How to Paint your Mustang or other Classic Car on a budget
Can you get a good paint job from a low buck paint shop? Yes! Professional paint pros and high dollar restorers may scoff, but it’s very possible to get a good looking, long lasting paint job from a discount paint shop like Earl Scheib or Maaco. It’s not appropriate for every car. I wouldn’t hand them the keys to my Shelby GT500 or ’53 Corvette, but for those on a budget it’s a very good option. The key to a successful budget paint job is to prep the car yourself. Leave nothing to the shop except actually laying down the paint. (note: For purposes of discussion we’ll use a classic Mustang as the example, but this process holds true to really any older car)
Analyze your existing paint
The first step before determining if a budget paint job will work on your Mustang is to assess the current condition of the paint. In many cases you can prep and paint directly over an existing paint job, but only if it’s in solid shape.
Look for any signs of cracking, crazing, bubbling or peeling. This indicates that there’s a problem with the existing paint and it’s not adhering properly to the layer underneath. If this is the case you’ll need to sand through any existing layers of paint, down to solid, stable paint or primer. In some cases you’ll need to get all the way down to bare metal, but doing so increases your labor and costs Rust Prevention .
Also, when checking the paint, be realistic and don’t ignore areas just for the sake of convenience. It will cost you more in time and money later. Typically if one area of the paint is cracked or peeling, then the paint on the entire car is suspect. Maybe the rest of the car just hasn’t quite reached that point of decay, but it will shortly. So if you only fix areas that look bad, you’ll likely find that you wasted a paint job when the other areas start to crack or peel in a year or two.
On the other hand, in some cases there are legitimate reasons for one area to be bad even if the rest of the paint is solid. If poor body work or rust repair was done in the past then maybe just that section of paint will need to be removed.
Bubbles in the existing paint are sure indications of rust below. These areas will require extra special attention. As you remove the bubbled paint you’ll inevitably find the cancer goes much further then it appeared on the surface. And unless you cut all the rust out it’s going to come back. There are chemical rust converters on the market, and some do a very good job. But understand that none will probably encapsulate rust forever. Be honest with yourself about how long you expect this paint job to last. If you expect to repaint the car in 5 years and you’re on an extremely tight budget, then rust converters may be the approach to take.
Basically what you’re looking for is a good, solid foundation of existing paint that is stable and still strongly bonded to the car. Many times an original factory paint job, even after decades will meet these criteria.
Do all your own body work
As mentioned earlier, the key to keeping your paint shop costs down is to do as much as possible before you take it to the shop. This includes body work, if you’ve got the skill, or the patience to learn the skill. Bodywork is time consuming. It requires several steps that must be done in the correct order, with the correct curing times in between. Shortcuts here will show up like a sore thumb in your new paint job, so don’t be tempted. If you don’t have the skill to tackle the body work yourself then it’s smarter to let the paint shop do it. Just understand that this raises the cost of your paint job significantly. Good body work takes hours upon hours and having a professional do it can easily exceed the cost of a cheap paint job.
If you decide to do your own body work discuss it with the paint shop first. They’ll probably have recommendations on the type of primer you use. Some brands will be more compatible with their primers or color coats. The rule of thumb is to stay within the same brand of paint, both for prep and color. Even the cheapest paint shops typically use a brand name on their intermediate and higher paint jobs. Find out what it is and use the same brand as your primer coat. This will ensure you don’t create adhesion problems for yourself down the road.