Straightening Swinger’s Skin And Putting On A Coat of Planet Color

There are two words that send chills down the spines of most hot rodders: paint and bodywork. For those who’ve been through the laborious process of straightening their cars’ every inch of wrinkled and pitted sheetmetal, and finally spraying it with a pretty paint job know that doing it yourself requires the patience of Saint Job, while paying a professional to do it means sourcing a trustworthy shop, scrutinizing every detail and emptying your checkbook.

Shopping For The Right Shop

It’s commonly understood that those nefarious “one-day” shops can give you a “10-footer” for under $1,000, but will be plagued with orange peel, wavy body lines and a miserable final finish rife with swirl marks, sanding scuffs and high and low points. Knowing that our Project Swinger Nova deserved much more than a quickie paint job, particularly with all the killer parts this car has and will have, and based on our aspirations for the final piece, we knew the car needed to have a pro-quality paint job, so we went to Lake Elsinore, California’s ZBest Body & Paint to help us get it.

Our Swinger Nova required several days of body dolly abuse at the blunt end of a ball peen hammer and – we’re unashamed to admit – quite a bit of body filler. The Nova was passed with several layers of primer to allow the bodymen to “eyeball” high and low spots in the body as well as sharpen all of the shoulder lines that had dulled over the years.

ZBest is not only a shop that has earned its hot rod painting chops, as several show stoppers and customs have rolled out of ZBest’s booth, but they also specialize in painting those wild schemed offshore race boats and performance watercraft, small airplanes (disassembled, of course), in addition to more than one award-winning one-off roadsters, custom sandrails, and so much more.

When we brought Swinger to Patrick Helferich, owner and operator of ZBest, he gave us a pretty query eye. Purchased nearly four years ago, our low-on-its-luck ’71 Chevy Nova wasn’t exactly much to look at. In fact, when we first brought this Nova home and dug into it, its true condition was surprising, and not in a good way. The bright yellow paint was masking a lot of filler, rust, and pretty much everything else that can go wrong with a car’s sheetmetal, which was apparent when the car came back from being media blasted.

Media blasting is a scary step to take, since it reveals the true condition of the metal; every rusty spot, gash, dent, and otherwise crummy part of the car comes to the surface, just like on Project Swinger. But that’s what you need to discover to end up with a good paint job that lasts. When Swinger came back from being blasted, we discovered that panels that we thought were salvageable were far worse than previously expected.

Here’s how we dropped the car off at ZBest Paint & Body. Notice our quarter panel patch and the sheetmetal boogers at the rear corner of the car.

Key to a great paint job is bodywork. Hours and hours and hours of bodywork. The Nova's slab sides and sharp shoulder and beltlines make for quite a bit of labor, especially if you want them right. After pounding out each and every wrinkle and wave, a few passes of sanding primer and sealer and a whole lot of block sanding later, and we had a pretty straight Swinger.

Skin Conditioning

We turned to Classic Industries who supplied us with a replacement driver’s door, steel cowl hood, and plenty of patch panels for our quarters, floors and rockers. We joked that this Nova must’ve been fished out of the bottom of Lake Huron to accrued so much cancer, but in all honesty, we – and Patrick – have seen worse.

The more clean air you can pass through the booth, the better the coat will lay down and dry.

Since we’re in no way what you’d consider bodymen,we did the best that we could to patch up the passenger’s lower quarter, the wheel lip of the driver’s quarter, zap in the new floorpans and screw on the replacement door. We also opted to saw off the drip rails since we didn’t figure on driving Swinger all that much in the rain, and wanted to clean up the Nova’s lines a bit.

With high hopes, we dropped off our battered and bruised Nova at ZBest and hoped for a miracle. Amazingly, we got one.

ZBest did an amazing job at “polishing” our bodywork, and we also had them clean up some of our more custom touches to the car, like our rough job at shaving off the driprails and rocker trim. The beads where we had welded on our patch panels and filled in some cancer holes needed to be ground down and smoothed as well, giving ZBest’s bodymen plenty to do.

In the previous story, we detailed how ZBest got the Nova to this point, covered in catalyzed urethane primer, and ready for paint. Here, they’ve thoroughly washed the car and are drying it with an air nozzle. It’s critical to blow out every nook, cranny, and crevice, even if you don’t care if paint gets there. That’s because if you don’t blow it out, the paint gun will, and force all that crap into the paint. Prior to this step, they fit all the sheetmetal for the last time to make sure it was perfect, then removed it so the pieces can be painted off the car. Note that they also cleaned and primed the subframe and core support.

It’s always fun to watch your car go into the spray booth. ZBest uses a high-quality 40-foot booth. Just before paint, the car is wiped down with wax and grease remover to get rid of any oil from people’s hands, and any last dust that may have gotten on the car. As with the air-drying, wipe down every area that will be painted with wax and grease remover. Sherwin-Williams’ AWX Waterborne paint is more environmentally friendly and is required in California.

Color Me Candied Cool

In the last installment of Project Swinger, we showed how ZBest worked its magic to get the body straight and ready for paint, after days of block sanding. This time, we’ll go into the steps necessary to get the paint on the car. The most important thing to remember when painting a car is cleanliness.

The base must be mixed with the appropriate reducer (included in the Refinish System). ZBest uses this measuring cup and a scale to make sure they get the mixture exactly as Sherwin-Williams dictates.

A lot of time is spent cleaning the car, blow-drying it get rid of every spec of dirt, sanding dust, and water. Any of that stuff left on the car will show through the paint and aggravate the crap out of the painter. With the car as clean as you think it can be, it’s rubbed down with wax and grease remover as a final step before laying on the paint.

The paint in this case is Sherwin-Williams’ AWX Waterborne Refinish System, an easy-to-apply, fast drying basecoat that provides excellent color match to today’s OEM colors while meeting the strictest VOC limits in the country. We ordered the company’s Dark Gray Pearl that, sad to admit, is a ’96-’02 Volvo color. Shhh, don’t tell anyone.

The switch to waterborne paint was no small effort – particularly on behalf of the paint shops. “The key is air,” explained Patrick Helferich. “The more clean air you can pass through the booth, the better the coat will lay down and dry.” ZBest’s booths are pretty amazing in and of themselves. Standing in them as the doors seal, vacuum locking you in and feeling the fans kick on is an experience.

While picking out our hue for Swinger, we came across Sherwim-Williams’ Planet Color Barrett-Jackson Collector Color Series. The pairing of Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes, its Planet Color brand Barrett-Jackson Auction House (you know, the nation’s largest classic and collector car auction), made quite a splash recently.

We talked to David Kidd Product Manager for Sherwin-Williams who explained, “Barrett-Jackson has provided us with valuable information on re-styled vehicle colors from that iconic muscle car era, as well as the hottest colors in demand by today’s top custom-car restoration builders. The results are new custom finishes that perfectly match the rich vibrant colors of the classics, teamed up with unparalleled durability, clarity and a brilliant appearance.”

The all-new Barrett-Jackson Collector Color Series from Planet Color provide enthusiasts with a wide array of hues that are “dimensional, color shifting, iridescent and extremely brilliant.”

The result of the pairing was a new line of 25 factory packages – titled the Planet Color Barrett-Jackson Collector Color Series – offering a selection of custom automotive paint colors that you’d expect from today’s top custom hot rod builders.

Kidd continued, “The colors in the new Planet Color Barrett Jackson Collector Color Series are all inspired by 1960’s and early 1970’s muscle and hi-performance cars and are representative of many of the most expensive and profitable classics sold at our Barrett-Jackson Auto Auctions.”

Designed to take the guesswork out of picking a personalized color, the 25 preselected colors come in easy-to-spray formulations with five mid-coat colors that were pulled from restyled muscle car colors and hues found today’s top custom hot rods that Barrett-Jackson personally assisted in choosing.

“With Planet Color Custom Paints is a program which features combinations of highly reflective additives to create new finishes that are dimensional, color shifting, iridescent and extremely brilliant. Included are unique optically enhanced additives in a two- or three-stage application process creating a palette limited only by your imagination – opening the door to a world ‘Where art and science collide,'” Kidd explained.

Kidd concluded, “We believe this partnership will provide automotive enthusiasts, collectors and true artists with some of the finest products to either re-create the classic car colors they remember or create new designs limited only by their imagination.”

Every painter has a different style of painting a car. ZBest’s painter Lawrence started at the bottoms of the rocker panels and worked his way up. The doors, hood, and decklid were sprayed off the car to ensure that the undersides and jams all got covered. This is something a one-day shop won’t do.

Sherwin-Williams’ 755 Elegance clear coat puts the deep shine in the paint, and also protects it from oxidation and debris. After 3 coats each of basecoat and clear, here’s what she looked like. The car was left to dry for a day before the body was completely masked off to spray the undercoating.

A Colorful Conclusion

How much does a paint job like this cost? ZBest owner Patrick Helferich said, “A job like that would be about $8,000. Of course, we did some extra stuff, like spraying the floorpan and frame with rubberized undercoating, so that would be more.” As Patrick stated, once the base, mid-color and final clear was applied, the front sub-frame was painted a semi-gloss black as the undercarriage was coated in a thick rubberized undercoating to protect our driver Nova from the elements and road debris.

While a lot of work can’t be seen here, we’ll let the photos tell the story of Project Swinger’s dark and shiny new coat, but for now know that the car is back home where, we hope, it won’t get scratched while being assembled! There’s still quite a bit of work to be done as we (re)install the killer GM LSA supercharged plant and its Tremec 5-speed, as well as all the pro-touring suspension parts, chrome trim, lights…you get the idea. Eventually, this Nova will be a real runner, and we plan to flog the hell out of it. Until we get Swinger reassembled and road ready, we’ll be getting this clean machine up to street specs and looking as good as it’s bound to run.

You don’t want to pour the paint on too thick. That’s why it looks splotchy here. This was the first of three coats. Lawrence used a Sata spray gun with a 1.4mm tip for the base coat, 1.3 for the clear.

We also had them spray the underside of the car, the wheelwells, and the subframe with a rubberized undercoating. Now you can see why the whole car was masked off.

When everything was dry, the sheetmetal was carefully installed and the car was color sanded and buffed to a super sheen. ZBest’s Patrick Helferich said, “We eliminated 99% of the orange peel.” Finally, here’s the Nova going into the trailer for its ride home to the StreetMuscleMag shop.

About the author

Rob Kinnan

Rob Kinnan requires very little introduction. Many would recognize Rob from his days as the Editor of Hot Rod Magazine. He is a dyed-in-the-wool hot rodder and muscle car enthusiast, a road racing aficionado behind the wheel of his Factory Five roadster, and a hardcore NASCAR fan.
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