- Car Transport
You may have seen the fantastic repair job we did for the Wheeler Dealers on a classic but creaky Morris Minor Traveller. The bodywork was lovingly restored, its timber replaced or repaired, the interior was sympathetically refurbed and the paintwork now gleams with the same lustrous green that attracted a lucky buyer’s eye back in 1968. Today’s car paint refinishing techniques and technology allow us to make invisible repairs by matching the colour of your car and blending our repair work until it disappears into the surrounding panel. Things were not always so easy. Here’s a quick primer on the history of car paint from black pitch to waterborne finish.
When Karl Benz produced his first car – the Patent-Motorwagen – he did not so much paint it as tar it. He used a common black pitch as protection against corrosion. History does not record the availability of a limited tarred and feathered edition. Other early models used a natural oil varnish (based on linseed or amber) that was mixed in-house with pigments to produce colours whose shade was somewhat left to chance. It took about eight weeks to coat a complete car thanks to the manual process and long drying times.
Henry Ford’s assembly line of 1912 helped to speed things along a bit. Ford’s famous colour promise to his customers was a reflection of how the paint process still acted as a barrier to the effective mass production of cars. Excess stocks of nitrocellulose – that had been left over from gunpowder manufacture during the First World War – found a new use as paint binders. This, combined with, the mass chemical production of plasticisers, solvents and synthetic pigments – and the use of a spray gun – revolutionised car painting. The resultant matt nitro paints offered short drying times and no longer held up the assembly line. However, colour options remained limited (red, blue or green) and far from standardised. More seriously nitro paints proved not to be weather-resistant and their resultant decomposition quickly gave them a very dull look indeed.
Nitro combination paints used a new binder developed in America in 1927 – alkyd resin – combined with nitrocellulose paints for better elasticity. The result was a harder more durable surface that required less polishing and was more economical to apply. It now took only four hours to coat a car and the use of new organic pigments led to an explosion of colour for the very first time giving the 1946 Auto Show in Paris a veritable riot of springtime colour after the drab and difficult wartime years that preceded it.
Since the 1960’s there has been the introduction of new technologies that have continued to improve car paint. Polyester became the new basis for stoppers and isocyanates accelerated topcoat drying and allowed the use of forced drying in a combined spray booth and low bake oven. In the 1970’s 2K acrylic polyurethane technology – which uses an acrylic base and polyisocyanate hardener – pretty much replaced the use of alkyd resin paints thanks to their higher chemical resistance, greater physical resistance, faster drying times and their ability to allow dust inclusions and sagging to be polished out. The 1980’s saw new environmental concerns leading to the replacement of hazardous ingredients and less solvents. Waterborne paints – thanks to their lower volatile organic compound (VOC) content and emissions are now standard for both coating and refinishing car bodies. We have also seen the development of electrostatic rotating atomisers rather than high-pressure spraying to apply the filler and the topcoat to the car body. This means that now 90 percent of the paint used is actually applied to the car – before half of the paint was being lost to the air and surrounds. Car painting is now pretty much fully automated with only small areas like the interior of the engine compartment, boot, hood and doors being sprayed manually.
These developments have helped give us the colourful classic cars we love and aided our ability to restore them to their former glory. We can help you get your VW Beetle back to its iconic light blue, your DAF 46 back to a pristine Sahara yellow, give an authentic ‘Rosso Alfa’ to your Italian dream machine. A final note about silver. Perhaps the most popular colour for cars today but, like many enduring icons the product of an accident. Since 1900 German racing cars had been white but during the 1934 Eifel Grand Prix in Paris Mercedes cars were found to exceed the allowed weight limit by a kilo. Thinking quickly the team scratched off the paintwork leaving a lighter car that dazzled all in its reflective silver shining glory of aluminium. The cars became known as the Silver Arrows and the rest is history.