DIRTY STUFF

THE BOSS HANDED ME A SPRAY GUN AND SAID: ďPOINT THAT END AT THE JOB AND PULL THE TRIGGER.Ē MY MOTHER SWORE AT ME AT THE END OF THAT DAY, íCOS I HAD TRACTOR-BLUE OVERSPRAY ALL OVER MY WHITE OVERALLS!

WILLIAM PORKER

PAINT. That miracle stuff that finishes off everything. I have been painting ever since I was a snotty-nosed apprentice, from tractors, boats and pushbikes, to all sorts of cars, whether mundane or classic.

Not that I was ever trained. I was a learner mechanic when the boss handed me a spray gun and said: ďPoint that end at the job and pull the trigger.Ē Using hardware-store enamel, I got dry paint and runs and sags, but I learnt real quick. And my mother swore at me at the end of that day, ícos I had tractor-blue overspray all over my white overalls!

Panel beating and rust repairs were much harder, and up until 20 years ago cars used to rust real bad. I could gas-weld okay, but stitching together thin tin was always a challenge. I became a reasonable dent knocker-outer, and learnt to use bog so this plastic gunk would stay where I wiped it, and discovered the difference between types of undercoats, spray putty and wiping putty.

Rubbing down prior to painting was never my favourite job and I didnít have the patience to be a professional, but I achieved reasonable results, and learnt about air pressure regulators and how to drain compressor tanks so you didnít get coloured beads of water all over the new sticky paint.

Yep, as a top-gun spray painter, I would make a great lemon picker, but I did get to paint a lot of interesting stuff, including a wide variety of race cars, such as a Morgan Plus 4 sports car in two-pack white. The Morgan was interesting in that it had been fitted with an inline sixcylinder, 2.0L engine from the last line of Standard Vanguards. Later this mill went into the Triumph 2000 sedans, uprated to 2.5L and mechanically fuel-injected.

The Morgan had been got at by experts in its life and when I looked at the body from side to side, the flowing left front mudguard was a different shape to the one on the right. So I got the electric sanding machine out and got rid of a layer of paint covering the oddly shaped left guard. I figured that as Morgans had always had hand-shaped body panels and there was a huge wait to obtain a new one, different blokes might have made different-shaped panels. But when I dug into that pristine white bog on that side, I discovered somebody had drastically altered the shape with a 50mm-thick layer of plastic body filler.

By the end of that morning, I was ankle-deep in bog dust and chips, and the shape of the mudguard now almost matched its twin on the right side. I knew I was doing good, taking weight off a very quick sports car, and with a fresh tin of bog and a lot of checking by eye, I added minimal filler until the shape was just right. God knows how the bloke before me got it so wrong. But I blew on a layer of undercoat, and ended up repainting the Morgan in an all-over finish of brilliant white. The guy who owned and raced it couldnít believe it was the same classic car.

Later on, I got into panel beating and welding sheet-aluminium sports car bodies, mainly as I didnít have the bulk money to pay specialist alloy body builders imported from overseas.

Thin sheet aluminium is interesting to gasweld, as itís real glary in the light from the torch and you have to be quick with a thin filler rod, because when the alloy is hot enough to weld it just blisters, and if you donít move then, it blows into a hole and that takes a lot more of your patience to fill. The thicker the alloy, the easier it is to weld. I became almost expert at stitching up cracks and holes, while eliminating dents was, I discovered, much easier with this softer material than steel. I even made race car bodies out of this stuff, although I never had a wheeling machine to make compound curves. Instead I used a sandbag and a wooden mallet to create the wanted shape, then smoothed the result with panel beating hammers and dollies. Nobody taught me any of this. I just said: ĎIt can be doneí, and learnt by experience.

But I get lost now, with all the new undercoats and paints and the water-based stuff, although I am using acrylics, and bog is still bog. I donít buy cheap plastic body filler anymore, as I have found that the more expensive gear from America is so much easier to use. And if I do proper panel finishing first, to eliminate ripples and minor defects, I donít need to wipe on much of this stuff anyway.

So I still have my little compressor, panel beating tools and a couple of old-fashioned spray guns Ė one for undercoat and spray putty with a wider nozzle, the other more delicate nozzle for finish-coat spraying. Iíll never be up with the guys who blend in the rainbow colours and create immaculate finish jobs. But then I donít show my cars, and Iím happy with what I can achieve. Iím only a mug at this game, anyway!