There are many things that separate an average muscle machine from the standout car that makes people turn their head and take notice. The overall paint finish ranks right up at the top of what counts when it comes to the visual statement that speaks loudest. No matter how worthy your machine might be in other qualities, it is the paintwork that makes the first impression, whether rolling down the boulevard, or under scrutiny at the show field. In fact, often the key feature a car is judged by is the appearance of the paint. How often is a car described disparagingly as a 20-footer, meaning that it might look good from 20 feet away, but fails under close scrutiny?

A fine paintjob shows outstanding craftsmanship as it is approached for a closer look. By contrast, the 20-footer might be a disappointment as you see the flaws, blemishes, and shoddiness of the paint. A great paintjob will only draw admirers in. It takes a dedication to quality and an uncompromising eye for detail to achieve a fantastic show-quality paintjob, and that starts from step one—the body.

Pro or DIY?

One of the first things to contemplate when staring at your project and dreaming about perfect paint is what—if anything—you will tackle yourself. Here it is important to take into account your previous experience and level of skill, the equipment at hand, and perhaps most importantly your own level of perseverance. Make no mistake, body restoration and paint is one of the most labor-intensive endeavors you’ll encounter, and messy work at that. Expert paint and bodywork is very expensive, and it is tempting to save some of that costly work with a little (or a lot) of sweat equity. Nevertheless, it is also all too easy to get in over your head, or end up with results that fall far short of your dream of that fantastic paintjob.

We’ve known do-it-yourself auto hobbyists who have succeeded in major body panel replacement and repair, and taken the project to completion with stunning paintwork, all in their own garage. We’ve also seen enthusiastic but botched attempts at the same that resulted in perpetually unfinished projects, and more work for the professionals who finally took over. What is important here is to be realistic in qualifying your own skill level, commitment, and time when deciding whether to tackle different aspects of your paint project, or just turn it over to the pros.

Our ’68 Nova was driven to Outlaw Motorsports in Riverside, California, where Ron Aschtgen and crew handled the full body build and repaint. While Outlaw is known for its outstanding work in restoring, modifying, and rebuilding muscle cars, the shop is not a dedicated paint and body facility. Most of the operations involved were performed using tools and techniques that can be handled by the DIY enthusiast, while the actual paintwork was accomplished in a makeshift shelter within an open warehouse space, not unlike the kind of place a hobbyist would fashion in his own garage.

Ron says: “It is the detail work that sets a job off, and the quick production shops will not put that kind of time into it. If you are going that route, you can get a better job by taking some of the car apart and putting in some of the prep. If you are paying top dollar at a custom paint shop, you naturally will expect perfection from the shop. How much an individual wants to handle depends on the approach, and the skill level of the individual.” Whether you plan on taking on the whole task of bodywork and paint yourself, or place it in the experienced hands of an expert, it is worthwhile to understand exactly what is involved in getting the job done.

We’ll go through all of the major steps in taking a car through the body and paint process, from beginning to end. We will show you how it’s done, and what’s involved, and leave you with the decision on whether you should tackle the work as a whole, or attempt some portion of the job. Nothing done on this project is beyond the realm of a capable do-it-yourselfer.