February 04 2009   Story: Bryan Joslin

It's happened to all of us; just a couple of hours here and few bucks there, and this thing will be as good as new. You've been there, right? Well, that's certainly where we started with the repainting of our 318is project car. However, what was supposed to be a quick "scuff-and-squirt" job back in April of last year ended (finally) the weekend before Thanksgiving, nearly eight months later.

The problem wasn't so much the preparation — that went more or less as expected — or even the laying down of the color. No, the real time-stealer was all the work in between; endless hours of block sanding primer, then spraying paint, and eventually the buffing. And more buffing, and then a bit of buffing.

As you may recall from the last installment, the plan was to drop the painted shell off with a professional detailer for final color work. Except that he fired us after spending way too much time buffing roughly a quarter of the car. Our buffer man originally justified his begging off by saying that he wouldn't feel right charging the requisite hourly rate for the remaining hours he'd have to put into the job. So we collected the project and dragged it to our little workshop to get busy learning the art (and science) of buffing.

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That's when we discovered the real reason our professional had quit — the paint just wasn't ready for buffing, and after all his work, it would only look mediocre at best. There were several trouble spots, though largely it was a matter of the color not being wet-sanded smoothly enough on several of the panels. More troubling (and obvious) was the telltale blend line on the right rear quarter from where we'd resprayed in order to touch up some thin spots. For whatever reason — temperature, humidity, poor mixing of the paint chemicals, who knows — there was a very obvious difference in the two coats that simply would not blend together, regardless of sanding and buffing.

And so we got back to work with the 1000-, 1500- and 2000-grit sandpaper and rubber block, smoothing out all the orange-peel that would eventually telegraph to the final finish if we'd just ignored it. Eventually, we picked up the buffer and began spinning. We started with a wool bonnet and Meguiar's Fine Cut Cleaner (#2) on the 2000-grit-smooth paint, which quickly brought the surface up from a dull pink to a proper cherry red. We could have stopped at this step and had a better-looking car than we started with, but there was still more shine to be had. The next step was a foam pad with Meguiar's Swirl Remover (#9), a step that added not only shine but also depth to the paint and greatly reduced any evidence of previous sanding and buffing. Again, this could have been the final step; but we went one further, using a different foam pad and Meguiar's Show Car Glaze (#7) for a gleaming finish.

The risk of burning through good paint with a high-speed buffer is very real, but we took precautions to avoid these problems by masking the edges of adjoining panels and making sure that the buffer head was always tipped in such a way that the pad was spinning away from edges to prevent catching and burning through. The final result was, we think, impressive for a first-time effort, if not absolutely perfect.

Still, one problem remained — that damned blend line on the right rear! No amount of sanding or buffing would make the paint on that panel blend. The only choice, and a very risky one after having already buffed the rest of the body, was to mask off the panel and totally respray it. Naturally, our concern was once again how we would blend the paint to the rest of the car without it being obvious. Of course, it was our only real choice, so we masked it off and laid down a fresh coat of red, which we then sanded and buffed, carefully blending the transition at the base of the C-pillar. Fortunately, this attempt was much more successful, and by the time we'd been through the whole process, it virtually impossible to discern where the two paint applications were joined.

With the paint now in the best condition we'd ever seen it, we turned our attention to the job of reassembling the bodywork. This consisted largely of reinstalling body mouldings and trim clip, but also included removing months-old masking tape from rubber window seals.

At this point we also put our final styling touches on the project. In keeping with our theme of subtle but meaningful changes, we took the car Euro. For starters, we upgraded the DOT-spec sealed-beam headlights to new Hella H4 units from BMP Design, dramatically improving light output. To dress up the new lighting a bit, we installed European grilles from Abrahams Motorsport, which run flat across the top of the lamps, giving the face of the car a slightly more aggressive look. The Americanized bumper trim strips, with their large side marker lights, were replaced with Euro-spec factory trims (also from Abrahams) for a cleaner look. The finishing touch was the smoked turn signal lenses in the front bumper, seamlessly blending in with the black rub strips while at the same time co-coordinating with the half-smoked taillights out back.

The final detail lay in refinishing the original wheels. For the most part, our 14-inch factory BBSs were in great physical shape, but the paint had gotten a little thin, likely from years of harsh wheel cleaning chemicals being sprayed on them. While some had stone chips on them, they were all showing primer through their thinning silver paint — even the spare, which must have been in regular rotation for some time.

The process for painting the wheels was similar to repainting the body, except that we used a two-stage (basecoat and clearcoat) system. With the old tires stripped off, we sanded minor blemishes, scuffed and degreased the wheels in preparation for primer. This included removing all of the old wheel weights and valve stems, as well as disassembling the multi-piece centercaps.

We used the same high-build primer on the wheels as we used on the body, allowing it to fill small imperfections and scuffs. Next came the color coat, and for this we chose a shade that was a bit darker than the stock silver for a little added dramatic effect. The metallic acrylic lacquer color coat laid down exceptionally smooth, without the orange peel of the single-stage urethane used on the body. With no sanding needed, the clearcoat was shot almost immediately after the basecoat had dried.

After a couple days of curing, we mounted up a new set of Sumitomo HTR 200 tires in a 205/60-14 fitment. The HTR 200 is an inexpensive high-performance summer tire well suited to a car like our 318is, which is a daily driver with occasional performance outbursts.

To say there was a sense of jubilation at seeing the project complete is an understatement. Sadly, the joy would be short-lived, as the previous owner of the car, who had been following its progress here on MWerks, had been in contact about buying it back when the project series was over. That day had actually arrived, and just one day before Thanksgiving we left it parked in the driveway of our friend's house as he prepared to drive it south to his brother. The car is no longer ours, but it now lives in Texas, where its fresh paint should be rust-free for many more years to come.

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Special thanks for this installment are extended to the following:

Abrahams Motorsport
- European grilles and bumper trim, smoked turn signal lenses

BMP Design- European Hella headlamps

Eastwood Company- Paint preparation supplies and HVLP spray equipment