Expert Mopar Painting Tips You Need to Know

Expert Mopar Painting Tips You Need to Know


We Show You What it Takes to Achieve the Best Possible Finish on Your Classic Mopar Before You Start

There is nothing you can do you do to your vehicle that affects its appearance more than a perfectly applied paint job. In contrast, a poorly done paint job will be counterproductive to any other upgrades you may do to your car. Like everything else that makes your Mopar special, achieving a perfect finish with the correct materials is critical, and if you are looking to create an exact replication of the factory paint job, it takes significant time, research, and skill.

Classic Mopars are very different from General Motors and Ford vehicles. With Mopars, pop open the hood and you’ll notice the body-color paint extends throughout the engine bay. GM and Ford vehicles use a semigloss paint on everything, with the exception of the engine itself. The same holds true for the trunk area; for most years, Mopars were painted body color throughout (with a few exceptions), and GM and Ford used splatter paint and other forms of non-body colorations.

Colorful Colors

The colors used on Mopars, both today and in the classic muscle-car eras, are some of the most unusual in the history of automobiles. The Mopar marketing team generated some high-intensity paint colors to help set them apart from the competition. Not only were these colors vibrant, but they were also made even more memorable by the catchy names used to describe them (i.e. Tor Red, Plum Crazy, Vitamin C Orange, Go Mango, and so on). However, these colors were generally not laden with a lot of metallic material, which were used heavily in GM and Ford factory colors. That’s good news for folks looking to repaint their cars to the original appearance, as these paints are generally less involved to shoot and/or blend to surrounding paint.

For Jeff Roberson of Body & Paint by Jeff in Oxnard, California, high-end cars like the 100-point restoration of the 1969 Hemi Plymouth Roadrunner of Troy Martin’s Full Scale Hot Rods in Ventura, California (Mopar Muscle’s cover car this month), Roberson used a two-stage paint process: a waterborne pigment layer covered by three coats of solvent-based clear. While the Vitamin C Orange color is straightforward to shoot for an expert, with a hint of metallic content, using a two-stage paint system offered the best control to achieve an amazing final finish.

“With a single-stage polyurethane like Glasurit or Nason, you can achieve outstanding final results,” Roberson notes, “but it is a one-shot deal. You have to have an extremely clean downdraft booth, as there is really no great way to remove any dust particles or other imperfections. The two-step process we used featured three top coats of clear and allowed us to color-sand and buff virtually one to one-and-a-half coats of clear to achieve what I believe is a perfect final finish.”

With Mopars, as noted, the exterior paint is not limited to just the body and doorjambs. For the best results, Roberson says most of the Mopars he sees are delivered without the engine and sometimes without the suspension. In this way, he can fully prep and paint the engine compartment and trunk. The best way, of course, is to put the stripped-down body, with all major components removed—including the suspension and interior—into a rotisserie. In this way, all parts of the vehicle can be cleaned fully, prepped, primered, and painted. With high-end Mopar paint jobs, this is really the only way to go.

It’s in the Prep and Prime

Achieving that perfect final finish starts well before the color and clearcoats are applied. The secret is in the prep of the body, the paint primer selected, sealers, undercoating, corrective glazing putty (if necessary), and even your choice of spray gun. Guidecoats are applied between primer coats to make sure all surfaces are primed evenly and to show low/high spots in the surface after sanding. All of these things must come together to set up the vehicle for color application, or the results of your work could be a disaster.

“In the case of Troy Martin’s Roadrunner, we were starting with panels that were down to the metal,” Roberson says. “That does not mean we presume they are straight—in fact, just the opposite. For most bare-metal surfaces, painters apply an etching primer [over a metal surface that has been sanded with 150- to 220-grit] that creates the initial base for subsequent layers of primer. Today, however, there are plenty of good direct-to-metal coatings that allow you to skip the etching primer step, but for this car, I felt the etching primer was necessary.

“It is important to research the color of primer used by the factory on your specific car,” Roberson continues. “Chrysler used either gray or red primer at the factory, which can affect the final coloration of the pigment layers. Each paint brand has their own guide to selecting primer colors. I use DuPont’s Value Shade Guide to ensure the desired exterior paint color is achieved. After laying down the basecoat of primer and blocking with 150-grit sandpaper, each additional layer of primer is sanded with 320- to 400-grit paper to make sure the scratches left in the metal [from the original sanding] are completely gone.”

Just Like Mopar Used to Make

With Martin’s Roadrunner, they wanted to duplicate, as closely as possible, how the car appeared as it rolled from the assembly line in St. Louis back in 1969. To that end, they wanted to duplicate the final coloration, including the overspray and undercoating textures as executed by the assembly workers back in the day. Martin had done a superlative job in documenting the exact location of the undercoating location and as much of the original overspray in places like the trunk and suspension during disassembly. Later, he would apply the chalk marks and stickers as executed by the assembly-line workers as the car passed them on the line.

“For the undercoating, we use a spray gun with a 1.4 nozzle to allow a large amount of material to flow smoothly through the spray gun,” Roberson says. “We use different gun orifices for different types of material: 1.3 for clear, 1.3 for color, and 1.8 for primer. I prefer the SATA HVLP [high-volume, low-pressure] spray guns for all of my painting from primer to clear, because in my experience, this gun lays down a few additional mils of paint compared to other guns.”

The waterborne paint used by Roberson for the Roadrunner is applied in two coats. The first coat is applied fairly after adding 2 to 3 percent hardener. It is reduced to fit the conditions (temperature/moisture) at the time of spraying. The hardener in the color pigment layer helps to speed drying slightly, yet still allowing the waterborne pigment to flow out and avoiding runs in the paint.

After the first layer of color “flashes” (the top surface dries), about 20 to 25 minutes, Roberson hits it with the second coat. After about 30 to 45 minutes, the clear stages begin, with each coat allowed to dry for about 10 minutes before the next coat is applied. Airflow is key here. The booth must be clean and dust-free to achieve the perfect finish and avoid dust that can adhere to the surfaces.

“After all the layers of paint and clear have been applied, I allow the paint to dry for a week to 10 days,” Roberson says. “If the weather is cold or rainy, I could wait as long as two full weeks to make sure that all layers are completely dry. I start with 1,000-grit paper to remove any dust or other imperfections and make the overall body as smooth as possible.”

Roberson applied three coats of clear to the Roadrunner body; the key here is to apply enough coatings of clear for the final wet-sanding and buffing stages. Remember, Roberson figures that one to one-and-a-half coats of clear will be sanded/buffed off to achieve the final finish. Roberson cut the final clearcoat with 2,000-grit wet sanding next and follows that with a dual-action (DA) sander using 3,000-grit wet sanding paper.

Polishing steps to follow the wet-sanding process are:

Step 1:

Wool 3M Compound Pad #05753
White Compound #36061

Step 2:

White 3M Foam Pad #05706
White Compound #36061

Step 3:

Black 3M Foam Pad #05707
Machine Polish 3M Compound #06094

Step 4:

Ultra-Fine 3M Machine Polish Pad #05708
Ultra-Fine 3M Machine Polish Compound #39062

Cost Accounting

There was a time many decades ago when Early Scheib would paint any car for $19.99. Those days are long gone, of course. While that should come as no surprise, what was shocking was the amazing escalation of costs with regards to painting a vehicle. The cost of labor to paint a vehicle has increased due to the simple labor-rate increases and the price of materials like sandpaper, masking paper, employee safety equipment, cleaning materials, and so on. In addition, the price for a suitable and legal place to sand and paint has gone up. Those rentable paint booths of the past are generally long gone, due to regulation in many parts of the country. But paint cost is the real kicker here!

“I’m seeing a 3 percent increase in the cost of some paint products every three months,” Roberson says. “I have never seen increases like this in 36 years of painting vehicles. If you want to fully understand why the cost of painting a vehicle is high, you don’t have to look very far. The price of the materials alone to paint the Roadrunner was near $4,000.”

While this is far from good news, it is the lay of the land and what you will encounter when painting a vehicle today, Mopar or otherwise. But once you get your head wrapped around the fact that a good paint job is costly, you will understand the need for achieving a great final product the first time. As was noted by everyone we spoke with, to achieve that great final look, you have to do the proper prep work. That starts with getting the body as straight as you can beforehand, using as little filler material as possible and correctly blocking and prepping the heck out of the body before you shoot color.

When your brother-in-law says he can “shoot” your Hemi Challenger in his garage for the cost of materials, don’t walk—RUN—to a qualified paint shop!

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