RESTO CORNER WITH AMD: PROJECT VALIANT: THE PROPER USE OF BODY FILLER
IF YOU WANT TO PRESERVE OR SHARPEN YOUR BODY LINES, IT HAS TO HAPPEN HERE. WE SHOW YOU HOW!
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.