In a perfect world, everyone would drive a classic Mopar, and they would all have flawless show-car paint. But for the average street driver, the real world means real paint problems. With use it's inevitable-a chip here, a ding there, and the progression of time and the elements take their toll. Let's face it, cosmetics can only get worse from where you started unless some effort is expended. Care and maintenance can keep a finish looking good for years, but sometimes we're faced with neglected and hurting paint. The surest cure for problem paint is just wiping the slate clean and starting over with new pigment; but sometimes, at least for the time being, it's not in the cards. It might be a matter of cost (priced a quality paint job lately?), or just practicalities-maybe having the car down for weeks or even months for a repaint just isn't likely when having that car laid up means hoofing it.

Our 'Cuda is an extreme example of neglected paint. When it was shot with quality DuPont Centari acrylic enamel back in 1990 it looked good, but now the ten-year-old paint is trashed. It didn't have to be. Left in the hands of others, it was smacked up front, bodyshop repainted on the front fill panel and fender sides, and then left outside to cook in the Bakersfield sun for two years: "Here's your car back." Thanks a lot.

No question; to get it looking the way we want it, a total repaint is in order. But with several resto projects underway, pulling the 'Cuda down for what will be a bare-tub rebuild will have to wait. In the meanwhile, it runs and drives, so it gets used-but going down the road in what looks like rolling junk is getting old. Rather than repaint, the solution for now is to work with what's there and repair the existing paint.

Just about any finish can be made to look decent with some effort and the right techniques. On this car, the basic paint was still sound, but it suffered from a wide range of maladies: chips, scratches, gouged paint, cracked plastic filler, a dented door, and extreme oxidation; all these things can be fixed. Fortunately we didn't have unfixable problems such as blistering, checking, peeling, or puckered paint or clearcoat. We'll go through the problems and the cures, and from junker to jewel.

Fading And Surface Flaws:Cutting
Fading or oxidized paint comes in different degrees, but the cure is always the same: removing the oxidized outer layer of paint to expose a fresh one below. Some colors are more prone to fading than others; red, like on this 'Cuda, is one of the worst. Removing the oxidized layer makes the presumption that the paint is sufficiently thick to get down to good paint without running through it to the primer. Which technique is used for cutting depends on the extent of the problem. Sometimes a mild abrasive cleaner wax and some handwork can do the job. For more serious problems, a cut-and-buff is the serious solution.

Cutting-and-buffing begins with sanding the paint with ultra-fine sandpaper, then buffing the finish to a high polish. To remove minute surface imperfections, most show-quality paint jobs receive a cut-and-buff as the final step to that glass-smooth finish. Sanding is done by hand and has to be done wet, which keeps the sandpaper from loading up and clears the debris from the surface being worked. Generally, 1500-grit paper is used because it removes the surface and leaves sanding scratches fine enough to be machine-polished out. A foam hand-sanding pad backs the sandpaper strip.

Sanding can be ruinous if certain mistakes are made. First is the cut-through. Obviously, if the color coat is sanded too far and you've gone through the paint, or even made it too thin, the primer will show through. Use care around any edge or character line, since the raised edge will cut-through easily. Solid colors and clearcoats lend themselves to cutting, but non-clearcoated metalics can present problems.