By Mike C.
Coats of Many Colors
Thatís what is usually on most VWís after 30 or more years in the wild and is certainly evident when you start chipping, peeling, sanding, or stripping the old paint off to prepare the body for that fresh coat of new paint. There is so much misunderstanding about paint and bodywork by the prospective customer, when it comes to getting your beloved VW repainted by the local Bubbaís Scratch Ní Match that I feel like itís my duty to give you fellow VW folks some knowledge before getting sticker shock.
To give a little history, I started doing bodywork and actually painted my first car 15 years ago. Thatís when I understood that a good paint job is nowhere nearly as simple as taping off the windows and loading up the spray gun and blowing on a few coats. Anyway, since then I have painted one more car (my í74 Super Beetle) and performed body work and had two more cars painted by friends. Let me say that, with paint and bodywork, you get only what you pay for and you definitely pay for what you get.
Iíll start by talking about the money involved. After all, thatís where it hits any of us the hardest, right? These days you can find paint jobs for as low as $100 for a blow-n-go to well over $10,000 for a "street-rod" quality job. About 90% of the money involves how much labor is put into bodywork, and that depends on how close to perfection you want to see your project. The straighter and more rust-free your ride is, the less labor will be required to achieve that "no-dent" finish. Labor can run anywhere from $50 to $75 per hour and that is how it can add up so quickly. Bodywork is the most labor-intensive portion of any good paint job. Also, the quality of the finish that you see will be largely related to the quality of bodywork underneath. Therefore, get a good up-front quote that is padded for any surprise work that was not planned, and donít rush the body shop. Let them get it right the first time. If you learn some bodywork basics and can do the bodywork yourself, some of the medium-priced ($500 +) paint shops can put some excellent paint on your car.
Beetles are probably one of the more difficult cars on which to perform bodywork since every panel is compound-curved. The bolt-on fenders, however, are cheap and easy enough to make total replacement worth the money. So, unless there are only minor "parking lot dings", you would be time and money ahead getting new fenders. Ghias and Busses are different animals altogether, requiring cutting old panels off and welding new ones, so you may want to leave this job to the body shop. Beetle roofs are the toughest to tackle from a dent standpoint, so if you have a dent-free roof or have plenty of experience already, then you have won half the battle right there. The best advice I can give about bodywork in this short amount of space is simply to invest in a how-to book on bodywork. There are several out there that will all provide you with the "right stuff" and basic know-how. Haynes has one specifically for VWís, so they will cover all the particulars of Bugs, Busses, and Ghias. Even if you donít do the work yourself, it will go a long way to keeping you from being taken for a ride at the body shop.
Paints are another issue altogether. All paint types are expensive, much of the cost coming from our wonderful EPA mandates on airborne pollutants. Lacquers are old technology, use a lot of solvent, and arenít anywhere as durable as enamels, but is very user-friendly to apply, repair, and give a super finish when color-sanded and buffed. Acrylic enamels are an okay step-up for durability, but are typically finicky to apply, slow-drying, and not easily spot-repaired. My personal favorite type of paint is the urethane enamel. Todayís urethanes are easy to use, apply, finish, and are very durable. They are the most expensive, though. A urethane paint system for a Bug (primers, catalysts, and color coats) will run you around $600 minimum to get you from bare metal to show-winner, assuming you bought all the stuff at the paint and supply house and sprayed it on yourself. Single-stage paints (where the color coat is the top coat) will cost less than two-stage, or basecoat/clearcoat paints (where the base coat is the color and is protected by a layer of clear paint). If you have a car you rarely drive and keep it in the garage, then lacquer or single-stage enamels will do fine. If it sits under the weather daily and gets driven a lot, seriously consider the basecoat/clearcoat system, as it is more durable and will retain its shine with relatively little upkeep. Keep in mind that if you spray the paint yourself, get a good respirator and use it religiously. Some of the paints contain isocyanates (read: cyanide) that is poisonous to breathe. Breathing paint mist itself is never a good thing to do, either.
I could write a book on paints, but I am limited to the space in our newsletter. If you have anything youíd like to ask about paints and bodywork, Iíd be glad to hear from you and talk about it.
Your VW Maniac &Tech Specialist