Clearly one of the most visible of any vehicle restoration – if not the most visible aspect – is the paint job. No matter how meticulous the restoration or how careful the selection of the “correct” shade of olive drab, poor preparation can result in a paint job that falls short of the owner’s dreams. In fact, it can ruin an otherwise exacting restoration.
Perhaps the first thing today’s restorationist needs to grasp is that it is completely impractical – and probably undesirable – to apply an “authentic” paint job. In part, this is due to environmental laws, along with efforts to reduce labor costs, and continuing improvements on the part of finish manufacturers the products that were used when our vehicles were being built are simply no longer available. And, if they were, we probably wouldn’t want them, because from the application and performance standpoint yesterday’s finishes were lacking. But beyond that, even the smallest vehicle manufacturer had finishing equipment at their disposal that hobbyists can only dream of owning.
The lack of this finishing equipment however is not a disaster to enthusiasts. The improvements in chemicals allow us to today apply a finish in our back yard that would have been the envy of any painter in Detroit in 1943 or even 1963. In fact, this can lead to a bit of “over restoration” on the part of over-eager buffs.
But, even with today’s most modern paints, the secret to a good looking, long lasting finish is the same as it has been for generations: careful, thorough surface preparation. Unfortunately, many enthusiasts try to cut corners here. Maybe this is done because they are anxious to see the vehicle “finished” or because they feel they can save a few bucks. In either case, this is false economy.
Begin by locating a reliable supplier of finishing products. Not just the final colors sold by vendors found in the pages of this magazine, but a supplier of entire finishing systems. Typically, even moderately sized metropolitan areas have one or more such suppliers listed in the Yellow Pages under “Automobile Body Shop Equipment and Supplies.” Harder, however will be finding one of these shops who will take time away from their everyday professional customers to help the occasional hobbyist may be a bit more challenging. Harder still will be finding one who understands the nuances of dull military vehicles as opposed to flashy machines with chrome wheels.
I was fortunate enough to enlist the aid of such professionals in the preparation of this article. When Tim Garrett is not on the phone helping long-distance customers, or helping local pros at Auto Paint and Performance in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, he is likely to be found at the wheel of a 1942 GMC CCKW, or working on the M5A1 Stuart housed in his garage. Further information was gleaned from Bill Norvell, veteran tanker, and body shop proprietor of 40+ years, and incidentally the fellow who has painted several military vehicles for the author.
Their advice, combined with watching and listening as the team at Memphis Equipment prepared my M45 chassis with LeRoi compressor for painting, led to this article. The following step-by-step tips will help you apply a factory-level paint job in your own garage.