To really get a feel of what...
To really get a feel of what original paint is supposed to look like, study the finish on an unrestored original survivor, such as this 6,800 mile '66 Hemi Charger owned by Cora Case and maintained by Keith Arteman. There's nothing like the genuine article to see how they originally looked.
During a conversation over frosty beverages with Roger Gibson one evening, we discussed the finer points of restoration. One of the things we found interesting was the difficulty he had early in his restoration career with customers' expectations. They'd want the car painted perfectly on their concours restoration, and Roger would paint it perfectly-for a concours restoration. But the customer would see the paint job and be upset because there was orange peel in the paint, and they expected a perfect paint job. Roger's definition of "perfect" is to have the finish exactly the way it looked from the factory, orange peel and all. Most customers' definition of "perfect" paint is a mirror smooth, slick finish that looks wet, without a single flaw-an idealized version of what they thought the car looked like when it was shipped from the factory.
Once Roger figured out that his definition and his customers' usually differed, life for him became a lot easier because he knew to ask if they wanted it to look genuinely original, or what they perceived as being original, which were two different things.
According to Roger, an OE finish on a Mopar has a matte look to it, whereas new cars today have a glossy finish. The matte finish comes from the fine orange peel. "Some guys want glossy, and that's okay," Roger said, "it just isn't factory original. If you want your car to look factory original, it has to have this fine-grain orange peel."
Getting this finish would be a simple matter of using the original acrylic enamel paint, except that acrylic enamel as it used to be isn't available anymore. About 1981, federal law dictated that-without getting too technical-fumes and particles were getting into the air, so manufacturers had to make paints thicker so the overspray didn't go into the atmosphere. They also took out the lead, which is why today's acrylic enamels are much less durable than they were in the 1960s. Finally, the traditional siphon-feed spray guns (which put up to 50 percent of the paint into the air and on the floor instead of on the car) were replaced with gravity feed or high volume/low pressure (HVLP) spray systems.
Though acrylic enamels are still on the market, they won't give you the original, fine-grain orange-peel matte finish that is 100 percent factory stock. So the big question is, "How do you get this look with today's paints?" The secret, according to Roger, is to start with a modern urethane and reduce it more than the directions say, then spray on four, five, or six thin coats rather than two or three thick coats. If you reduce modern urethanes according to the directions on the can, you'll get the same wet, glossy finish that you see on new cars. Then when you sand it, the paint will have that glossy look that isn't original to cars of the musclecar era.
So how much do you reduce the paint? According to Roger, "sometimes up to twice." It depends on painting technique and the spray gun itself (Roger prefers one of the new gravity-feed spray guns).
One of the things you'll notice...
One of the things you'll notice is that reflections in the paint aren't sharp, due to the mottled, orange-peel texture to the paint. The edges of lines in the reflections are soft and not well defined, as you can see where Roger is pointing.
Also, when you pick a urethane, it has to be one in which the catalyst is not in the reducer-the paint must use the catalyst separate from the reducer so that it dries properly. Then Roger paints until the finish "looks right." The instructions on most cans say to apply two to three coats, but you can apply as many as five or six thin coats. Says Roger, "I'm interested in getting the stock look with my paint gun. I'm not painting just to cover the car and sanding it to get the look I want. I want it to look like it's supposed to when I'm done painting."
A close-up of the finish on this Gibson-painted '69 Charger R/T shows the fine-grain orange peel that gives that matte finish, stock OE look.