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What's Your Problem? - Tech Questions

Jeff Smith Answers Some Of Our Readers' Questions

To Clear Or Not To Clear
Greg Nuhfer via I own a '70 Chevelle SS convertible. I purchased the car in 1988 for a song (by today's standards). Even then I didn't think the car was worth the $3,800 I shelled out for it! It was a true convertible. Only a small piece of material was sticking to the rusty roof frame, and a 2x4 supported the front seat from falling into the back seat. I think the previous owner must have been a sumo wrestler. The car showed signs of having been hit hard front and rear. Long story short, I emptied my wallet and drove this pig home.

That was the first time I bought the car. I spent years scouring junkyards, purchasing N.O.S. parts from every GM parts store I could, and receiving countless items from Santa. I assembled the car piece by beautiful piece. I had it painted Porsche Guards Red with factory black stripes. That's when I got the famous "me or the car" ultimatum.

We split everything. She got the inside of the house and I got the outside (Rodney Dangerfield), but still I wasn't selling my car. She had it appraised at just over $30,000. Now, $15,000 later, I still own the car! That was four years ago. Recovering from the financial setback of divorce, I have still never had clearcoat sprayed on the car. Micro-finishing the paint helped, but up close, it's not up to my satisfaction. Am I too late to have this done, or do I start over with strip and paint? I will frame-off in probably 5 to 10 years. To clear or not to clear, that is the question. I drive the car every nice weekend I can. I'm willing to disassemble the car to do a clearcoat. If so, what prep to the paint should be done before clear? The car has always been garaged since it was painted and shines like a new dime except it has no depth.

Jeff Smith: We included your story, Greg, because we have a feeling there are quite a few car crafters out there who can appreciate your being true to your machine, even if it did cost you more than you bargained for.

We called our buddy Pete Santini at Santini USA Paint & Body to get the skinny on your paint issue. According to Santini, as long as the car was originally painted with a single-stage urethane, you can still hit it with clear, but Santini had a few suggestions that will create even better results. Single-stage refers to a single coat of color applied with no second stage of clear to cover the color. Santini says since the prep work to apply clear is quite extensive (including sanding, masking, and spraying), why not go ahead and lay on an additional layer of paint to really make the final product better? For the price of a gallon of paint and clear, you can have the equivalent of a new paint job. You mentioned the paint was applied several years ago, which means it has probably been subjected to dirt, silicone overspray, bird droppings, acid rain, grease, muck, and all other kinds of nasty things that have a bad habit of nesting deep in the paint.

All these volunteers must be removed from the paint before you take any steps to enhance the finish. First, Santini suggests cleaning the surface with wax and grease remover over all the painted surfaces. Next, step up to an inexpensive aggressive cleaner like a Comet or Ajax cleanser. This may rough up the paint, which will actually help adhesion. Now you can go over the paint with 600- or 800-grit wet and dry sandpaper to again help with adhesion. This is just to rough up the paint. Several companies such as Bulldog, DuPont, and House of Kolor offer adhesive clear sealers that are adhesion promoters, which means they increase the chance that the paint will stick to the parent surface. Santini says these materials price out around $30 per quart, which should be enough to cover your car. Consider this as cheap insurance that the new paint will stick to the old paint.

Now you can actually lay down a new coat of red as part of a two-stage paint process with the final coat being a layer or two of clear. If you read our story on how to color-sand a new or existing paint job that has been cleared ("How To Make Good Paint Great," July '06), you know the key to an excellent paint job is lots of coats of clear that give you the thickness to sand the clear to a mirror-like finish. With the clearcoat applied, you should wait the prescribed time before attempting to rub the paint out, but once that is done, you should have a paint job that will at least remind you why you put so much time, money, and effort into this car. The result will be its own reward.

GM Performance Parts
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Burt Chevrolet
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CO  80110
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Car Craft