Getting A Show Quality Finish On A Competition Vehicle With PPG

Over the years, we have seen a plethora of paint articles, but few that tackle the difficult questions about painting multiple material surfaces on the same project. What happens when you have a complicated project that involves a steel body, with some carbon fiber or composite panels and maybe some fiberglass? Does it require special and time-consuming procedures to keep your finish from looking unsightly and expensive to repair?

The last thing anyone wants is to make a mistake when choosing materials to cover the body of your project build. We decided to show you what a show-quality paint job looks like for a competition vehicle, and provide some tips and tricks from master paint specialist Alan Pennywitt. With patience, the right PPG Paint products, and a proven procedure, almost anyone can end up with these same stellar results.

Stripping down to bare metal and putting all the panels together is the first part of assembling the jigsaw puzzle. There are obvious places where bodywork needs to be done. Top-level refinishers look for areas where panels don't match up correctly or where gaps between the panels are uneven. This door panel would require a lot of bodywork to align with the car's body.

The Color

We’re lucky enough to have access to Alan Pennywitt, but he is always in high demand. Not everyone can have some of his time, so in this article, we have combined the talents of Pennywitt along with a paint product from a leading company in the industry to help everyone get great results.

PPG’s Vibrance Collection features a line of paint developed with another master paint specialist, Charley Hutton. Using the Charley Hutton line of paint won’t guarantee everyone will end up with a flawless coat, but it does open the door to the possibilities of an incredible show car finish. It is worth mentioning that Hutton has an uncanny ability to catch the right colors of the rainbow for automotive finishes with four Ridler award winners (2005, 2007, 2013, and 2016) wearing his paint schemes.    

Hutton’s Kilauea Glow (#936862)

This specific project was tagged for Hutton’s Kilauea Glow (#936862) main layer of paint. Combine the Hutton hue with Pennywitt’s shooting skill and the completed product was certain to be a finish anyone would show off.

On the left is the polyester primer and on the right is the high-build primer used in this article.

Products Used:

  • VP2050 DTM High Build Primer
  • VH7050 DTM High Build Primer catalyst
  • PPG Vibrant Collection Color Coat, Kilauea Glow
  • DT898 Hot Temp Reducer
  • DT895 Reducer
  • Evercoat 100/709 Polyester Primer Surfacer
  • EC550 Ultra Gloss Clearcoat
  • ECH5075 Standard hardener
  • ECR75 Mid Temp Reducer
  • 3M 08115 Panel Bonding Adhesive
  • Wet/Dry sandpaper – various grits


When it comes to prepping the different body panel surfaces for bodywork and paint, Pennywitt set us straight. “There is not a whole lot of difference, to be honest with you. Everything gets a coat of epoxy and the epoxy has to sit for 24 hours before you do any bodywork,” he said. “Then you do your bodywork. When your bodywork gets done, everything goes into a polyester primer. It is all kinda prepped the same way.”

Steel, fiberglass, carbon fiber, and plastic are all treated the same with modern paint materials. The surface is prepped, sprayed, sanded, primered, sealed, and color coated exactly like the other body panels.

“I do all the surfaces the same. Epoxy is probably not required for carbon parts but I like to do it anyway. It gives the polyester something to stick to. A steel part is going to get sanded with 80 grit before the epoxy, just like a carbon piece.”

Modern coating manufacturers have taken the difficult part of the prep work out of the initial stages. Products like VP2050 High Build Primer can be applied directly to the bare surface. The product etches to bare metal and adheres to composites and other materials forming the perfect base surface to work from. The hallmark of PPG’s high build primer is the ease of application and can be sanded and worked for a smooth surface.

Body fillers and high-build primers can speed up the bodywork process by covering gaps, scratches, pinholes, and other imperfections. These materials can be sanded to make the panel straight and smooth.

According to PPG’s instructions: “Body Filler may be applied over VP2050 after an overnight dry and a light sanding.” If applying body filler, two coats of VP2050 must first be applied. The company also states the primer may be directly topcoated or sealed with a compatible PPG sealer.

Body By Pennywitt

Once the high build primer is shot, Pennywitt has the bodywork done over the epoxy. “Gotta get the filler pretty straight and pretty smooth then sanded with 120 grit,” he said. “Once you get it all smoothed out and all the gaps where they need to be, then you put about four coats of polyester primer on it.”

Pennywitt explains how the panels fit together like pieces of a puzzle and the gaps aren’t always even. “Panels don’t always line up with even gaps all the way around the panel. So there is a lot of straightening and bodywork that goes into getting the panels to fit properly.

The rear bumper of this Camaro was panel bonded to the body, let dry for 24 hours, then prepped with the rest of the body.

The rear bumper of this project car was bonded to the car with 3M’s Panel Bonding Adhesive. “If the panel is a metal surface, it needs to be ground down with 36 grit,” he explained. “The composite material will need to be roughed up as well. Then you butter both parts and sit them in place on the car. You’ll need to cleco it and let it sit for 24 hours to dry.”

Sanding, Sanding, And More Sanding

Once all the bodywork is completed, Pennywitt puts four coats of the PPG VP2050 epoxy-polyester primer over the entire body. “Once I get the polyester primer on it, then there is some more sanding. I start blocking it with 120 grit, then I re-guide coat everything.”

Guide coats help to reveal surface imperfections like scratches and pinholes, but they also show where high spots and low spots are in the panel. To get a show-quality finish, using guide coats to get panels straight is a necessity. Top painters like Pennywitt will use several guide coats to assist with this part of the process. 

Guide coats and sanding will show where the high and low spots on a surface are. Repeated use of a high-build primer and wet-sanding will smooth out the panel's surface to perfection.

After the first guide coat, he uses 240 grit sandpaper to smooth things out. “Then I re-guide coat everything. Next, I go to 320 grit, then re-guide coat everything. Hopefully, after that, there is still enough primer on it and I can go to 400 grit, then 600 grit.” 

Patience is the key to an award-winning finish. Once Pennywitt’s crew has completed sanding through the 600 grit stage, the project is ready for sealer and a color coat.

Wet On Wet

When it gets down to the finishing stages of the painting process, things move along quicker. You don’t have to let adhesives and fillers sit up overnight or paint to dry between coats. According to Pennywitt, “The sealer and color coats are a wet-on-wet process. You will lay a coat of sealer down, let it flash for about 15 minutes then you can start putting your basecoat down.”

It is important to know and understand painting terms like “flash” and “flash-off.” These are terms that will be in the paint company’s instructions on how to use their product. Flash and Flash Off mean allowing the solvents within the paint time to evaporate.

This can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and from one paint type to another. The additives a painter can add to a batch of paint will also play a part in the amount of time needed for the paint to flash off. It is critical to follow the instructions regarding flash time because the paint will not dry correctly if it is not given the recommended flash time.

Flashing And Finishing

When it is done properly, the flash coat should have a hazy finish on the paint. Done incorrectly and the flash off can have the paint lose most of its shine and not even dry properly. There are a lot of elements that add to this process to make it as challenging as it seems. Type of paint, weather, and temperature can all affect the duration of time for a coat of paint to flash off. Another thing to remember: The more coats of paint that are used will increase the length of flash time. 

“After it is clear-coated, the body will get wet-sanded and polished,” Pennywitt said. “I start off with 800 grit, then work to 1,000. From 1,000 grit to 1,200, working my way up to 2,500 grit. Once I am satisfied with the surface at 2,500 grit sanding, I can start polishing.”

Finally, the finish is polished to a mirror-like surface.

As we have shown, a high-quality paint job requires many steps and great attention to detail. It is time-consuming and requires a high level of experience. These types of finishes are not easy, and not cheap – but they are worth every penny and every minute of time invested. 

For more information on the products used in this article, visit PPG Paint online at


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Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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