If you're a car guy, then the engine compartment may in fact be the center of attention for your car. We've all seen the fully polished and chromed-to-death show cars that have never turned a tire on the street. But just because your machine is street-driven doesn't mean it can't sport the look that will make people stop and take pictures. That's what we were after with this story.
To help us in our quest, we cruised over to Steve Strope's Pure Vision shop in Simi Valley, California, and bugged him until he showed us some of his tricks. Strope is quickly building a reputation as a top-flight car builder and stylist in the musclecar arena. He's a very enthusiastic supporter of the whole car scene, and once he got started showing us stuff, the ideas were flying like a Barry Grant King Sumo fuel pump on 16 volts. Sixteen pages of notes later, this is the best of what we learned.
It's All About ColorStrope's deal is all about use of color. Color is much less expensive than chrome, powdercoating, or even polishing, so he uses it whenever possible. The idea is to maintain the car's theme, or its "presence," into the engine compartment. Often you can paint the engine compartment the same color as the car with excellent results. Chrysler did that in its production cars, but GM chose to use semigloss black. Both cases can be made to work well. In the case of the engine compartment in George Poteet's Charger that Strope just finished, the major color elements were the white of the body along with the red used on the rollbars. Note that Strope chose to paint the hood hinges, windshield-wiper motor, and master cylinder a contrasting silver; he did not want them to disappear by painting them body color. Then he used the brushed-aluminum look to highlight the main areas of the engine, including the vent hose and the dirt-track mud guard on the air cleaner, which gives the entire car a much more aggressive stance and image, as does the spun-aluminum puke tank. As you can see, there are no polished parts and no chrome on this effort. Also check out the treatment on the core support. The open channel is boxed with a plate loaded with cool dimple-punched holes.
The Color Wheel"Color is inexpensive and has dramatic impact. So why not use it?" Strope emphasizes that with color-palette experimentation must also come restraint. Not all colors work well together. Complementary colors (those on opposite sides of the color wheel you learned about in grade school) are best.
As an example, green and orange sound hideous but look good together if blended properly. A yellow car could use silver in the engine compartment, while an orange engine compartment could run with either a matching orange engine or a contrasting gray. Silvers and grays are neutral colors that fit with any color. If you have a white car, you would want to pick up the color of the interior, such as red or blue, as an engine-compartment detail color. If the white car's interior is black, then you could use an accent-stripe color on the body as a subtle contrast in the engine compartment. There are also colors that don't work well together. Red and green are great if your name is S. Claus, but otherwise it's a disaster. If this is all new to you, pay attention to what current car builders like Chip Foose, Steve Strope, and Troy Trepanier are doing. There are tons of ways to learn from their lead.
Engine PaintStrope gave us a few hints on how to make the paint last. We've all seen engines that look as if they have some skin disease with the paint peeling in huge sheets. According to Strope, that's all due to prep. "Clean, clean, clean, and clean it again. Hit the block with acetone, carburetor cleaner, and hot soapy water, and do it several times."
In the past, most recommendations involved professional spray guns and some kind of etching primer. But once the block and heads are absolutely clean, Strope takes the low-buck approach and uses Dupli-Color's Engine Primer, which must be applied in several light coats. It's critical to read the directions on the can-Strope says the primer must be followed with a topcoat within an hour or you'll have to wait five days before the color can be applied. The Dupli-Color primer puts a death grip on the surface, allowing the topcoat to adhere and making a semi-permanent bond with the metal.
Plus, Dupli-Color offers tons of factory original colors as well as dozens of alternatives. The Dupli-Color Ford Red is what Strope used to paint George Poteet's Hemi. You might be tempted to use a clear to give the paint a little depth, but you may want to experiment first on something less important; Strope says that some of the clears can yellow after exposure to repeated heat cycles.
Brushing AluminumStrope says he learned the brushed-aluminum trick from Scott Sullivan. The technique is simple: Merely use a red Scotch-Brite pad on an aluminum surface to create a simple and interesting look that you don't see too often. Aluminum surfaces respond the best, and Strope says you can also use wet/dry sandpaper starting with 800-grit to get the desired effect. Less aggressive grit gives a smoother surface, while the grittier stuff makes the surface less reflective.
Always make your brushstrokes in the same direction on a long, straight surface like a valve cover, while for an aluminum air-cleaner lid, the best approach would be circular. Stainless steel can also be brush-finished, but because this material is harder than aluminum, it will require a more aggressive medium-and be forewarned that the surface finish will not be exactly the same as that of aluminum.
AN FittingsBraided line and brightly colored AN fittings are now so commonplace that engine detailers are looking for alternatives. Earl's now offers great-looking nickel-coated AN fittings to use with those trick fabric lines. But what do you do if you have a box full of older, scratched red and blue AN fittings? Strope says there are several ways to get around those colors. He generally uses a soft-bristle wire wheel to remove the color. A stiff-bristle wheel will gouge the aluminum, so tread carefully. You can also use oven cleaner, but it's messy and often requires multiple attempts to remove the color. We're thinking of raiding our show-car buddy's stash of scratched colored AN fittings before he reads this story.