And what about the area of the engine bay where the engine sits? As the engine bay is basically a display case to show off the engine, it's extremely important for the engine compartment to be restored properly so that the engine will look its best. Again, if duplicating a factory job, you would want to paint it in single-stage paint and reproduce all of the defects, such as runs and thin or discolored paint, to give it the average look of a car built in the '60s or '70s. Since we rarely leave our cars stock, we generally agree that painting the engine bay along with the rest of the car in modern base/clear, two-stage paint is the way to go. Clear-coated paint will last longer, resist fading, and be more tolerant to oil and other fluids related to the engine and engine bay. Taking steps like masking off the K-member and giving it a coat of black paint, and painting or coating all the components in the engine bay their appropriate colors, will also make your engine bay look better than new.

When it comes to the details of the engine's appearance, a lot still depends on the intent of the car. An owner performing a completely stock restoration on a rare numbers-matching car would likely choose to paint the engine after it was built, with the exhaust manifolds, spark plugs, water outlet, and even the negative battery cable attached, and getting a certain amount of paint and overspray in the process. But for the average hot-rodder, especially the perfectionist, the poor appearance that this method produces simply won't do. For most engines, we recommend painting the individual parts when they come back from the machine shop initially, because the parts should be clean and oil-free at this time. Additionally, since most of us will use aftermarket intakes, valve covers, and even cylinder heads on our engines, painting the parts that need paint individually will give the engine crisper lines and a professional appearance. And even if you plan to use factory components on your engine, painting them before assembly, then painting the entire engine once assembled assures that the engine will remain looking good, even if the top coat gets a chip or scratch, as the same color will be underneath.

Another trick we like to employ, especially if we're using aftermarket components like aluminum cylinder heads, valve covers, or an oil pan that won't be painted, is to have an extra set of valve covers, oil pan, fuel pump (or pump block-off), intake, and even cylinder heads that are clean but won't be used. This allows us to pre-assemble the engine with our extra parts, using them to keep paint from reaching the areas we don't want painted, like the intake valley or the block's deck. So, if you ever take an engine apart and won't be using these pieces, have your local machine shop run them through the hot tank. Then, you can use them repeatedly any time you rebuild a similar type engine, saving time and effort when it comes time to paint the engine.