After a lengthy build full of custom fabrication, we were finally at the point with Project Max Effort where it needed paint. Still wearing its aged and discolored original white coat contrasted with bare steel, Max's appearance just wasn't flattering for a car with so much quality work in it. It was time to get Max respectable looking, and we needed the right guy to show us how it could be done. Thankfully, we met that guy at the Goodguys Columbus show, where he was standing next to the coolest custom 1967 Cougar we'd ever seen.

That guy was Wes Adkins, aka "Wild Wes." Adkins has been an artist and painter literally his whole life; he started learning by helping his father in his small paint shop when he was just a little Wild. He learned the body and restoration trade quickly and began painting when he was only 12 years old. By the time he was 18, he was already winning awards for his work on show cars. As luck would have it, Adkins is an admitted Cougar fan, and knew our own project well. What started as a happenstance conversation quickly grew into the opportunity to explore the boundaries of designing, restoring, and painting what may be one of the nicest street-legal Mercurys in hot rodding history. We just had to figure out how to do it all with materials and tools you can easily get using techniques you can duplicate at home, then cram all Adkins's know-how into a short 14-page story!

Evolution of Design

When we started on our 1967 Cougar project, we knew everything under the skin would be modern race equipment, but we wanted the exterior to have a vintage racing flavor. Something like Shelby American would have built if there had been a GT350 version of the Cougar. With that in mind, we asked artist Tavis Highlander to sketch the first incarnation of the Max Effort Cougar based on Jerry Titus' Team Terlingua 1968 Mustang, one of the earliest Trans-Am racers with the blacked-out hood treatment.

With an ethos of function over form, we didn't give Max's paint scheme much more thought until paint and body time. By then, we felt the simple white/black look lacked the colorful punch that it deserved, so we called up Highlander again to bench race ideas. This time we decided to pay homage to the Bud Moore Trans-Am era Cougars, but combine it with a different upper treatment. Turning back to that original Shelbified Cougar idea, we remembered our favorite Shelby of all time: the one-of-one 1967 GT500 Super Snake. So Highlander took the Super Snake's unique three-stripe theme, combined it with the Trans-Am Cougar lower body stripe, and created a new vision for Max Effort. As you can see from the end result, it pays dividends to plan your paint design well in advance; a quality rendering like one from Highlander can be the shining beacon you need in the darkest hours, motivating you when your ride is sitting in a corner, stripped and awaiting rust repair.

Assessment & Blasting

Our gut always wants to just sand and spray, but sometimes it's not the wisest decision. In this case, we knew that we had to take Max down to bare steel since much of the paint had been sanded off for fabrication purposes. Moreover, the quality of the paint that was still clinging was a poor base to apply new color over, and rust was bubbling in the driver's door, both rear quarter-panels, the trunk floor, below the rear windshield, and (we suspected) the cowl vent as well.

For paint stripping, Pacific Coast Powder Coating (PCPC), our go-to blasting shop, typically uses nonabrasive plastic bead, which is essentially just crushed buttons. This stuff will remove paint, but it will not build heat and will be kind to the body panels. In areas that need more aggressive material to remove heavy rust, undercoating, or other more dense buildup, PCPC used aluminum oxide to blast away the crud. If you find yourself in this situation where the rust is piling up, and you want to get to the bottom of it fast, a commercial stripper like PCPC is the way to go, but it's not the only route. Eastwood offers affordable mediablasting solutions for home use, such as the dual-media Master Blaster covered in our Project Nova resto.

As is typical, all the small spots of rust that were visible grew greatly in size once the paint was removed. Unfortunately, that's typical with rust, and like the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, there's always a lot more than meets the eye. The rear windshield filler panel on Max was perhaps the biggest surprise and the most extensive rust that was uncovered. Before moving on to the repairs, PCPC applied an epoxy primer powdercoat over the entire body and chassis to completely seal it. Since it's applied as powdercoat, the tiny particles drift into every nook and cranny and completely seal the body.

Rust & Damage Repair

Despite being fairly popular in their day, Cougar's don't have a great deal of aftermarket replacement patches available for rust repair. That's why we were extremely excited when West Coast Classic Cougars (WCCC) offered up the very first preproduction version of their rear windshield filler for 1967-68 Cougars to help us with Max's repairs. This panel is an extremely common spot for Cougars to rust, especially those equipped with vinyl roofs. Until now the only option was to seek out a less damaged one in a junkyard or spend a great deal of time patching. Now, the process is as simple as drilling out spot welds, clamping in the new panel, and spotting it in place. Watch for the full tech article on this exciting new patch in an upcoming issue.

Unfortunately, the rest of the rust patches would need to be handformed. Thankfully, Adkins has a well-equipped shop and is adept at creating custom steel. We already knew there was rust on the trunk floor, but the driver-side door was also revealed to have significantly more damage than previously thought, and both quarter-panels were harboring rust behind the wheelwells. For all affected areas, Adkins used a Norton cut-off wheel to remove all the affected steel and create a simple geometric hole to patch.

Starting with flat pieces of steel snipped to roughly the correct size, Adkins used a combination of Eastwood body hammers and dollies, as well as an Eastwood shrinker to compress excess material and form patches that laid precisely into the cut hole. Once he welded it into place and ground it down, it was impossible to tell that there had even been rust. Becoming an expert takes practice, but the techniques are quite simple and easy to learn. (Look for more in the Apr. '14 issue with the details on how Adkins shapes steel.)

Bodywork

While it appeared fairly straight, after more than four decades Max had plenty of dings and minor damage in the sheetmetal. Before moving on to body filler, the goal is always to remove as much of the inconsistencies as possible by hand. The key here is patience and the right tools, namely a good set of hammers and dollies, such the Fairmont tools from Eastwood. The idea is quite simple: press an appropriately shaped dolly against one side of the steel while tapping the other side with a body hammer. (You will want to experiment with various techniques, as hammering directly on the dolly versus off the dolly will produce different results.) Stamped metal does have a memory, so hammering is used to coax it back into the original location.

We wanted to de-badge the Cougar and fill the holes left from the factory vinyl roof trim, radio antenna, and external rearview mirror, so we had holes of various sizes to delete. The diameter of the holes dictates what method is used to fill them. For example, the rather small 3/16-inch diameter holes from the pushpins on that factory quarter-panel emblem are the easiest to fill, requiring only a few quick tacks from a MIG welder followed by grinding the welds level. The much larger ⅜-inch diameter holes used for the vinyl top trim, however, require a backing plate for the welds to bridge the gap successfully. For that, Adkins used an Eastwood Magnetic Hole Plug Welding Tool. Featuring a copper head that welding wire will not adhere to, the tool is ideal for holes up to 1 inch in diameter. Using this also keeps material waste and heat to a minimum when filling larger holes. Sometimes, however, there are spots that such a tool simply will not fit behind. To fill in the larger holes left by the factory remote door mirror, Adkins used a magnet to hold a small circle of steel into place as he welds it in.

Door Fit

From the factory, most vintage cars had mediocre door alignment at best, so taking the time to make it perfect makes any car stand out from the crowd. Max's doors were in decent alignment, so before removing them for blasting at PCPC the hinges were pinned, meaning a hole was drilled through them to mark their location on the body. Using this as a starting point, Adkins left the bolts on the body side of the hinge loose and adjusted the rear of the door to match the quarter-panel body lines as much as possible. He then tightened the body side of the hinge and slightly loosened the door side. This allowed him to adjust the forward edge of the door to match the rocker panel. Theoretically, if the door is true, then this should align the rear to the quarter as well. Nevertheless, slight twisting that causes the lower section of the rear to stick further out is extremely common. Adjusting this requires a bit of brute force. Using a wood block placed at the top of the doorjamb, Adkins twisted the rear of the door to push the bottom in and force the top outward. Pushing a little at a time and checking progress eventually yields a door that will line up at the top and bottom.

Filler & Sanding

Prior to any filler work or applying primer, be sure to rough all epoxy-coated surfaces with a minimum of 180-grit media to promote adhesion. Adkins started with USC All Metal 14010 and USC Duraglas 24030 from Eastwood for areas that have been patched or welded. These fillers are less likely to absorb moisture. Normal lightweight fillers are basically talc and resin, and talc absorbs moisture readily, the difference being that All Metal is comprised from aluminum particles and resin, and Duraglas is ground fiberglass strands and resin.

Duraglas is also preferred for areas that may need a little thicker application as it is much stronger than a lightweight filler. Adkins uses it to get close, then switches to a lightweight filler that is much easier to sand. Eastwood Contour Premium Body Filler 13520 ZP was used for most of the areas, followed by Eastwood Contour Polyester Glazing Putty 13521 to fill any micro pinholes that are common with lightweight fillers. Remember the smoother and more carefully you apply the fillers, the easier it is to sand and shape. Take care here to save yourself from unnecessary or additional work due to sloppy application.

Once dry, the filler was rough shaped with Norton 36-grit, then finished in 80-grit before applying Metacryl Epoxy primer. Epoxy was chosen to ensure a good bond and corrosion resistance to the existing PCPC powdercoated epoxy primer and seal any raw metal spots exposed during bodywork. Metacryl Epoxy primer (gray) 7396A mixes 1:1 with 7365 Hardener. Adkins applied two medium coats, allowing each to flash 20 minutes before applying Metalux 2K HS Filler Primer 9341 in three coats, allowing 15 minutes flash time between coats. This filler primer mixes 4:1 with 9091 Hardener (fast, there are multiple speeds available for different temperatures). This versatile primer also doubles as the final sealer at a 5:1:1 mix ratio with ChemSpec 1155-222, which conveniently eliminates the need to purchase another product.

Final Block Sanding

After the primer had cured overnight, Adkins used Norton 80-grit for the initial block sanding. Some may cringe at the thought of using such an aggressive paper to start with, but Adkins prefers the faster cut since it makes a car straight in a fraction of the time it would to start with 180-grit. With three coats of the Metalux high-solid primer, there is plenty of material to cut, and follow with 180-grit to smooth out the rough scratches before repriming. Norton Black Powder Guide Coat was used to highlight the low spots, pinholes in the filler, or deep scratch lines that the primer may not have filled. To eliminate them, Eastwood Contour Polyester Glazing Putty was applied and finished with 180-grit prior to re-priming with the ChemSpec 9341 filler primer.

The second round of filler primer gets two medium wet coats, allowing 15 minutes flash time between and at least overnight drying time before blocking again with 220-grit. After the 220-grit, Adkins reapplied the Norton Black Powder Guide Coat and re-sanded with 320-grit. If everything looks good, you are ready to go to the booth. If more work is needed, it's not necessary to re-prime the entire car; just spot prime and repeat the final sanding steps.

Sealer & Base Color

To keep thing simple for ordering, and for any potential damage repair due to track use, we went with standard OEM colors in ChemSpec's Metalux line of paint. ChemSpec is not widely known in the hot rodding and customizing world, but they are huge in the collision and refinishing world. Adkins loves the quality and spraying capability of the Metalux line of primers and paints, but is especially fond of how consistent their OEM colors are. He knows he can order with just a paint code and get a can of paint that will dry to a perfect match.

Before spraying any paint, the surface needs to be as clean as possible. Adkins begins by washing everything with either a solvent wash like Eastwood's Pre Painting Prep to remove any contamination like fingerprints with skin oils or dust particles trapped in the sand scratches. To dry, he only uses clean virgin paper shop towels; never reuse a shop rag for this; you will deposit contaminants from the dirty rag back onto the surface.

Before the base color can be sprayed, Metalux sealer primer is applied in one medium coat and allowed to flash for a half hour. Adkins inspected the finish and removed any dust nibs or texture by lightly scuffing with a Norton Soft Touch Sanding Sponge Pad (No. 03076) in 600-grit. The small amount of dust is removed via air blasting and a tack rag. The Arctic White Metalux Base Coat mixes at a 2:1 ratio with the same ChemSpec 1155-222 reducer used for the primer. Three medium coats are applied, allowing 15 minutes flash time between coats.

Stripe Layout & Clear Coat

Our redesigned paint scheme for Max looked much more aggressive and vintage Trans-Am, but it also complicated the painting process greatly with multiple stripes of different color. It takes not only multiple rounds of careful masking, but a mastery of perspective to ensure that the stripes look correct on the car. Fortunately graphics are something Adkins excels in creating. After the third coat, Adkins let the base cure for about an hour before laying out Max's stripes. (There is a lot to consider in getting the right look, so watch for a full tech article on designing and laying vintage-style racing stripes in an upcoming issue of PHR.)

Once satisfied with the striping, everything was cleared with Metalux 9354 clearcoat activated at 2:1 with 9352 2K hardener and 10 to 20 percent 1155-22 reducer. This clear is not like a traditional clear in application; it only requires a coat and a half for a 3 mil film. Adkins recommends starting with a moderate tack coat, not really worrying about getting a flow at this point, just even coverage. Then after allowing a 10-minute flash time, he follows with one good wet flow coat. The Metalux clear flows extremely well, lays flat, and has enough film build to almost level the stripes even before wet sanding and buffing. Adkins advises to resist the urge to lay this clear on extra thick, or add extra coats, as it will likely cause issues such as solvent pop or die back. This is solvent-based paint, so make sure to allow for good exhaust airflow for at least 20 to 30 minutes after spraying to evacuate and dissipate solvents.

Wet Sanding & Polishing

After at least 16 hours of air dry time, Adkins begins by dry sanding all the flat areas with an Eastwood DA sander with 1,500-grit 06041 Norton Dry Ice paper for polishing. For areas that need hand-sanding due to contours and sharp edges that could easily cut through with a machine sander, he switches to hand wet-sanding with Norton Black Ice 662611.

Following that, Adkins re-sands with Norton Ice 3,000-grit DA discs (No. 06013) using an interface pad to soften the DA pad surfaces. He works from bottom to top using a squirt bottle with water mixed with just a touch of dish soap as lubrication to sand the surface to a light shine prior to compounding. Wet sanding from the bottom up ensures that he is moving into clean water and not grinding the removed particles into the paint. Mothers 81132 or 81232 HD compound with a wool pad are used for initial cutting. A switch to Mothers 83432 polish with a foam pad then removes scratches and swirls from the compound. To finish to a crystalline shine, Adkins hand-details everything with Mothers Glaze and fresh microfiber towels.

Max Effort will always be more about function over form, but thanks to quality tools and products, and Adkins' exceptional talent, no one would ever guess we weren't planning on just building the best-looking Cougar track car ever. Man, that first rock chip is going to hurt.

BY THE NUMBERS
Supplies & Tools

ChemSpec Paint Supplies
QTY: Description: PN: Price:
(1) Metacryl Epoxy Primer (Gallon) 7396A $96.75
(1) Metacryl Epoxy Hardener (Gallon) 7365 $78.18
(11) Metalux White Filler Primer (Liter) 9341-001 $43.07
(2) Metalux Primer Hardener (Quart) 9091 $62.83
(2) Metalux Clear Coat (Gallon) 9354 $139.70
(4) Metalux Clear Hardener (Quart) 9352 $46.53
(2) Metalux Reducer (Gallon) 1159 $41.62
(2) Metalux Basecoat (Gallon) 1159-222 $35.83
(1) Metalux GM Arctic White (Code 10) (Gallon) WA9567 $226.94
(2) Metalux GM Torch Red (Code 70) (Quart) WA9075 $149.32
(2) Metalux Super Black (Liter) 9302 $66.08

Eastwood Materials
QTY: Description: PN: Price:
(4) Weld-Through Primer Aerosol 12899Z $14.99
(2) Eastwood 2K Self Leveling Seam Sealer 51653Z $29.99
(4) Eastwood Contour Body Filler 13520ZP $59.99
(4) Eastwood Contour Glazing Putty 13521ZP $24.99
(1) USC All-Metal 50751ZP $39.99
(1) USC Duraglas 50756ZP $74.99
(2) USC Polycoated Blue Masking Paper 14743 $59.99
(7) 2K Ceramic Satin Chassis Black (Quart) 50430ZP $44.99
(7) Urethane/Ceramic Activator (8 oz) 21854Z $14.99
(2) Epoxy Primer Black (Quart) 12785 $24.99
(2) Epoxy Primer Catalyst (Quart) 50243ZP $16.99
(1) 5-piece Dura-Block 31160 $59.99
(1) Eastwood 6-in D/A Air Palm Sander 13748 $39.99
(1) Fairmount Master Hammer & Dolly Set 14415 $299.99
(1) Eastwood 4-Stage Desiccant System 20474 $449.99

Mothers Materials:
PN: Price:
Mothers Professional HD Rubbing Compound 81232 $31.97
Mothers Professional Foam Pad polish 83432 $28.97
Mothers Professional Hand Glaze 84532 $17.97

SOURCE
Eastwood Company
263 Shoemaker Road
Pottstown
PA  19464
800-343-9353
http://www.eastwood.com
VFN Fiberglass
330 West Factory Rd.
Addison
IL  60101
630-543-0232
www.vfnfiberglass.com
Pacific Coast Powder Coating
1817 E Avenue Q
Suite C-1
Palmdale
CA  93550
866-640-2855
http://www.pacificcoastpowdercoa
ting.ne
Mothers
5456 Industrial Drive
Huntington Beach
CA  92649
714-891-3364
http://www.mothers.com
Mustangs Unlimited
185 Adams St.
Manchester
CT  06040
860-647-1965
www.mustangsunlimited.com
Hoosier Racing Tire
65465 U.S. 31
Lakeville
IN  46536
574-784-3152
www.hoosiertire.com
West Coast Classic Cougar
503-463-1130
http://www.westcoastclassiccouga
rinc.com
Forgeline Forged Alloy Wheels
3578 South Kettering
Dayton
OH  45439
800-886-0093
http://www.forgeline.com
Year One
PO Box 129
Tucker
GA  30085
800-932-7663
770-496-1949
http://www.yearone.com
Reliable Carriers, Inc.
4155 Koppernick
Canton
MI  38187
Woodward Fab
1480 Old US 23
PO Box 425
Hartland
MI  48353
800-391-5419
http://www.woodwardfab.com/
Wild WesPaintworks
330-323-4949
http://www.WildWesPaintworks.com
Norton Abrasives
800-456-8444
http://www.nortonabrasives.com
Highlander Concept Rendering
360-461-1668
http://www.travishiglander.com
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