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Do-it-yourself bodywork: rust removal, preparation, and painting

by Robert O'Neil, from a 2007 interview • Video: car painting and bodywork with Bob O'Neill

When you are painting a car for the first time after thirty years, it does get to be a challenge, especially if you are painting a metallic finish. I hadn't painted metallic in thirty years. The first time I painted metallic was my first paint job ever that I did on my 1962 Chrysler 300. It was lacquer paint and I could have rolled it on and got a perfect job once it was sanded and polished.

In this case [with my Daytona] I wanted to use the original clear coat over the base coat. The preparation was going to be the most important part. Basically, I took the car apart, literally. There are pictures of that in the Daytona gallery. If you look in the photo gallery you can see that my car is listed. It's in an album with an image of the emblems 'Dodge' and 'Daytona' that I restored.

As I mentioned, the most important part is the preparation. I took the whole car apart, but before I took it apart I circled and photographed all the imperfections that I thought I would be able to fix so that as we were sanding away we would have a graphic record of where the imperfections were that needed attention. If we couldn't see them, we looked at the pictures making it a whole lot easier. We pounded out some of the dents out then glazed over the dents with bondo and/or body putty (traditionally known as red lead though it no longer contains lead). I bought a whole gallon of bondo and used maybe a golf ball size, that's all that was needed to straighen out the body. Then we used the red lead putty and built it up a little at a time until the body was as straight as we can possibly make it given the time that we had.

Then came the primer, we used a sandable filler primer. What the primer basically does is it fills in the small imperfections that you missed the first time when using the bondo and putty. It also fills in the rough scratches from the corse sand paper used to smooth out the bondo. Once the primer is dry you sand it down, prime it again, sand it down, and prime it again, basically we're blocking it using flexible sanding blocks. Never use your bare hands or you'll get 'finger lines' in the primer. And, the most important part of this process is to keep it clean.

I was extremely fortunate to have been put in touch with a woman, in of all places British Columbia, who provided me with much email documentation on how to do these things. She said to use a bucket, put a cupful of soap in it, fill it up with nice warm water, soak your paper and then use it to block out the car but keep spray bottle of the same mixture so that you can keep it wet the whole time. And this is how we do it when you don't have a whole lot of room and you don't have a whole lot of resources. We blocked it all out and it looked ok. And then of course the paint went on.

Now for the imperfections we were talking about -- when you are painting you need to use the right reducer. Basically there is a fast, medium, and slow reducer. Reducer goes in with the paint and primer to thin it out and to help it cure or flash 'on time'. When you use these, the fast is going to have the paint flash really fast and depending on the temperature that might be what you want, especially if it is in a cold temperature. Or if it is in a warm temperature you might want it to flash a little bit slower to give the paint the opportunity to flow properly.

Paint, like other things, has a grain especially if you are dealing with metallic paint. I found this out the hard way. I painted in one direction, and I thought well I have some paint left over in the can and this is the front of the hood, I'm going to put a little bit more paint on here, and I went in the opposite direction, bad move. So, if you look at it in the light you can see that the reducer that I used didn't allow the metal flake to lay down to match the opposite direction I took with the first coat. But you can only see it in the bright light, there are a couple of other little areas but we won't talk about those.

Interviewer: How did you keep away large dust particles, cat hairs, human hairs, leaves?

We used a paint booth. Another funny story and I feel kind of bad about because I really intended to visit with this club more often. The president of the Panhandle Ponies was a member of the local Mopar club. They suggested that I contact one of the ladies there who owns a paint booth because she restores Mustangs. She graciously allowed me to bring the car in. So we towed the car there, put it in her paint booth and we did all the paint work in her paint booth. There are some bugs that got in and when you find one, you just flake it off and if this happens during the wrong painting process you end up with very small particles of wing embedded in your paint but that gives it character don't you think? Not necessarily going to win any major shows with it but I think it looks better than it did when it came from the factory.

Misalignment, yeah I've run into that problem. The Daytona is notorious for having the doors too far forward. I've even had people ask me, 'do your doors interfere with the front fender?' Well for years they did, and the reason that the front of my door didn't rust where it rubbed was because it was constantly rubbing the rust off of the bare metal as it reached that one particular spot. To deal with the misalignment of the doors I removed them. After so many years the cars hinge pins needed to be replaced anyway. So, I replaced the hinge pins but in the process I pulled the doors back nearly an eighth of an inch (1/8') so that the gap in the front and the gap in the back of the doors between doors and the fenders and the doors and the rear jam was the same. I did the same thing with the rear deck and that was a challenge. To do this I had to loosen the hinges from inside the car where the hinges mount to the body. I did the same thing with the hood. Now, they are all lined up.

Another challenge was getting the round door for the gas cap perfectly centered so the gap is the same all the way around. That was a challenge, it took a couple of washers and moving things around a little bit to build it out and move it over but in the end it finally lined up. I spent about a day on that.

Interviewer: So all this paint work and all these adjustments came ' this is now the year 2007 what year is your Daytona?

My Daytona is an '86. I bought it in December of 1985, so I'm the only owner of the car and it has seen some action. My daughter drove it to and from high school and college. There was a time where she was accused of ramming into the back of another car with it, but trust me it didn't happen, the other car backed into her. They were on an incline and my car has a manual transmision. Once I drove it to Connecticut and the door was bashed in, the only serious accident that it has ever had. You know, you have these dings that you can't avoid. I was stupid one day a few years after I got it and backed into a Mustang and did a little ding on the rear which was taken care of. Beyond that, the car is solid.

We had a couple of rust areas that we had to deal with and did. If you are going to paint the car you have to paint everything. Taking your car to a place and having them slap some paint on makes it look good for a little while but they have to tape around everything. In my case, I removed all the trim, I removed the wings, the doors and everything to get all the doors, hood, deck and other panels lined up. I also removed the entire interior except for the dash and the steering column, that we taped around. The entire interior was removed for a few reasons. First to inspect the floor and second insure that when the painting started we had full access to all metal parts.

We found a couple of rust areas in the interior. I had an issue with my quarter windows on the side, those were also removed because I had some issues where water had gotten in and it eventually rusted some holes in the spare tire well. So we repaired that and I found where the water was coming in by getting inside after the interior was removed and having someone spray the outside with a water hose. We removed the quarter panel windows. We didn't break them which is kind of remarkable because they are held in with 5 screws and butyl tape. It's touted as being one of the most difficult windows to remove without breaking the glass.

When I pulled the rubber trim off of the back glass I did that because I didn't want to have any paint underneath the trim, and I didn't want to tape it off, so I just removed it. Once the car was finished I had the glass guy come out and pull the rear glass, re-trim it, clean it off, reseal it. Then I said ok, how much are you going to charge me to put these two side glass pieces back in? Well, basically it was another tube of that liquid urethane. He said, I put this on there, those things are never coming out. I said that's fine.

So, he put it on, slammed it in place, I put the screws in, tightened it down and went and did the other side. I tell you what I have not had any more water, so those side glasses were leaking. We painted the mating surfaces of those quarter glass areas and cleaned it all up really well.

Interviewer: How about the one common place where even new cars tend to get rust, the bottom of the door seam, on the door itself.

There are some issues with that. In the back after I painted it, the paint job is now about three years old, I noticed that some rust has begun to show through. You know how the door skin comes around and it comes up and then is welded to the underside; that's the part you're talking about?

Interviewer: Yes.

There is supposed to be a seam seal across that, well what happens is that the seam seal itself gets so brittle over time it flakes off. Then the water comes in from the outside if you don't have those wipers at the top of the door glass to help limit the water from getting inside the door. The wipers are no longer available, I'm told, for my car. So you have to come up with another way to get those rubber wipers on the outside. They're felt on the inside, rubber on the outside. When you roll the windows down, these are the wipers that are on the outside. Basically, what they do is keep the glass clean at the same time they keep water out, well the majority of the water out anyway.

Well, if those are deteriorated to the point where mine were deteriorated, then water is easily able to get in. If it gets in, it's going to pool and then of course rust happens. So the door that I had before I had the accident actually had some issues and I was going to have to deal with that. Well then I had the accident with the little crush on the door so then I have to replace the door. I found a door in Bluefield, WV. The owner of the yard there had lots of Daytonas. I found a nice door, found a good price on it, looked at it and it was flawless. Well, it was red and my car is blue so there's that flaw but I took care of that.

To solve the problem where the water comes in and seeps down through the space between the frame and where it's welded upward and the moisture causes rust to occur, you have to stop the rust from occurring. There is a product that is available from Eastwood, touted to be the best of its kind. They call it Rust Encapsulater. The also have a rust converter and a bunch of other things, but with the Rust Encapsulater, basically what I'll do in my next project and to repair my rear deck is to get inside and lay down a layer of rust encapsulater to basically seal the steel where the skin meets the frame of the door and deck. Now with the steel sealed, any rust that may be there will be encapuslated and no longer be forming new rust. Unless there is a way for water and oxygen getting to the rust no new rust will form. Well, the rust encapsulater is going to encapsulate that so that no more water can get there. And on the underneath side where the metal is bent up and welded in, I'm going to remove the seam sealer, clean it all out, put in the rust encapsulater, and finally put in a new layer of seam sealer. So in those areas if you catch it before it gets bubbly rust simply encapsulate the rust. If you catch it where you notice it's a little red with a little rust, encapsulate it, seal it and paint it. You prevent water from getting into that area and you will go a long towards keeping it from becoming a hole. You will be able to save your doors from having to be replaced or having to be welded or anything.

On the new car, the black one, the new project, I bought it sight unseen more or less. I actually gave her the money when I saw the car. But this is another '86, this one is a Turbo Z and is going to get the same treatment. The interior is coming out and everything is going to be inspected. But I have two areas in that car that are going to need some work. Apparently the seam sealer at the cowl, where the firewall and the dash sort of come together, up in that area, has flaked off to the point where water has gotten in there to the extent that there is some really, really thin metal. I'm going to have to cut that out and weld a piece in; there is just no other way to do it. I also noticed that in the entire car when I inspected it prior to buying it, there was a spot about the size of two half dollars that is a hole in the rocker panel. Of course that is going to have to be cut out and a piece welded in as well. If you have a hole you are going to have to weld it, that's the way it's going to be. But after it's welded I'm going to coat it with the rust encapsulater and undercoating on the to prevent it from rusting again in the future.

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