Without question, the first order of business was to get rid of our H3's shiny paint and chrome. The chrome was easy. We simply replaced the chrome mirrors and door handles with factory black units provided by our friends at Hummer. The shiny paint, well, that took a bit more work. We entertained several ideas for the exterior of our H3, including a vinyl wrap, but quickly decided that flat clearcoat was the hot ticket for the all-business, no-bling look we wanted to achieve. Bear in mind we didn't repaint the truck; we recleared the factory Victory Red paint using clearcoat with a flattening agent added to it. This task was completed by Dan McKeag and the team at Burnsville Off-Road and Auto Body in Burnsville, Minnesota. Some of you may remember McKeag from Top Truck Challenge 1999. He was piloting the fire-breathing Viper-powered TJ that he built. Currently he has a thriving off-road shop, Hemi-to-Wrangler conversion business, and he's quite active in special projects for the OEMs. What you may not know is that he has over 24 years of experience in the body and paint field, and his body shop is staffed with talented body technicians that know their stuff.
Naturally, this project needed refinishing supplies. For that we turned to Keystone Automotive. We worked with Keystone when we restored the body on our Project Fiery Redhead F-150 and the experience was outstanding. Keystone sells an incredible variety of refinishing supplies, and they have 136 stores in the U.S. and Canada. They sell to walk-in customers as well as dealerships and body shops. One of their stores is conveniently located in Minneapolis, so we were good to go.
In this installment we'll show you the highlights of what it took to transform the finish on our H3 from nauseatingly shiny to righteously rugged.
1. The first thing the team at Burnsville Auto Body had to do was strip the exterior of the H3. This included, but was not limited to, the grille, hood, fender flares, cowl, exterior trim, inner fenders, door handles, and mirrors. They separated the parts into those that were going to be painted and those that were taken off just to get them out of the way.
8. Here you can see technician Peterson applying the flat clear to some of the smaller items. We wanted a very flat finish on our H3, so Peterson added one gallon of PPG DX685 flattening agent to one gallon of PPG DC4000 clearcoat and two quarts of DCH3085 hardener. This percentage can be amended depending on how flat you want the finish to be. Don't try this at home. When working with refinishing paints and chemicals like this, an OSHA-approved respirator and hooded paint suit is mandatory. Peterson wears this outfit, which has a built-in air compressor to filter and deliver fresh air to him while he works. Also, flat paint is very tricky to apply. One of the reasons is because there must be no dust or dirt of any sort present as it's applied. The reason? If dust gets into the flat clear, it has to stay there because flat clear can't be buffed. If it's buffed it'll get shiny, which is a tad counterproductive.
So What's Up With Our New Project?
This '08 H3 Alpha is the newest addition to our project vehicle fleet. We took delivery of the Victory Red machine at Cerritos Hummer in Cerritos, California. It had 27 miles on the odometer when it left the lot pointed east toward our Illinois Midwest Bureau, 2,024 road-miles away. The Midwest is where our H3 will reside for the foreseeable future. During this trip, the 5.3L V-8 returned a darn respectable best tank of 19.9 mpg and an average of 17.2 mpg. Our Alpha is fully outfitted with the Adventurer package, leather interior, and satellite radio.
So what are our project goals? Simple. We're going to modify our H3 the way we think an H3 should be modified. This means ultra-rugged looking with zero tolerance for bling. Our goal is to integrate mods that enhance and improve the H3's out-of-the-box capabilities without creating a top-heavy, unreliable machine that rides like a buckboard and handles like a motorhome. The H3 is a very refined machine and we intend to keep it that way. Oh, and with gasoline pushing $4 a gallon, we're analyzing weight and the aerodynamics of bolt-ons so we can retain decent fuel mileage. We're not building a bash-it-up rockcrawler here, we're building a Jekyll and Hyde machine that can capably blast across rough terrain or pick its way down a trail while carrying passengers in comfort. How will we accomplish our goals? Stay tuned. We have some surprises.
Living With Flat Clear
Yep, it shows scratches. No, you can't buff 'em out. Yep, it has a slightly rougher texture than regular paint. No, it's not abrasive. Yep, it hides all but the largest quantities of dirt. No, you probably won't have to wash it if you don't want to. Yes, it's unique. No, it's not inexpensive to have done.
Our H3 has created a stir everywhere it's gone since we applied the flat clear. It leaves no question as to the no-nonsense direction of this project.
With Video!Want more project H3 info? Go to www.fourwheeler.com and visit the "Blogs" section. There you'll find updates and videos of the installs thus far.