollars from Classic Industries.
Blasting, like sanding, is an abrasive process and the variations here are many. All manner of media are employed in blasting, from silica sand to soda, walnut shells or plastic media, to name the most common types. Blasting is a lineof-sight process and does an excellent job, though the media tends to get everywhere in the process. There are proponents for each type of media, and critics as well. Some consider sand too aggressive, though unlike most of the others, it effectively removes rust. Walnut shells are kinder, though some will say they leave an oily residue that can create problems. Soda seems like a great compromise and washes cleanly away, but detractors will point out that soda is a salt and can create corrosion or related problems. Plastic media is the most inert, and it's this media blasting process that Johnson selected for the g/28. Though the plastic will not remove rust, it's the least destructive process on a partially assembled car like our project Camaro, and has little potential for surface contamination.
Upon being plastic media blasted, the g/28 was down to bare metal where a real survey could be made. The car was relatively free of rust, but many of the panels were rippled and puckered to the point where replacement was a more economical alternative to repair. Fortunately, specialist suppliers like Classic Industries have most of the metal needed to replace the required panels. The original hood was already slated for replacement with a 2 3/4-inch steel cowl hood from Classic, and to that list Johnson added both front fenders and a fresh door skin for the left door. That left both quarters, the roof, and right doors as the major original exterior panels that will remain with the car.