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Red paint, and keeping it

Mike Marion writes: 

> Red paint is pretty prone to oxidizing since its not a clearcoat.  The
> paint is actually applied differently and works differently.  Your pearl
> won't fade but the clearcoat has been known to actually peel.

To which Phil Payne responded:

> Yup.  The Coupe GT that we lost to a dashboard fire last year looked
> like a bad case of peeling sunburn.

Red paint oxidizes particularly badly because it's red.  No, really:
that means it absorbs all the high-energy light at the blue end of the
spectrum and reflects the low-energy light at the red end.  As the
current owner of three red cars, I've experienced a certain amount of
this.  (Well, the CGT is sort of orangey-red, but it's close enough...)

When I had the Alfa painted two and a half years ago, the paint shop
mentioned that modern clear coats have a UV protector in them, so the
final coat on this car was 50% this UV-protective clear coat and 50% the
AR501 "Alfa Red" paint that was under it.  For an inexpensive paint job,
it's held up very well in the California smog and sun; I think paint is
another part of automotive technology that's continued to improve.  

And of course, putting it on the bare metal probably helped.  However,
the reason I ended up stripping off all the paint, rather than just
restoring it using the techniques I outline here as I've done many times
for many other cars, is that the top layer of clearcoat had burned off
exactly as Phil says, like a bad case of peeling sunburn.  (The
clearcoat in question was from a repaint in about 1974, and the
detective work involved in determining that is a story that probably
wouldn't be of much interest here -- date codes on replacement alloy
wheels and the like.)

When I took possession of this Audi, the paint was oxidized, dull as
chalk, and sort of pale looking.  Because it's the original Audi paint,
I was actually excited at the prospect.

I bought some Zymol at the local car parts provider and spent a few
hours the first weekend bringing back the paint.  It was nothing short
of incredible: what started out looking like flat house latex ended up
with a gleam, with sparkles, with a deep shine that later amazed my
friend Daren, the previous owner of this car.  It went from beater to
"hey, nice car" in a weekend.

That was a month ago, and I'm planning to re-apply some Zymol this
weekend.  I've noticed that with cars allowed to oxidize severely --
*if* you manage to catch them before they go completely chalky, at least
-- each of the first three or four successive applications of a polish
like Zymol brings back a little bit more, then it roughly stabilizes.  

For anyone else bringing back an old finish, here's the rough procedure:

1 - Start with a gentle wash.  For best results, use a cotton or a
sheepskin mitt, not a sponge; they wick dirt and crud away from the
paint rather than scratching it around the finish.  A mild dishwashing
liquid can be a good choice, but don't use a powdered compound, as it
can scratch.  Lately I've been using Blue Coral fabric cleaner, sprayed
directly onto the wet body panels and then sponged, er, mitted off.  Oh,
and don't do this in direct sunlight -- the beads of water act like
lenses and can actually burn your paint's finish away.

2 - Move to a paint finish restorer; I'm very fond of Zymol now, which
has the added bonus of smelling like Hawaiian Tropic tanning lotion.
:-)  Other products I've always had good results with are the Meguiar's
line, especially their Deep Crystal varieties.  They're non-abrasive,
and (like the Zymol) restore many of the oils that are removed by sun
and dirt.  In either case, what this does is restore shine to the paint,
removing oxidation and returning the pain'ts original oils to the
finish.  You can *feel* the difference when you've put this on a panel.

3 - Seal the new finish with a hard wax -- I haven't found my favorite,
Harly Wax, in years.  By hard wax, I don't mean it has to be in paste
form; both Meguiar's and Mother's (at least for US brands) make a liquid
carnauba blend that's just about as good.  But the extra depth of the
Harly wax was always just a little bit slipperier to the touch and
shinier to the eye.  (I used to take a damp towel -- typically the
morning's shower towel -- out to the car and dust it off, every few
days, when the Harly wax was fairly fresh.)

A related question: does anyone know if it's possible to get "dash caps"
for early '80s Audis?  Most of the British and Italian sports cars I've
had have had these available from the usual parts sources; they're
ABS-plastic reproductions of the top of the dashboard, made to slip over
and be glued into place.  Done with care (and I've done enough to get
the hang of it), they're undetectable while seated in the car.  

I've got -- I counted them last night -- 24 cracks in the dash on my '83
Coupe GT, and I'd love to be able to slip over a dash cap rather than
try to find a better dash and swap the whole thing.  I'll probably
install a new leather steering wheel cover this weekend, and possibly a
better shift knob while I'm at it -- not exactly performance pieces, but
I've always believed it's worth doing something a little special for the
parts of the car your hands come in contact with every time you drive