Body Restoration
Paint System Selection

Shortly after mechanical restoration started on the car, thoughts of the eventual refinishing of the body prompted research to discover what Stanley might have done originally.  The intent of the restoration was to keep the steam carriage as close to what Stanley would have done as possible.  Stanley sales literature indicated that Valentine’s Valspar Automotive Finishes were used exclusively.  A quick check on the internet revealed that Valspar is still in business as the 6th largest paint and coatings producer in the world.  Valspar has been in business since 1806.  In the 1800's, Valspar spar varnish protected the tall sailing ships. In the 1900's, Valspar paint adorned the "Spirit of St. Louis" on Charles Lindbergh's historic flight from New York to Paris.  Valspar was an early contender to supply automotive paint for the car.

An email to Valspar asking if their records might indicate the paint colors available in 1918 turned up negative.  A more extensive internet search to DuPont, PPG, and others in the automotive paint business also turned up negative.  Thus a search was initiated on eBay for anything that might come to auction related to DuPont, PPG, or Valspar.  After two years of watching what was auctioned on eBay along with frequent visits to several Antique Automotive Literature Dealers web sites a Valentine’s Valspar Automotive Finishes brochure from the era of the car appeared for auction on eBay.  That auction was won and the colors available when the car was assembled at the Stanley plant in Newton, Massachusetts was now available when the time came to paint the car. 

A decision remaining to be made was what paint system would be used.  Originally Stanley would have applied Valentine’s Valspar Finishes with a brush then hand polished the finish smooth.  The lacquer paints of the era allowed for a hand brushed and rubbed finish the resulted in a furniture shine finish.  The process of painting a car at the beginning of the 20th century was labor-intensive to be sure but the result held up reasonably well.  A brushed finish was definitely not going to happen with this restoration.

As the car is not intended to be a “trailer queen” (cars that are rarely driven on the road but taken to shows in enclosed trailers) the paint system would need to be durable.  Additionally the paint system would need to have a finish and shine closer to what the car would have had when originally painted.  The super-gloss finishes often found on modern restorations of old cars would not be acceptable as well.  The application of color base coats followed by numerous coats of clear that generate a mirror finish that was is not representative of the automotive finishes of the time.

Further investigation into Valspar revealed that they provide a varied selection of automotive paints.  They offer both acrylic enamel and acrylic urethane paint systems.  Their House of Kolor® is nationally renowned as the high-caliber paint for customizing vehicles.  Valspar’s broad array or metallic, pearl, marblizer, and neon paints offer nearly any color desirable.  In the final analysis, Valspar automotive refinish products were not selected for the painting of the Stanley because durability was more important than finish color.  Unlike most of today’s restorations, a Stanley also requires a finish that will withstand steam cylinder oil deposits, hot steam and water, along with intense heat under the hood many times hotter than what today’s restorations generate.

DuPont Automotive Refinishes was another candidate for supplying paint for the Stanley.  DuPont entered the automotive finish business in 1924 when they introduced their DUCO nitrocellulose lacquer.  This tough, quick-drying finish revolutionized the automobile finishing business because it could be applied with a spray gun and did not require a lot of buffing and polishing.  Now cars could be completely finished in a matter of hours instead of weeks.  By 1929 DuPont had introduced their DULUX alkyd enamel.  DuPont LUCITE was unveiled in 1956 as an acrylic lacquer and has the distinction of being applied to more cars than any other finish in history.  Acrylic enamels were introduced by DuPont in 1969 with the unveiling of CENTAURI.  Finally their IMRON polyurethane enamel was introduced in 1972 as one of the toughest paints available.  So tuff was IMRON’s cross-linked chemical structure that it soon won acclaim as the paint of choice for harsh industrial environments and demanding commercial uses.  The question to answer would be what paint system to use.

Many if not most of the automotive restorations done today use what is known as base coat – clear coat.  This system produces the familiar deep luster “wet” look found on many of today’s restorations.  Enamel base coat – clear coat paint systems consist of one coat of BASE which is the actual pigment, and a coat of CLEAR which is a transparent paint that will give the paint its luster and shine.  By applying numerous base coats all of the primer and bodywork under the color coat is covered up leaving the car with a uniform color.  Additional coats are applied where clear coat is added to the base coat in increasing ratios as more coats are applied.  The top coats end up being entirely clear coats and the result is a deep luster shine when buffed.

Another method of painting a car is the single-stage system.  In a single-stage system the paint is applied and generally no additional clear coats are used to increase the shine.  Many lacquer systems are single-stage systems producing a beautiful shine (like a piano) when applied correctly.  Some restorers use it mostly for show room and museum cars that will never or barely see the streets.  This system provides an appearance more like what the cars looked like when they rolled out of the assembly plants.  With lacquers several coats are applied and allowed to cure.  They are then buffed to a smooth shine and additional coats may be applied.  After buffing still more coats may be applied until the desired shine is achieved.

Urethane based paints are called high solid compounds and urethanes will last longer and are tougher providing a high gloss finish. Urethane is also the most expensive of the three paint systems.  For urethane systems a proper preparation of the body metal and proper body fillers and materials must be used.  Urethane systems have a chemical nature whereby the molecules in the paint form cross-linked chains.  If the surface preparation is not properly done urethane systems will literally pull the substrate apart and the urethane paint will peel from the surface it has been applied to.

There are two urethane “systems” of paints ~ acrylic urethane and polyurethane.  Acrylic urethane systems are somewhat easier to apply but have the disadvantage that they are not as flexible once applied to the finished surface.  Paint a sheet of aluminum foil with both acrylic urethane and polyurethane, allow it to properly cure, then wrinkle the aluminum and fold it back out and, except for the crease marks, the polyurethane painted portion will look far superior to the acrylic painted portion.  Additionally polyurethane paint systems have a high degree of resistance to the damaging effects of the ultraviolet rays from the sun.  When applying acrylic urethanes a high level of ultraviolet inhibitor needs to be added to achieve the natural ultraviolet resistance of polyurethane automotive paints.  With a slight amount of ultraviolet inhibitor added polyurethane paints can be made nearly immune to ultraviolet ray damage.   With respect to the sun, elements, and general toughness of the paint, acrylic urethanes are not as durable over time as are polyurethane systems.  Polyurethane paints have the highest degree of chip, nick, and scratch resistance of all automotive paint systems when properly applied.

Considering all the conditions present including steam, steam cylinder oil, high temperature, and exposure to the sun, rain, and elements on occasion, DuPont’s Imron polyurethane enamel paint system was chosen over Valspar’s arcylic urethane paint system.  The colors selected would be Black RS-99, Dark Red RS-910, and Light Red RS-593.  Since Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rulings have led to a reduction of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in paint, the paint system chosen would need to comply with EPA guidelines.  Additionally the high-volume/low-pressure (HVLP) spray guns to apply these environmentally friendly coatings would also be used.

Go back        Next Image  

© 2003-2012