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Painting an American car in 1915? Time machine needed!


gavinnz

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I am about to decide on a paint type and finish to use on my 1915 American LaFrance Speedster. Colour is red.

I have some questions....

What type of paint was used in the high end American auto industry in 1915?

How was it applied? What was the process?

What gloss level was it as it left the factory?

I just want to make an informed decision of a modern product to use based on the facts. I have heard all sorts of ideas and opinons on "correct" finishes to use on older cars... and I need to seperate fact from hearesay....

HELP!

Regards

Gavin

1915 American LaFrance Type 12 Speedster

1915 Fiat Tipo 2 Skiff

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Gavin, the information you sek is readily available and factual. However, your intentions are not clear as to what you are trying to accomplish. Are you trying to produce a finish as was done from the factory in 1915? Are you trying to use the best modern materials you can for a long lasting job but look appropriate? Do you expect to use the exact materials as done almost 100 years ago?

Naturally today most people have over restored finishes partly due to the way the hobby has evolved, the technology of paint, EPA rules, etc. In addition the paint used during certain periods of time are just not available today.

I think if you give everyone a better idea of what you are trying to accomplish they can help you. Heck, there are even guys making paint look "old" these days and making a car look like it just was rolled out of a barn!

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I have a DVD that has factory film taken in that time frame of Dodge Brothers cars being painted. They washed the body with gasoline on rags to prep. Then used straight enamel, 3 coats sanded between all coats. It was applied with a graden hose, the excess draining down into a large container and being reused. Lots of runs and about 3/4 gloss. NOTHING like you see on the show field today!

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Of course, each manufacturer had different levels of quality. Some brush applied paint, and sanded between coats, sometimes with a clear varnish as the final coat. The attached photo of an early Dodge does seem to show medium gloss, not high gloss.

That said, there are period photographs from the turn of the century showing cars with high gloss, easily seen in the photos. The attached, late teeen's Pierce Arrows, are obviously glossy paint jobs. The problem with the finishes then was that they weathered poorly. Modern finishes are much more durable.

I agree that virtually every modern paint job is over restoration, particularly on the chassis of early cars. The mechanical parts were usually painted with a brush and left like that, or sometimes "daubed" with paint soaked rags.

I applaud your seeming desire to be original. It can give you pleasure to know it is correct, but be ready for 95% of everyone who looks at it to think and/or comment "what a lousy paint job, hope he didn't PAY for that." I think the old days of "dust 'em off and paint him" should come back, and have more people driving on the road than more people on show fields. IMHO.

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Gavin: Hooray, I applaud you! In order of the most authentic look:

1. Start with red primer, then air dry non-catalyzed enamel.

Not shiny enough, then

2. Red primer, air dry catalyzed enamel. Still not shiny

enough, then

3. Red primer, then air dryed catalyzed enamel with a clear

coat. Still not shiny enough, then

4. Any of the modern finishes of your choice.

I did a car in # 3, and it turned out pretty authentic looking with a good compromise between #1 and #4.

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I spray painted my 13 Buick with Interlux Brightside Polyurethane boat paint. It is inexpensive, & can be applied with brush & roller (with flow additive), or sprayed. It is a single part enamel that is relatively inexpensive and is made for application on wood or metal surfaces.

My Buick body is wood with metal cowl and doors, so I needed a flexible finish that would resist cracking when driving over bumps and steep driveway approaches. The automotive finish used in the car's first restoration cracked and began lifting due to moisture in the wood, flexure & winter/summer temperature changes. The hard automotive finish simply could not keep up with the expansion and contraction and flex of the wood.

I got lucky with the standard Interlux #4316 Dark Blue color since it is the same as the original Blue/Black that Buick used in 1913. However, it can be color matched to any sample.

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trimacar....Clearly the Dodge Brothers "photo" is a partially super imposed artist drawing. The car was added to the people photo. Dodges of the era had shiny paint. They had to keep up with Ford. Here is a page from the Dodge Story which shows shiny factory paint in 1914.

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Guest Paterson Chris

I was at the local Ace hardware (Grass Valley, Ca)not long ago when the older gent behind the counter related a story to me from a few weeks earlier. It seems that an even older rancher-type in his late 70s or so came in and bought a gallon of oil (alkyd) porch and floor paint, had them mix it to the shade he wanted, then walked off saying that he was going to paint his old truck with it -- but not before first adding a little bit of drier so as to speed things up first. He came back a week or so later for something else and the clerk remembered to ask how the paint job turned out. "See for yourself" was his reply so the clerk walked out to look. In a word, it looked great. Not fantastic like with something modern, but still very respectable.

After thinking over this in the weeks afterward, I think I'll do this someday with my weathered old 20s car too. It'll hopefully look/ weather at least a little better than the original stuff but will still be in the spirit of what was done "back in the day" also. And if it doesn't work out then, who cares? I'm not out much money and it can always be wet sanded over/ removed down the road.

Just my two cents.

Chris

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Hey, Keiser31, you are right, I did not look at it closely enough, it is an artist's misconception drawing.

I applaud the people above talking about getting a decent paint job and driving it. I drove my 1910 Hupp for 30 years with an amateur cheap paint job, and loved it. I now am restoring again, I accidently (long story) got part of it finished and painted to perfection; I'd rather have the money back, and just a so-so paint job and enjoy the car. They even suggested I put a brass cover over the side of the car where you get in so that I wouldn't hurt the paint there. Not original. Won't do it.

I'd rather have a so-so paint job and drive the car for 30 years, than wait for a perfect job and have the car sitting in restoration for years. Just my 2 cents. David Coco Winchester Va.

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Thanks all for all the great info and advice.

I will atempt to go throught the replies and answer questions posed and comment.... this one is about the technical side of the story.

The information I was after was really the gloss level and products used and how they were used so I can use a modern paint to not be "too" far away from what the factory did.

I ask because I hear a lot of "thats a lot better than it would have been out of the factory".... now that statement I have some issues with...

1. For a 1915 car at least, the person making the statement was not their to see it coming out of the factory.

2. Which factory, when??? Some cars would have had rough cheaper paint finishes and some would have been near perfect depending on the era and make of car.

My limited research led me to the generalisations that follow...

From the start of the auto industry to the mid 1920's most car makers used "Japan" a single pack bitumen based lacquer. It was many coats of brushed or "flowed" over panels and parts then baked to "re flow" the enamel and gloss it better and harder.

This I believe is a very hard and very high gloss finish... when done right.

Then from the mid 1920's the fast drying sprayable nitrocellulose based lacquers became avaliable which I know as single pack Duco. These finishes were faster to apply at the factory and any color could be used and dry at the same speed (unlike Japan). So they were a used for production reasons not "quailty" as they were nothing like as glossy "off the gun" as a well applied baked Japan. but they could be polished to get close where polishing was possible.. not on a chassis around rivets for example.

So my conclusion from this is as follows and I am happy to be corrected...

High end cars using a Japan finish would come from the factory glosser than a sprayed duco finish of the later period.

Which leads me to think that people "tar all old cars with the same brush" if you will excuse the use of that phrase as assmume early Japan cars were not glossy.

Also we base some of your ideas on remaining samples of paint as has been pointed out they degraded over time.

Any additions or corrections to my rambling would be appreciated!

Regards

Gavin

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Now from the use or not use angle...

I am not a restorer who wants to compete in any concours event at all.

I aim to restore my cars and bikes well to STAY restored and not degrade to much over time. I use them without giving it a second thought and I see damage from normal use such as a stone chip as a huge badge of honor!

I restore them as best I can then just use them and if they get damaged then I fix them again!

lol... Maybe if we all aimed to restore them to the condition they would have been 2 years AFTER leaving the factory then we would be happy to have the odd "badge of honor from use" :)))

Regards

Gavin

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I think you are mostly right in your conclusions. DB, I'm MOST familiar with, started useing lacquer for the blue colored bodies, stayed with enamel for the black fenders, roofs, etc in the early 20's. I also agree that differant Co.s did things differant and SOME may have had more gloss.

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Guest abh3usn

Ford actually dipped individual pieces such as fenders, radiator grills. The rest of the car was painted with enamel. There is also a paint guide for the Model A which might be similar to your car.

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Well, now I am confused. By your last post, quality, gloss, durability varied by manufacturer, materials and even by application covering the range from so-so to show. Like you said, unless you were standing at the factory door of American LaFrance to personally examine the finish, no one will REALLY know. You will never be able to duplicate the factory finish because the original materials have vapourized. (ha-ha) So, I do not know what you are looking for?

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Gavinnz, it is likely your car had a very nice shiny finish when new, maybe brushed on the chassis but neat, and durability was terrible by modern standards. As was said above, virtually every car of the teens today is overrestored, but it would be impractical to duplicate the original methods, and one does not want to use inferior modern paints either. I would probably use a single stage automotive paint, non-metallic of course.

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Guest VeloMan

I always wondered why black paint dried faster than other colors, as people always mention concerning the Model T. I've never found any differences in dry time between colors when I paint the house, etc. with enamels.

In a book on Citroen I have, there are factory photos of the drying ovens, circa 1922. The was a line of these "ovens" which resembled little garages. The cars were rolled in after each brushed coat of paint. I assume this was to speed drying. I never considered the "flow out" advantages of heat. I'm a piano tuner by trade, and I have photos of the old piano factory finishing rooms. They used brushed varnish from about 1905 to 1927 (prior to that,they used shellac; after, nitrocellulose lacquer). Everything was rubbed with pumice. I'm always amazed at how good these finishes came out. Just lift the lid of even a cheap upright to see how smooth they got them.

Phil

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Hello Phil, my understanding is the bodies of cars were finished in a similar manner in that time frame, pumice and such, and the more expensive the body the finer the finish. I do not know of the general use of ovens, as most bodies had wood in them. This excludes Fords, which were at some points painted black with a hose, and fenders and aprons, which may have had oven baked black as they were all steel.

But the brushing varnish and sanding was used by bodybuilders, and drying times were sloow-it is said Fisher Body had huge warehouse space for drying and a body could take over 2 weeks from start to finish, a huge production bottleneck in the teens and twenties and the reason the invention of sprayable lacquer was such a big development.

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Gavin,

I agree 100% with your philosophy!

"Run em til they brake, fix em and run em some more". Although I appreciate the "Rolling Artworks" that some of these vehicles represent, they were made to be driven. I think more emphasis should be placed on driving these old cars. The more paint chips & bugs I see on the cars arriving at shows; the more I appreciate them.

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<div class="ubbcode-block"><div class="ubbcode-header">Originally Posted By: Mark Shaw</div><div class="ubbcode-body">Gavin,

I agree 100% with your philosophy!

"Run em til they brake, fix em and run em some more". Although I appreciate the "Rolling Artworks" that some of these vehicles represent, they were made to be driven. I think more emphasis should be placed on driving these old cars. The more paint chips & bugs I see on the cars arriving at shows; the more I appreciate them.

</div></div>

Mark....I totally agree with you. A trophy is SO hard to drive around the streets with no wheels on it, but a car...oh boy....feel the joy at hand!

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I know a guy who chased a 1931 Chrysler CD8 roadster all of his life, got it, restored it and put 4 miles on it in about 10 years. Those miles were put on the car by taking it on and off of a trailer. The car was an AACA senior award winner and was on numerous calenders. That's all....no real fun with the car. WHAT A WASTE!!!

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A high grade car of 1915 would have had a high grade finish. Bright colors and brass trim were popular then. In fact in 1915 they were just going out of style, in favor of black or dark colors with little or no bright trim, just a little nickel plate on the door handles and hubcaps.

At minimum your car would have had a glossy enamel finish, applied with a camel's hair brush and built up in 3 or 4 coats. It would have looked as smooth and glossy as a modern spray enamel job.

The real millionaire's limousines had a "coach finish" with numerous coats of paint, followed by clear varnish. This finish was more beautiful but required more care and was easily damaged. It was normally seen on chauffeur driven cars.

The most appropriate finish would be a spray enamel with decorative pinstriping. Colors like gas blue, apple green, and even orange were used. Red was not often seen because in many areas it was restricted to fire engines by law.

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Guest Gary Hearn

A couple of years ago I had a low mileage '49 Studebaker fire truck that was beginning to weather. Some of the paint on the body was flaking and the cab was beginning to surface rust.

I pulled the trim and scraped all the scale from the body and then sanded the whole thing and masked it off. Painted it with 2 coats of Rustoleum Safety Red with a foam roller. Despite all the surface area, it took less than a gallon of paint. It looked good from 15 feet and would have looked better if I had taken the time to color sand it.

I am getting ready to do the same thing to a '48 M-16 grain truck, but the fenders will be black.

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