My First Paint Job

When I wrote the Tale of Two Customers, I couldn’t help remembering my first paint job. I was attending the University of CA at Berkeley in 1974 and had started buying and selling Volkswagens. Up until this paint job, I had repaired many a fender and repainted them so I thought I was ready to try an entire car. I had been buying spray cans from San Leandro Color (this is the supplier we still use today to mix our paint!) for my small projects and thought, hmmm…the fenders look great…

So I purchased 16 spray cans of paint. My prep work was good. I had repaired all the dents (filling them with body filler), sanded the car and primed large areas to really make it smooth. I wetsanded the entire car with 400 grit until the body was very smooth.

I found a garage I could use and proceeded to tape off the car. I washed it down with wax and grease remover and then began to paint. After several cans, I quickly decided this wasn’t working. It was one thing painting a fender with a spray can – I could do a nice job – but trying to apply paint to an entire car from a spray can was impossible. I couldn’t flow the paint to make it lay down smoothly and ended up with a very rough job. The spray can has a fairly narrow fan, great for spot work. A professional spray gun shoots a fan around two feet wide and what a difference it makes! A friend of mine at the time, who was an experienced painter, came over and looked at my “job” and just laughed. I can’t say I was laughing at that moment.

The only thing left to do was to wash all the paint off with lacquer thinner. Now this was a fun job — NOT!! I think I created the biggest mess of my life. Luckily the paint came off very easily as the thinner took off all the new paint quickly and my primer so I had to do some rework here. (You can usually remove new paint from your car within 30 days with just lacquer thinner).

Next, I did the smart thing and paid my friend $50 to shoot the car with a professional gun. It came out beautifully and I certainly learned my lesson. A few weeks later, I tried my hand with a gun (after some practice) and it came out nicely. As I painted more and more cars, my technique improved and the jobs kept getting better. Not to say I never had problems, but I’ll tell the tale of my fish eye paint job in a later post!


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