We got the car from readers Brian and Bob Kelley, who wanted $400 for it. We ended up trad
There's no such thing as a cheap paint job. Well, there is, but you wouldn't want to own it. So the challenge is to get the most affordable paint possible that still lets you show your face at the dragstrip or cruise night, and to do it with a minimum of skill.
That was exactly the scenario with our '77 Nova, a new project that we'll build into a reliable foot-brake bracket racer that runs in the low 12s, thereby avoiding the rollbar requirement for now. We'll grow the project from there, testing the tricks you want to know about and telling you every secret along the way. We hope to someday make the Disco Nova run low 9s to high 8s for sanctioned heads-up street racing. Along the way we'll find the best deals on new parts and throw in some good finds from the swap meets, junkyards, and eBayMotors.com. If you think it's too expensive, it's because this one won't be a total hose-clamp-trans-mount dirtball project, or because you've got sticker shock over the fact that we'll always show you every little price of the parts and supplies we used, and there will be no "we had this sitting around, so count it as free" hokum. This is real. So real, in fact, that we were shocked how a basic $499 paint job quickly turned into an $1,800 investment when you add up all the knickknacks. And it's not like this is over the top; it would have been easy to spend another couple grand. For $1,800 you only get an average paint job these days unless you have the equipment to spray the paint yourself, and our point here is to see what can be accomplished by an average guy with a minimum of skill.
You're insane. Why are you wasting your time with that thing? No one cares"
Our grille and hood came from this parts car. Nice doggy.
Midnight, day one.
The last time we saw the Disco in snazzy diaper brown.
Also, when we spend money on stuff, we'll tell you exactly why we make the decisions we do. Like those new Mickey Thompson wheels-we were going to repaint some old rallys, but they weren't bright enough for the cover. The M/Ts totally make the look of the car, but we'll be a bit more practical than that to start. We'll bolt the rally wheels back on for the first few dragstrip stages of the project, then bring back the M/Ts later to see if the lightweight wheels can earn their keep.
The beauty of the third-generation X-bodies ('75-'79 Novas, Olds Omegas, Pontiac Venturas, and Buick Skylarks) is that they use front suspension like a second-gen Camaro/Firebird and rear suspension like a '67-'74 Camaro/Nova. That means you can get suspension parts galore, and the stock 8.5-inch 10-bolt rearend is lightweight and can be made bulletproof enough for our needs. A big-block fits more easily than in earlier Novas, and we can rob the frame mounts from 403 and 400 Trans Ams so we can stab Olds and Pontiac mills into the Disco. We already got mounts from a junkyard '76 Ventura with a Buick 350, so we can try Buick power too. Since the Nova has no collectibility whatsoever, we have no shame about gutting, drilling, welding, and hacking to make it a race car.
Did we do the right thing?
Something like 3:00 am, day four.
It makes the perfect Car Craft flog unit-with the tiny exception that it's still a '77 Nova. Third-gen X-bodies have a small following (see novaresource.org), but we've taken heat from people who think our Nova is just too grotesque to take seriously as a magazine project. With a production-shop repaint made better by lots of do-it-yourself prep work, plus some well-placed graphics and wheels, we've changed a lot of minds. Even staff naysayers are quipping, "ya know, this might not be that bad . . . if it's fast." And we'll get to that next month.
How about you? Tell us your thoughts on Disco Nova by e-mailing CarCraft@sourceinterlink.com or hitting the forums at CarCraft.com.
We did the right thing.
"Wow. This car almost looks worth owning!"
START WITH A GOOD CAR, BUT DON"T CARE TOO MUCH
It's an obvious but crucial point: The straighter the car is going in, the sharper it will be coming out. One of the best points about our '77 Nova was that, despite having rear-ended a semi-truck, it was pretty straight except for stuff we could unbolt anyway. It also only seemed to have one paint job on top of the original. The less old, flaking paint, the less the need to strip the car to bare metal. Another point that made it a good candidate for a budget repaint was that we only needed it to be average, and we were only willing to put a few day's worth of time into our own prep work. Unless you have a lot more time, patience, and skill, a production-shop repaint is probably best for a car you're not deeply in love with. Even so, ours came out surprisingly well.
DISSASEMBLE AS MUCH AS YOU CANOne thing that makes production paint jobs cheaper than custom paint is that production shops take virtually nothing off the car, masking it off instead. However, that doesn't stop you from removing as much as you can. The result will be better detail in the crevices, less random overspray, fewer masking lines that can lead to flaking, and better prep of the edges. Remove bumpers, lights, trim, door handles, outside mirrors, and lock cylinders. We also torched off our cool receiver hitch.
Now's your chance to lose tacky trim. Our Nova was the ghastly Concours edition, and since the grille was gone, we took the chance to convert it to a base Nova; that meant changing the fender extensions, the valance, the headlight buckets, the grille brackets, and the grille itself. We also changed hoods to avoid filling the big hole from the swanky Concours hood ornament. Additionally, we tore off the bright trim around the side-window frames. That trim is virtually impossible to get on and off without destroying it, and leaving it on means tons of masking that will lead to unpainted edges or flaking. We chucked it all.
PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION TO WINDOW TRIM
It's tempting to just mask the front and rear window trim, but don't. Shops often mask the trim by cutting the tape around the edges with a razor blade, invariably cutting through the old paint. That leaves a perfect place for rust to start, and budget paint almost always starts flaking around the windows first. The solution is to remove the trim and carefully sand the edges. This clip tool can be purchased at Pep Boys, and replacement trim clips are available at Classic Industries.
REMOVE MORE INTERIOR TRIM THAN YOU WANT TO
If you're having the jambs painted, remove all the trim around them: sills, front kick panels, headliner-retaining trim, and rear door panels. Otherwise you'll either get paint on your trim or masked edges that show through to the old color. If new weatherstrip is available for your car, make sure to take all of the old stuff out too.
KILL THE DUST BUNNIES
Lose anything with the potential to blow dust or dirt into the paint when the car is being sprayed. A good example is the hideous and likely cancer-causing underhood mat. When the hood is propped up for the jambs, this thing will send shreds of nastiness all over the fenders. Toss it.
SCRUB THE ROCKER PANELS
Many people ignore the dirtiest part of the car when prepping for paint: the rockers. Ours looked like it had been doing burnouts in 90-weight. Scraping, Scotch-Briting, and degreasing should be a priority. The cleaner the underside of the car, the less dirt will end up in the paint. Scrub the inner fenderwells too, and make sure to thoroughly sand the fender lips.
LEAVE SLIGHT GAPS
In places where two body parts bolt together, such as these fender extensions, leave them unbolted enough to allow about an 11/48-inch gap. It will help you sand the edges more thoroughly and get paint all the way around the corners. With parts bolted up snug, paint can fill the crevice, leading to a cheap look and eventual flaking.
FIX DENTS YOURSELF
You might say you're scared of paint work and would prefer someone else to do it so you don't butcher your car. However, no matter how deep your fear of body filler, we've found that nearly anyone can fix door dings easily. Do it.
FILL TRIM HOLES
They say you shouldn't fill trim holes with body filler because it will shrink and pop out, but in our experience, the newer fiberglass-reinforced fillers will hold tight in an 11/48-inch hole virtually forever. If you're a novice, it's better than warping the panel with a welder and a grinder. Just fill small holes with Everglass (or similar), then sand with 80-grit, smooth with body glaze, and finally smooth it all with 180-grit.
SAND TILL YOU BLEED
Once the car is as disassembled as it gets and all the dents you can fix are repaired, sand forever with 180-grit, which is as fine as you want to go for the primer to stick well. The photo shows us at 5:30 a.m. after we'd been rubbing on the car for 12-plus hours. And we could have used more. The more you're willing to sand, the straighter the car will be and the fewer flaws you'll find. Use longboards on big surfaces and Popsicle sticks to get into the tiny crevices. Body glaze may be needed on areas where you sand through to bare metal, especially if the car has a lot of old paint jobs on it.
MARK THE DENTS YOU NEED REPAIRED
When you're done, there are likely to be some dents that you don't want to tackle. If you want the shop to fix a dent, make sure to mark it with a pen (or better, with masking tape), then take a picture to document the dent (to prove that you asked for it to be fixed in case they don't do it). Production shops will only fix dents that are specifically requested to be fixed, and you'll pay an hourly rate for them to do it.
WASH IT FOREVER
When all the sanding is done, blow off the car with compressed air if you've got it, focusing on all the little crevices. Next, wash it for as long as you can, cleaning everything and then blowing it out again with air. However, make sure not to use car-wash soap, which usually contains silicone for shine. In fact, the longer you can keep silicone products off the car before it gets painted the better. Do all your scrubbing with dish soap.
MASK CRITICAL PARTS YOURSELF
If there's anything you really, really want to keep paint off of, mask it yourself. This window felt is a good example of something that is a pain to change but looks terrible if it gets color on it. Pull it back with the masking tape as far as you can to avoid old color showing at the masked edge. Masking your engine is also a good idea, since it's bound to get fogged in overspray.
REMOVE WAX AND GREASE
While the car will certainly get handled quite a bit before it goes in the booth, we figure the best chance to reduce fisheyes in the paint is to degrease the surfaces as much as you can yourself. It will get done again at the shop, but why not be thorough?
SEND IT WITH TIRES YOU HATE
There's no chance you'll escape the paint shop without at least some overspray on your tires and wheels. Bolt on some throwaways before you take the car in to be painted.
PICK THE RIGHT COLOR
When you're going for cheap paint, your budget and your bodywork partially dictate the color. We took heavy advice from John Chohlis at the 1 Day Paint & Body in Torrance, California, where we took the Nova. A repaint of the same color is always safe, since chips will show less than if you, for example, painted a yellow car black. You can also choose a color of the same general tone as the base paint for the same reason. If your bodywork is really bad, then white and bright yellow are always safe bets, since they reflect the most light. Dark colors are the worst when it comes to revealing body flaws, and we think metallics can look bad if you don't step up to a basecoat/clearcoat process. We ultimately chose '04 Ford Zinc Yellow, partially to hide our mediocre dent repair, partially so it would be easy to buy touch-up paint, and partially in tribute to the long-lost Car Craft Cheap Street Chevelle. We had the car sprayed with regular single-stage paint but added a clearcoat so we could color-sand it later. A true basecoat/clearcoat system would have cost much more.
BLACK OUT THE OVERSPRAY
When your project comes home there's bound to be overspray all over the inner fenderwells and on the undercarriage. Ours was not nearly as bad as expected, and the shop had blackened out behind the grille for us. We still spent a few cans of VHT semigloss black to kill the misplaced yellow.
TRIM THE PAINT VALLEYS
Remember how we told you to leave some gaps between unboltable body parts? Some of those gaps will end up filled with thick paint. Before the paint fully cures (before it gets brittle), carefully slice those gaps apart with a razor blade before bolting the parts back together. Be careful that the paint is not so soft that it deforms as the parts cinch up.
SCRAPE OFF THE OVERSPRAY
If there's excess paint on the rubber trim or glass, flake it off with a knife or razor. Wait a few days for the paint to harden and it gets easier.
SET THE DOOR GAPS
We had so much excess paint near the passenger-door gap that it dripped down the edge. We probably could have color-sanded the drip, but instead we opened the door, the edges touched, and we got a big chip. At least we can touch it up, but we should have set the gap bigger before we took the car to be painted.
The paint on our Nova set down quite smoothly but had a little orange peel and a few good chunks of crud in it. Much of that can be solved by color-sanding, and 1 Day Paint recommends that you always clearcoat a car if you want to color sand it. That doesn't necessarily mean you need basecoat/clearcoat paint. Instead, 1 Day will use a regular basecoat, then add clear. We eventually plan to color-sand the car with 1,500- then 2,000-grit, then buff it with Meguiar's compound (the stuff in the photo is a bit too aggressive) on a wool pad, and polish it with a light foam pad.
CHROME THE BUMPERS
There's nothing like new paint to make average bumpers look neglected, so you've got to do something about them. Rechroming can often be the last bit of dazzle you need to really make a budget paint job pop. But since we eventually plan to have fiberglass, we used a decent junkyard bumper instead. Mother's Billet Polish was surprisingly good at making it look like new. But forgive us for that scongy rear bumper (see this month's cover).
GET NEW BODY GASKETS
The factory used rubber gaskets behind parts like the lock cylinders, door handles, and rearview mirrors. Most of these are available reproduction through companies like OER and Classic Industries, where we got ours. New gaskets not only give a more detailed look, but they keep the metal parts from digging into the fresh paint; without the gasket, the edge of the door handle or mirror will lift the edge of the paint, which will eventually chip. Bonus tech tip: The '77 Nova remote-control outside mirror is the same as the one used on '69 Camaros, so a Camaro gasket will work.
Miracle of miracles, Classic Industries actually has door and trunk weatherstrip for third-gen X-bodies. For nearly any other musclecar it's even easier to get replacements, and you really have to R&R the rubber to make a color-change paint job acceptable. Tech tip again: The GM door seals don't really need adhesive and snap nicely into the groove. Press them into place with a plastic spatula (like the one you used for the body filler) to avoid gacking the paint.
DETAIL THE GRILLE
No one has a mint '77 Nova grille, and no one wants to pay big bucks to have it restored. We'll also push you away from '80s body-color grilles and run screaming from rattle-can blackout treatments. However, McGean discovered that VHT cast-iron exhaust paint has kind of a nice argent look when applied to a used Nova grille. After knocking all the loose plastic-chrome junk off with sandpaper then priming it, the look was perfect. The headlight buckets got the same treatment.
DETAIL THE TRUNK
Ever see a repaint that looks OK until the trunk is opened and it's a different color? We paid 1 Day Paint for a full jamb-job that included the underside of the decklid, and the shop even got rid of the old jack instructions before fogging the color. It also helped that we replaced the hashed trunk weatherstrip, and OER has a new and softer latex seal to replace it; order the same number as a '79 Camaro and cut it to fit. Finally, we degreased and brightened up the trunk with some light gray spatterpaint, which looks more fresh than the original black.
ADD ONE COOL DECAL
A Gabriel Hi-Jackers sticker on top of an old hair-band decal won't get you far, so make sure to peel all that junk from the bumpers. However, a single, well-placed and subtle sticker on your car can take another step to saying, "I'm a hot rod," in case screaming Zinc Yellow did not get the point across. Choose something special to you and lay it on. We, of course, chose to fly the colors.
AND FINALLY, BOLT ON THOSE COOL WHEELS
You can take a worthless pile of a street machine and make it neat with the right wheels. So it stands to reason that trick rollers will also take your cheap paint job up a few notches, detracting from any flaws. In our case, ugly wheels would have made a '77 Nova way too hillbilly. It already sits too high, so we needed the power of the bitchin' new Mickey Thompson ET Drag wheels that scream "I'm a drag car." We used 27.5x4.50 ET Fronts (PN 3009) on 15x3.5s with 2.25-inch backspacing (PN 75355072) on the front and 28x9.00-15 ET Drags (PN 3054) on 15x8.5s with 4.5-inch backspacing (PN 75805074) on the rear, and they fit perfectly. Expect to see a drag test with these tires in coming months.
ADD A STRIPE
Crossbreeding factory tape stripes can create monsters-a Dodge bumblebee stripe on a Plymouth is a huge no-no, for example. But Car Craft has found the '69 Chevelle SS side stripe to be fairly generic and non-offensive on other cars. We even used one on the El Cheapo El Camino a few years ago. This time, a fresh black stripe from Original Parts Group made a giant improvement in the impact of the Disco Nova. Stripes add flash but can also conceal minor waves in the car's waistline.
For more on how we added stripes to the Disco Nova (which you didn't see in the magazine) and to answer our online poll on what you think we should do with the Nova CLICK HERE!