If you want to pre­serve or sharpen your body lines, it has to hap­pen here. We show you how!

Of all the punch-list items a project car can have, none of them take as much time, skill, or pa­tience as body and paint­work. Build­ing an en­gine or even fab­ri­cat­ing a chas­sis doesn’t come close. (There’s a rea­son they call it “paint jail.”) Along the way, there are many op­er­a­tions that need to oc­cur in or­der for there to be a solid foun­da­tion for the next step. Fail­ure to prop­erly re­pair rust or straighten sheet­metal prior to ap­ply­ing body filler, for in­stance, is an ex­am­ple where suc­ces­sive lay­ers of work will not pay the div­i­dends ex­pected.

For this rea­son, many hot rod­ders opt to farm out this work to spe­cial­ized restora­tion shops like Al­loy Mo­tors in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia. Al­loy is the brain­child of Ge­off Gates, a die-hard mus­cle car lover from the Bay Area who gained no­to­ri­ety over the past few years as a hard-work­ing and in­no­va­tive hot rod­der with a knack for in­ject­ing an un­der­stated style into his projects. A de­signer by train­ing and a crafts­man and car-lover by choice, Gates left a high-pay­ing agency job years ago to ven­ture out on his own into the mus­cle car restora­tion biz. His icon­o­clas­tic style and low-key ap­proach to de­sign have proven to be a hit with the re­gional Sil­i­con Val­ley crowd and gen­er­ally goes against the nor­mally flam­boy­ant West Coast build style.

“Do­ing body­work prop­erly isn’t a black art,” says Gates. “It boils down to pa­tience, process, and de­vel­op­ing a feel for the sur­faces you’re work­ing with on a panel.” Hav­ing started out years ago with his pop work­ing on cars at home, Gates is more like the av­er­age DIY hot rod­der than a big-time shop, so he’s par­tic­u­larly in tune with the tra­vails of guys like us. “Body filler — Bondo, if you will — is not a bad thing when ap­plied prop­erly, and is a nec­es­sary step in the paint prep process,” assures Gates. “There are a few rules to ini­tial body­work and prep­ping

the sur­faces for your first prime. We’ve al­ready cov­ered met­al­work on this car, so the idea was to get all the dam­aged ar­eas as close as pos­si­ble within 1/8 to 1/16 inch be­fore we start block­ing and ap­ply­ing filler.”

One clever time-sav­ing step that Gates de­cided early on with our Valiant was to keep the ex­ist­ing paint on the car rather than re­move it chem­i­cally or through me­di­a­blast­ing. This isn’t al­ways fea­si­ble, how­ever, as do­ing so will re­quire that the car have lim­ited ar­eas of da­m­age or rust. Says Gates: “This car has its orig­i­nal paint and one re-spray with no rusted ar­eas, so we aren’t strip­ping all the paint off the car. Rather, we’re us­ing what’s there as a sort of a primer to block down and straighten the pan­els, then ap­ply filler in the low spots.”

Fol­low along as we get project Valiant on the straight and nar­row in prepa­ra­tion for the ap­pli­ca­tion of color and clearcoat.

“Do­ing body­work prop­erly isn’t a black art,” says Gates. “It boils down to pa­tience, process, and de­vel­op­ing a feel for the sur­faces you’re work­ing with on a panel.”

Here’s our ma­te­ri­als for the ini­tial body­work: wax and grease re­mover (pre-cleaner), lint-free wipes, a 2-inch grinder, spray guide­coat, blocks of var­i­ous sizes and flex­i­bil­ity, body filler, putty, long­board sand­pa­per, tapes, a board, and spread­ers.

Once your panel is clean, dust a light mist of guide­coat. This will help show the low spots as you block each sur­face, giv­ing you a topo­graph­i­cal map of the highs and lows you have to deal with.

On a car like this ’68 Ply­mouth Valiant with very dis­tinct straight lines, Gates likes to keep those lines crisp and straight through­out ev­ery step of the process. Here he lays tape on each line to give both a phys­i­cal and visual aid to keep them laser straight.

One of the most im­por­tant things is to en­sure clean­li­ness be­fore you work a panel. If there’s any wax or grease, as you sand you’ll spread it all over the panel, so use a qual­ity wax and grease re­mover to pre-clean each panel as you work.

Al­ways wipe down the wax and grease re­mover with a lint-free cloth; you don’t want to leave any fiber be­hind as you work. Em­bed­ding them in the paint will con­tam­i­nate your filler work.

Any­thing can be a block. Here’s a small scrap piece of tub­ing that Gates is go­ing to use to clean up the marker light hole. Just wrap some self-ad­he­sive pa­per to the tube.

Us­ing the scrap tube as a block, Gates can clean up the hole ef­fi­ciently. Now all that’s left to do is re­peat the process to the en­tire car!

Here you can see how the flex block helps on this con­cave part, let­ting you shape the ex­ist­ing paint like a sculp­ture.

Some ar­eas re­quire a flex­i­ble block, like above the wheel lips or any curved area. Gates has a gi­ant col­lec­tion of blocks for a mul­ti­tude of curves.

Through­out the process, con­tinue to use guide tape to pro­tect the edge work you’re done with.

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