Restoring an 1917 Excelsior Big X
I was still working full time as a school teacher, when I painted this bike. I had been doing the TAFE evening spray painting course for more than a decade, and I already had my certificate II. Story Phil Ward Once per week, I had 2 hours booth access, and I was on my way to my certificate III, which I now hold. The bike was already all but 100 years old, with many original parts among those to be painted. Naturally, these parts were somewhat out of shape and rather rusty. Apart from the frame, the rest were small enough to go in the TAFE sandblaster.
I began the shape repairs with the pair of original mudguards. The rear guard was a simple shape, but deeply pitted, requiring several cycles of rubbing back, filling and re-priming. The front guard was not as badly pitted, but a very complex shape, made from 3 overlapping parts, running fore and aft, riveted together. It has deep scalloping for the fork legs, and a large hole near the front, for the leaf spring. Working around all these obstacles and getting the shape right on this valanced guard was the biggest challenge of the whole job. The many rub-throughs were always treated with 1K (acrylic) etch, before refilling.
Although the topcoats are all solid colours, (not metallics), I chose to use basecoat and clear, to minimise the wastage of expensive enamels. Indeed, TAFE required me to do this. Before topcoating, every part, including the frame, had its final primer coat wet rubbed. Once the body colour, a custom pale blue, had been applied to the frame, guards, wheel rims, rear chain guard and sundries these were finished.
The multicolour parts include the girder forks, tank, toolbox, clutch cover and another chain guard, done in 3 batches. Due to my limited booth access, each week I could apply only one colour and then clear. Before the next TAFE night, I needed to rub each piece down with fine wet and dry, then mask in preparation for the next colour. These multicolour parts have 6 kinds of paint applied, ie, 2K (2 pack) etch, 2K primer, colours 1, 2, and 3, with 2K clear enamel after each colour. Some of the parts presented a challenge, in terms of mounting them in the booth, before spraying. For example, how do you spray a naked wheel rim? Through the spoke holes, I attached 3 small bolts, at 120° intervals. From each of these, I attached a piece of tie wire, then tied off to the booth ceiling, holding the rim in a horizontal plane. Since the late 1920s, fuel tanks have been ‘saddle tanks’, which are easy to place over a wooden painting stand. However, this tank bolts onto frame tubes which are above and below the tank. Each time it was painted, I inserted bolts into the upper and lower surfaces of the tank. It was then wired to the ceiling and floor of the booth, to support it as the paint was sprayed on. I offered to mask and spray the blue and gold pinstripes on the forks, rims, front guard, frame, tank, toolbox, clutch cover and chain guard. The owner wanted them hand brushed, a technique not then in my repertoire. For this, they went to Star Enamelers, who did a very fine job.
So what did I learn from all this ? There is an awful lot of painting in a veteran bike. If I had continuous rather than interrupted booth access, I would have saved about 40 hours of time, and some expense in 2K clear enamel, for the multicolour parts. On the other hand, re-masking over rubbed down clear was safe to do. Re-masking over freshly painted basecoat, which is neither firm nor weatherproof, let alone solvent proof, would have been problematic, especially on this large scale.
So folk, look after your painted parts. There is a lot of time, trouble, effort and expense in doing them again.
Tool box and chain guards in mid-state of the process.
TOP LEFT Petrol tank suspended from the top of the spray booth. TOP Front guard is a complex shape. ABOVE CENTRE Finished front mudguard. ABOVE Outer chain case in the final stages.