Hunkins didn't have to ponder too long when searching for a direction in building the '75 Chevrolet Laguna S3 project car known as Project Talladega. After all, these popular "Colonnade" coupes of the mid-'70s became iconic in the heated NASCAR competition of the period, and the slant-nosed S3 that debuted for 1975 was styled with enhanced aerodynamics specifically for a competitive edge in that racing venue. The stock car heritage runs deep to the core of these cars, so it seemed prudent to tap that cachet as a theme. Rather than create a street clone of the specific livery of one of the many team's individual race cars, Project Talladega would be built with its own identity, with NASCAR cues-and a nod to Chevy legend Neil Bonnett-as a tribute to the Laguna's deep racing legacy.
As the focus began to narrow on the details of the build, the approach to the body and paint emerged as a major aspect of the car's character. The major objective was to create a sinister and menacing look, while reigning in the costs. What materialized as the final plan is a low-sheen black finish, accented with a NASCAR-inspired graphics package that was rendered for us by artist Chris Gray. While semi-flat black isn't exactly traditional in terms of vintage competition colors, it carries with it the no-nonsense meanness that tells the world this car is all business. Think aero testing at Daytona during the off-season.
Low-sheen, satin, flat, suede and the like have become popular finishes, especially in recent years. All of these terms refer to a finish that spurns the notion of high gloss in favor of low luster. The origins of these finishes have their roots in the practicality, low cost, and functionality of bucks-down hot rod primer jobs. Simply put, when the bucks weren't there for the glitz and glamour of a paintjob, a quick hose-down with primer, preferably in hot rod black, was the easy, fast, and cheap solution. This primer look has definitely taken on a trend status of its own, mainly for the same reasons of utility, typically lower costs, and of course the fact that flat looks pretty damned tough. But there is also a NASCAR tie-in that relates specifically to our Laguna. Pre-season testing is often undertaken before final sponsorship agreements are inked, and that's the way many race cars are tested-in primer. (Car numbers, driver designation, and some sponsors are represented in vinyl graphics during testing, and these are applied temporarily over primer.)
Though the traditional suede is nothing but lacquer primer, primer isn't paint, and therein lies a problem when looking to go this route as a permanent finish. Primers are not embodied with the resistance of topcoats, and will fade, chalk, and fail to protect the sheetmetal from surface rust in the long run, especially when exposed to the weather. There are several routes to achieving a low-gloss look with a true topcoat, and getting that done properly to last the long haul begins to look more like a real paintjob than a hack primer job. Ricky Jackson of Ricky's Customs and Restorations in Apache Junction, Arizona, handled the bodywork and refinishing of Project Talladega, providing us with a detailed look at what is involved in creating a sound and long-lasting "suede" job.
When our project car was purchased, it had multiple previous paintjobs covering its reasonably straight sheetmetal. As with any refinishing project, the effort begins with achieving a smooth and straight surface. Decision one is whether or not to begin by stripping the entire car down to the bare metal. Weighing the cost constraints and time involved, Ricky suggested that stripping the car would be unnecessary. "The paint on the car was very solid, and that base gives us something to work with. We could carefully block-out the car using the material that was already built up as though it is a primer, saving time, material and cost."