How to make the most of an aging paint job

Our Alfa Romeo’s bright-red paint was photogenic but a mess in person, holding back the condition grade for the whole car. Though the paint was applied relatively well, it bore the hallmarks of bad preparation: wavy sheet metal, scratches from poor sandpaper selection, and painted trim obviously left in place during the respray.

Repainting the car would help, but we couldn’t justify the five-figure expense–this was a driver, after all, not a concours winner. After our repairs, maybe we could call its condition No. 3-, meaning not quite No.3 but significantly better than our No. 4 starting point.

So we invited–okay, begged–Tim McNair, perennial Pebble Beach and Amelia Island Concours winner, to take a look at our car. Could he make it look good from, say, 5 feet away? And what if he detailed the engine and undercarriage? Could he make our Alfa a solid No. 3 car?

He could. Here’s how he did it.

1. Wipe down the entire car using some quick detailer. This gets your eyes on every panel, Tim explains, as you remove the worst dust and road grime. 

Griot’s Garage Speed Shine

2. Clay the entire car to remove more tenacious contaminants, like tree sap and metal filings. Tim is a big fan of using Griot’s detailer with their new synthetic clay bar.

Griot’s Garage Brilliant Finish Synthetic Clay

3. Wet-sand at least the top surfaces of the car to remove orange peel, light scratches and other imperfections. Tim uses 2000-grit paper, a soft sanding block, and a bucket of water. When sanding, he says, you’re looking to apply uniform pressure and coverage; be very gentle, especially around the car’s edges, to avoid going through the paint. At the end of this stage, you should end up with a uniformly flat and chalky finish. 

Side tip: The sanding dust should tell you more about your car’s paint. If it’s the same color as the body, then you’re dealing with single-stage paint; if the dust is clear, then your car has a clear coat.

4. Buff the paint. Tim used a rotary buffer along with Griot’s Complete Compound. Buffer speed was 650-800rpm, and Tim described his technique as “low and slow.”

Note that he didn’t use an orbital buffer, the tool used to gently polish paintwork. The rotary buffer used here is a very strong machine that will quickly burn through paint if not properly used.

Griot’s Garage Complete Compound

5. Polish to a shine. At this point, the paint was starting to look surprisingly fantastic. From a few feet away, only a few swirl marks remained visible. Tim set his Griot’s Garage random orbital buffer to setting No.3 and polished the entire car with Griot’s Complete Polish.

Griot’s Garage Complete Polish

6. Protect with wax. Once all of the polish was wiped off, Tim could give the car a good coat of wax. Contrary to popular belief, the polishing steps are what bring out the shine; a good Carnauba wax is what protects it. Swissvax has long supported our scene while making some fine products, so that’s what we used to finish off our Alfa’s rejuvenation.

Swissvax Concours Carnauba Wax

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rustriddenB New Reader
8/19/22 11:29 a.m.

I just picked up a 77 MGB in what I believe to be Damask Red. Looks good, shine but upon closer exam it looks like stains on flat surfaces. Possibly from being under a tarp? The car allegedly sat for a number of years. I may attempt to wetsand  in an out of the way area. Thouhts?

joeymec New Reader
1/29/23 12:25 p.m.

You can do quite a lot with paint that is solid and not cracking, even to the point of being completely dull.  Light wetsanding followed by a buffer with sometimes just water will bring paint up to a relative shine and smoothing.  Each successive step which may be light compounding or glazing will improve even further.  I like the process as my interest is mostly in getting  the paint to looking very good for driver purposes.  I am not a concours guy and really don't have interest in museum pieces.  That is the work of the high end painters and restorers and those that have a checkbook that is virtually unlimited.  To me the real challenge is making someting out of nothing that most others would give up on.  Also I like the patina of the existing project.   There is something for everyone in the redoing of autombile appearance.





frenchyd MegaDork
1/29/23 9:03 p.m.

In reply to joeymec :

That's exactly what I intend to do with this  

  There are a few spots where the paint is down to the primer  but I'll blow a little on  in those spots and then color sand everything together.   I'll try on the inside bottom of the trunk until I get it close  then order up a quart 

  Driver quality  is my goal not perfection 

BobbyBusso New Reader
3/9/24 4:31 p.m.

What about saving the dreaded clear coat flaking and fading, or at least making it look presentable?  I have a Milano with parts that still have clear coat, parts with the clear coat completely gone and parts with the clear coat with a hazy, foggy appearance. 

I have repaired a small section by wet sanding and then rattle can clear coating it but wondering if there are other methods that could be performed over the entire car. 

Many cars have this failure of clear coat such as Boxster 986's and similar.  Yes, I know my Milano is a bit old but I have other old cars without this type of failure, namely Porsche 944s, Sciroccos, Alfettas, etc.

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