Honestly, automotive paint is something we’ve made a career out of avoiding. We’re pretty good at finding rigs with patina and rust, and by God we can add dents to any vehicle with ease. Fixing dents and rust is not outside the realm of possibility for us. We’ve straightened panels with a hammer, a dolly, and a porta-power. But when you talk about spraying paint through a paint gun and not out of a spray can, or adding body filler to fill low spots, we avoid those topics like we avoid personal body modification, fingernail polish, false eyelashes, and spray tans (despite everything the Kardashians stand for and the trends of current politicians).
Still, this job is fun because it gives us a chance to learn new things. New 4x4s, new parts, new tools, and new trends in the aftermarket lifestyle … even when those things are something we previously avoided due to our cheapskate ways and lazy nature.
Ever since helping with the paint on the Derange Rover for our 2018 Ultimate Adventure we have been researching auto body paint in earnest. We plan to go through the motions of painting or first vehicle—which is to say properly painting our first vehicle, since we’ve painted a few with rattle cans in the past.
The subject of this automotive paint educational experiment is our 1969 Ford Bronco, a 4x4 we are determined to make into something nice, maybe nicer than any other 4x4 we’ve ever owned. This article is about painting the Bronco and what we’ve learned along the way—and we’ve learned a lot. One thing we have learned for sure is that, going forward, we will most likely leave the paint, primer, sandpaper, and body filler to someone else and go back to our patina, rust, and dents. Why? Well, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Similarly the method for achieving a smooth panel on an old Bronco with bodywork and paint is to do the same thing over and over expecting slightly different results. That places us just a little too close to the nuthouse for us, and the dust and fumes don’t help.
With most of the panels on the 1969 Ford Bronco in place as the factory intended, we started banging about on the last few dings and dents in the body. Our tools of the trade, if you want to call it that, are an old inexpensive body hammer and a couple of steel dollies. The idea is to hammer on both sides of the panel while holding the dolly on the opposite side, hammering down high spots and working up low spots.
No surprise, both of the doors had received dings and dents over the past 50 years. Some worse than others, but none too bad. When the dolly and hammer weren’t enough we switched to our porta-power, using hydraulics and some blocks of metal and wood to try to get thing back in place.
With most of the door panels straight we started filling the low spots with an old can of Evercoat Rage Premium Lightweight Filler. This is the best stuff to use because it dries quickly and sands easily. It is, however, fairly expensive at about $55-$60 a quart. You want to cover well past the low area and then sand in an X-pattern with a sanding block. Start with coarse sandpaper and go down in coarseness incrementally until the surface is flat and the sanding marks are gone. We started with 80-grit and ended with 320. Don’t skip grits because it could result in more scratches to fill later. Also, the thinner the body filler the better. If your body filler is slathered on more than a couple millimeters thick, you will need to make the panel flatter first.
Sanding should be done on flat surfaces with the longest sanding block you’ve got in the aforementioned X-pattern. Sand diagonally back and forth at about a 45 degree angle to the panel, and then switch to the other diagonal, about 90 degrees to the previous strokes. The long, heavy block helps you hit high spots and skate over low spots so you can go back and fill them, resulting in a nice smooth surface. The change in direction helps clear the chalk from the sandpaper. Use this X-pattern when sanding over body filler, glazing putty, and fill primer. In highly contoured or round areas you can use a smaller block, your fingers, and abrasive pads.
With the body filler in place and sanded we hit the whole Bronco body with Epoxy Primer, Black (PN MP172) from PPG’s Omni Line. We used two parts MP172 to one part Omni Epoxy Primer Catalyst (PN MP175) and up to one part acetone as a reducer when necessary. The paint dries pretty quickly and provides a great foundation for high-build sanding primer (more on that in a minute) and single-stage Omni MT. Body filler and glazing putty can be added before or after either of the primers, but should be covered before the final paint coat.
Next up in our arsenal of weapons to make the Bronco body as close to perfect as we can get it is layer after layer of Omni High Build 2K Primer Surfacer (PN MP282). This is mixed four parts to one part of Undercoat Hardener (PN MH283) and one part of temperature-specific reducer as shown in the table. This stuff dries fast and is meant to be built up and sanded to even out any small surface irregularities. The light gray color helps contrast with the epoxy primer below it so you don’t unintentionally sand through that.
|Fast, PN MR185||55-65° F||13-18° C|
|Medium, MR186||65-75° F||18-24° C|
|Slow, MR187||75-85° F||24-29° C|
|Very Slow, MR188||85-95° F||29-35° C|
See the imperfections on this dent we “fixed”? It needs more work. You want to sand this in the X-pattern we described above with 320-grit paper, looking for high and low spots. The 2K primer will run pretty easily but is easy to sand, making it good practice for avoiding runs in the final paint stages.
This is the part of painting a car that might drive you insane. It’s very repetitive. It’s easy to get caught up in fixing every little low spot. What you do when you find a low spot is mix up some Evercoat MetalWorks Metal Gaze. This product is similar to body filler, but is finer and yields a very smooth surface. Mix the two parts as you would with body filler and then spread it over and beyond the low spots. Then sand with 180-grit paper and a large sanding block, gradually reducing the coarseness to 320.
Blow off the dust, and wash the panel with clean water, a lint-free rag (an old T-shirt works well so long as it’s oil-free), and a little mild dish soap (a drop or two per gallon of water). Allow it to dry, then blow off any excess water and lingering lint before you apply another layer of 2K primer. You can sand into the epoxy primers and below, but try not to expose bare metal or you may have to reapply the epoxy primer.
Paint, sand in an X-pattern, sand high spots, fill low spots, sand, paint, sand, paint, fill low spots, sand high spots … At some point, at least theoretically, you will reach a point when there are no more low or high spots and the primer, having been sanded to 320, will be flat smooth and as close to perfect as a 50-year-old body panel can be expected to be.
With the doors and rear quarters approaching perfection (in our opinion) it was time to spray some color inside the tub and doorjambs. We covered the chassis and undercarriage with plastic drop cloth and painters tape. Paper is better for masking off areas that will get directly sprayed during painting, but this plastic was mostly to keep overspray off the chassis and suspension below.
With that done, we moved on to painting the exterior. Again, you want to wash the surfaces with your mild soapy water solution, blowing off lint. Just before spraying our blue Omni MTK Acrylic Urethane Single Stage paint on the panels, we rubbed everything down with a tack cloth to ensure that all the lint, dust, and bugs were somewhere other than on the surface of the paint.
All in all, we are very happy with the way the paint on the Bronco turned out. Sure, it’s not perfect, but the job is about as good as a novice could expect. The worst thing that happened was we literally screwed up putting the cap on the paint gun. As a result, some paint splashed out onto the grille in a few spots and we may have to wet-sand and polish the drops out of the paint when it is fully dry.