Differences Between Paint Used On Your Imperial Including Clear Coats


Imperial Home Page -> Repair ->Body -> Paint -> Types

Tip from Kerry:

You can quite easily sand and buff out clear coats as long as you do NOT sand through the clear into the paint. Clearing out abrasive scratches should be possible with rubbing compound and a strong elbow.

Tip from Chris:

I would strongly recommend against using anything as harsh as rubbing compound on clear coat paint. It can easily abrade right through the clear coat, especially on the ridges of the fenders and such. I wouldn't even use polishing compound. These are products formulated 20 or 30 years ago for paint from that era. Modern paint is softer and much more easy to damage through aggressive polishing. If you have an older or original finish, you can probably rub them out more successfully, but I find that modern products work well on old paint (but NOT vice versa!)...

Meguiar's makes a line of products that are available at most chain auto parts stores. Investing about $45 in a few of them and applying them gently and with soft terry towels or cotton diapers will usually produce excellent results and preserve your finish. Another product that works well for removing overspray and even some water spotting is Clay Magic. For my "aerosol," I keep Meguiar's Swirl Remover, Polish and High-Tech Yellow Wax on hand and find that for most finish problems I can correct them with these alone. Occasionally I go for something like Blue Coral Scratch Remover to get out a more difficult scuff in the finish (or to remove the paint from someone else's car off of mine). I also use Meguiar's Final Inspection for quick touch-ups. Again, use soft terrycloth or a soft diaper, and be sure to turn the cloths and also change cloths frequently. And always work in the shade.

The key is to be gentle and patient, and to keep the car waxed, especially after using a polish (which removes the wax). I also dry mine with a silicone squeegee (the California Water Blade is excellent and I found them at Costco for only $12 this weekend). Then I use a fresh diaper to get the remaining water and polish the finish as I final dry it.

In a pinch, the blue "Shop Towels" you can buy at auto stores and such are actually quite soft and lint-free. They do not scratch and work well enough on smaller areas that a roll belongs in every car's trunk.

Question from Richard:

My '60 "LeCrown" sedan is in the paint booth for its new coat of black. It has been suggested by friends that Glasurit paint is the best available. I would be using the system 22. The company is BASF. Apparently this is the paint used on exotic cars, such as, Rolls, Porsche, Alpha-Romeo etc. Anyone have experience with this paint?


From Don:

Glasurit is a very good paint system. We used it (when requested)in the restoration shop I used to work at. Otherwise used mostly the DuPont system.

From Hlynur:

I have a lot of experience with this paint system for the last 22 years and I think it is one of the best available.

From Chris:

My '62 was painted with Glasurit back in the early 90's when it was introduced. 14 years later it still looks sharp! Just remember that whatever paint you use, it's all about the preparation.

But going back to the paint, BASF's Glasurit or Sikkens are very fine finishes.

Question from Don:

What should I ask for in repaint? How many coats is typical and how many coats should I ask for? Does more coats=better paint quality/shine/depth? And what kind of paint is good/not as good? Clear coat?

Reply from Kenyon:

I went with laquer, which is technically off-limits in california. Fortunately, it is allowed for painting boats, and that's what I'm painting, so was able to get some. I am doing it myself and already did a test-spray on the Model T and some garbage cans. Need to finish another project and I'll be on to final sanding of the hood and making a paint booth out of the carport.

Laquer is a fading paint technology that only the older guys seem comfortable with. It is a single-stage paint, meaning that the pigment is in the paint and you spray it and that's all. There are other single stage paints that are not laquer - enamel and urethane are two, I think (but didn't research those too much, as I knew what I wanted).

Clear coat is 2 stage, meaning that you spray color on the car and then put clear over it to make it shine.

Clearcoat favors the refinishing industry as its so easy to work with, will allow corrections to mistakes more, and can be relatively cheap, allowing greater mark-up/profit potential. Also, you can have 100 gallons of clear on hand and a relatively small volume of color, so it's easier on inventory to buy little batches of color, using your clear with it rather than larger batches of color that are custom each time.

Your car originally had a single stage. I suggest single stage for looks if you have an eye for "authenticity". Your car obvioulsy won't be as authentic on its second paint-job, but the question drives at how close you want it to come. Clear coat really bothers me personally, and seems gaudy and showy. That's to my eye, of course, and some people like that and it's your car. I'm not much for the "wet look" that some tire dressing products produce, so that's sorta what I'm talking about in paint. Too much gloss can seem too loud in its appearance. Old cars generally don't sparkle like diamonds unless they're over-restored. They can get away with gleaming, but not sparkling as far as I'm concerned.

The laquer, by comparison to clear coat looks hard and brilliant and reflective where the clear coat looks glossy and deep and wet. The laquer just does not look "deep" as the optical reflection of shine happens completely on the surface of the polished paint, as opposed to clear, where the light goes through a layer of clear before reflecting.

In my industry, we work with first surface mirrors and rear surface mirrors. The glass in your bathroom vanity has the mirrored surface on the back of the glass. If you put your finger up to the glass, your finger will not "touch" its reflection since there is glass in between, and there is diffraftction going on when the light is "bent" as it passes though the glass. Put a stick into water and it will appear to make an angled bend because the light passing though the denser medium (water) gets bent.

This happens with clearcoat too, as the light must travel though the clear shell to the color and back out again. Not so with single stage that has pigment in it and is polished flat and is merely reflective and not doing any transmission of light through it before returning it to your eye, as your car and other older cars did when new. The question is: how deep and glossy do you want to get? Is glossier and wetter OK, or will you notice. If you notice, do you care?

I'm not a paint scientist, by the way - I'm trying to explain a gut feeling that I have about this stuff, so please don't look at the trees, but the forest on this description.

If I were doing a chevvy and it were obviously not stock but was to be a darned nice car, choosing my own color instead of going factory, I'd get the glossiest that I could and take pride in a nice paint job. I'd do single stage otherwise, but that's me. I'm a retro-grouch and like things original. Ask me how I feel about bias-ply's sometime...

The laquer is also more tolerant of touch-up and spot repairs later, and this favors you if you DIY because you can deal with anything that comes up right in your own garage.

I am planning on 4-5 coats if I can. You can get away with less on clear coat.

Clear coat will turn white in the channel of a scratch. If you miss with your door-key, the resulting scratch will be white until you rub the scratch out. This can be a big issue if you go to a dark color, especially black. I found it most annoying on the late-model car that I had with this, but it's possible that my car had a cheap product applied to make it sellable to me, so that's an item to ask your paint man about if you go that way.

Question from James:

I was wondering if people could explain to me the big differences between enamel and clear coats. I will be getting my car painted soon and I'm trying to decide which to go for. Enamel does have the advantage that its $500 cheaper. I have been told by several credible people that clear coat will look better, last longer and not scratch as easily (black car, very important). I have also been told by equally credible people that it won't make a big difference appearance wise and clear coats can go bad too (peeling etc.) Also, the original paint was enamel, so I've also heard of the originality issue. All this has me really uncertain which to choose. Certainly the biggest issue is keeping the car looking good.


From Bill:

Recently went through this debate with myself but my solution was easy. the color I was trying to match was only available in Acrylic Enamel, so that is the only choice I had. Most of the paint guys I have talked with prefer the base coat/clear coat concept. For a variety of reasons such as gloss, hardening, resistant to fade, easy to match up if you have a repair, etc. One body man put it to me this way, "Paint has advanced over the years like everything else. Would you still buy a 30 year old TV or computer? The base-clear is the modern technology in paint and it is what you should use!" Kind of made sense to me.

As far as the cost, the paint may be more but the labor should be less. With the enamel you will have a lot of buffing and polishing to get the luster out of it. As far as keeping the car factory matching, the only chance of anybody caring would be a Concours show judge and I'm not sure if they even deduct points for that. Keep in mind that once the car is repainted, it is no longer factory original anyway!

Bottom line for me is if the color you have is available in the base coat-clear coat concept, I would go that way. Especially for a daily driver. The paint will last much, much longer and give you a lot better look. As your car is black, I'm sure the exact color will be available.

From Kerry:

I prefer hardened Enamel for non metallics. Hard as heck, and can be color sanded and buffed. Sanding metallics can be problematic. For those, I'd go with base/clear and several coats of clear so it can be sanded and buffed out. Clear coats can lift and look like crap. Painted two base clear cars and not happy with either of them. Third times the charm I hope.

From Bill:

The one thing that looks good on new cars is the paint, and I believe that today, all are clear coated. I have two 68 Imperials that are clear coated, now doing a third, and I wouldn't use anything else. I have never had a problem with clear coats, no peeling, etc. If you are going to the big expense of painting an Imperial, don't let another $500.00 stand in your way, it is money well spent.

From Mark:

My understanding of today's paints is that they evolved out of a desire to save money and compete with the Japanese, not necessarily because they are "better." The Japanese started putting base coats/clear coats on cars in the late 70's, I believe, and American consumers liked the look. It made the paint look thicker and shinier, and therefore the car looked like it was more expensive. But actually it was cheaper for the manufacturers to apply. So American companies gradually started following suit, with some early disastrous results. But today consumers are accustomed to the look and it's the norm.

However, in my opinion, if it were my car, I would stay away from a base coat/clear coat paint for 2 reasons:

1. Originality.

Again, in my opinion, the base coat/clear coat just does not look "right" for a car from the 1960's (or anything older). It was not available at that time, and the paints in the '60s had a different kind of sheen, or gloss, than today's base coat/clear coats. Today's paints look too shiny on an old car - almost as if the car had a layer of water on the top.

It's sort of like the difference between your dash as it came from the factory, with a "normal" level of sheen, or reflectivity, vs. a dash that has been covered in Armor All. One is a subtle look, the other is a lot shinier, yes - but unnatural looking.

Again, this is just my preference. I go for as original a look as possible. It may be possible to put a base coat/clear coat on a car in a way that looks original. Most of the jobs I've seen the owner went for maximum gloss. If you have interests other than originality, do what pleases you.

2. Peeling

With the older paints, your main worries were chipping and fading. With today's paints you don't have to worry about fading as much, but if you have chipping you can soon have a major problem. The top. or "clear" coat, of the paint can actually separate from its base and peel completely off, leaving a big ugly dull spot that looks like your car is diseased.

I don't know how common this kind of peeling is, all I know is, when it happens it sure looks bad. I have never seen anything like it with an old acrylic enamel.

Again, some people have apparently had good results with the base coat/clear coat. Go with what's best for you, but don't automatically reject the old because it's old. In a couple of years the trends might reverse and you'll be hearing a different story from the paint store guy.

Clarification from Bob:

It's called "delaminating" and GM & Chrysler products seem to have more problems than Ford. It does not depend upon chipping--age and sun are usually the culprits. And, there is no cure except a repaint.

From Kerry:

First of all, forget what you used to know about paint. When I was young, enamel took a couple months to cure and you could dent it with your fingernail for weeks. It never dried hard enough to sand/buff but had a nice gloss. Pros would 'bake' enamel for harder finishes. Most cars were baked enamel at the factory. Lacquer was cheaper, dried in minutes, and was sandable/buffable for a high gloss although it did not last very long, 4-5 years.

Today, plain old nitroce..something lacquer is very hard to find. You can still get enamel but few people do. Acrylic Lacquer and Enamel now can be 'hardened' with an epoxy like stuff that makes it hard as heck. Dries quick, sandable, etc. Both can be clear coated if done within a day or so but with a different product than the clear in basecoat/clear coat.

My paint guy told me that Hardened enamel IS Urethane at about 2/3 the price. He recommended against it because he said it wasn't worth the extra money. Yes, he is paid on commission.

Both can be sanded and buffed after applying 3+ coats. Sanding through one coat of a metallic paint MAY leave a slightly visible spot as the metallic particles are 'aligned' in each coat based on the angle of the gun to the surface and the direction it is moving.

I haven't seen a lacquer paint job from a pro in a long time.

Basecoat/clear coat uses 3-4 coats of a satin finish color coat that is VERY UN-durable. The clear coat is basically protection for the base. 3+ coats of clear can also be sanded/buffed but if you go through the clear into the base you have to repaint the panel or car.

Wet sanding/buffing is time consuming and expensive for pros and they don't want to do it hence their preference for base/clear in spite of having to spray 3-4 extra coats. With a paint booth you don't have to worry about trash in paint that has to be sanded/buffed out.

There is a difference in look. Personal preference, choose your own. Some colors are only available in certain types of paint. Try different vendors, PPG, Dupont, Selkien, ACME, etc. If a pro is painting it they will have a definite preference because they buy all the non color stuff in bulk, ie, reducer, hardener, fisheye preventer, etc. It is important NOT to mix brands on materials as everyone has a slightly different composition.

However, there is some generic hardener and reducer available and my paint guy says its fine. I've used it on 3 cars with no problem.

While I PERSONALLY prefer Hardened Enamel because it's easier for me to produce a decent looking job, the next dark metallic I do will be base/clear so it can be sanded out. Not having a booth means there WILL be stuff in the paint that has to be cleaned up.

From Roger:

A lot of painters I talked with like base/clear because it's easier to apply and more forgiving of mistakes, not because it looks better. Also in our area acrylic enamel and lacquer paints are not sold for environmental reasons.

To me, it depends upon the application. While some metallic cars look equally good in clear coat, a car with a solid color just plain looks cheesy in clear coat.

I had my '55 done in urethane enamel, which is much harder and more durable than the original acrylic enamel yet has much the same look. It did have to be buffed out, at extra charge.

From Michael:

As far as I know, it's not absolutely necessary to apply a clear coat with today's 3-part urethane type paint. It's common practice, but not completely necessary.

Regarding peeling, the clear coat on my '86 Dodge camper van, which started life with one of those nifty 2-tone paint jobs, is peeling like an Arizona sunburn. Once it starts, there's very little that can be done about it. It can start from small imperfections in the clear coat; it's likely to happen if the guy who applied it isn't very careful. Mine showed the first signs of peeling when the car was about 6 years old.

From Arran:

I would have to agree with Mark about clear coat paint. I should add that many of the Japanese cars cars with the two step paint jobs from the late seventies and into the eighties also have a peeling problem. I remember a friend of my mothers that bought a late eighties Toyota Camry brand new, with this type of paint, and only two years later the clear coat peeled off of the hood. Enamel or lacquer is a much better idea because you can touch up and repaint damaged areas and have it blend in. Many of the repair jobs with the two step paint don't match and they have to repaint an entire section, AKA a door, in order to get rid of a problem. The other nice thing about enamel and lacquer is that you can successfully rub a mark out because the color goes all the way through to the primer. With two step paint you can't buff a mark out without rubbing a hole through the clear coat and ruining the finish. As for environmentally friendly paint, isocyanine paint has to be the most dangerous paint around and that's what they offered in lacquer's place after they banned it in many areas. 

From Chris:

When I needed to replace the mostly original paint on my Charcoal Grey '67 Crown, I decided to go with base-coat/clear coat paint for a number of reasons, the foremost being it was the kind my painter knew best how to apply. I went overboard on the clear, I admit (8 coats, hand-rubbed and slow cured between each coat), but what makes my car look more like a really deep and shiny but correct paint job rather than a modern car was keeping the level of metallic content low. I had my painter mix colors and paint scrap sheet metal to show me, and while he nailed the color on the first try, it took three or four tries to get the metallic down to a level I felt looked period-correct. Having seen too many repaints look like George Barris Kustoms, I'm glad I did this.

Follow-up question from Bill:

So from an appearance aspect, we would be making a mistake by painting our "solid" black '64 with clear coat paint?

Reply from Bill:

A suggestion, visit a large new car dealership and look at the new cars that are painted black, as that is what your car would look like with a base/coat, clear/coat finish, then decide.

I have no black Imperials (wish I did) but the cars I have painted in base/coat, clear/coat are Meadow Green Metallic and Mist Turquoise Metallic. The car now being redone will be Charcoal Gray Metallic, also in base/coat, clear/coat.

Reply from Roy:

My 67 Crown is painted black with clear coat and has a just waxed look even when it has only been washed. A car with a solid color just plain looks cheesy in clear coat if it is badly done with poor preparation, because everything will show up. There should be no difference between a well done enamel car that has been waxed and buffed and one with clear coat. The difference comes in years down the road if a car is neglected much like a newer car that is several years old and has been left to the elements. Clear coat will deteriorate and fog needing a repaint whereas enamel will oxidize and buff out with a nice aged less than new shine which gives the car a certain legitimacy! If you plan on pampering your car while you own it, clear coat is probably the more durable, because most enamel is just not as good as what from the factory. There was a shop that specialized in a hi-tech European single coat paint, but that would have cost twice as much as my $2K base coat, clear coat.

Question from James:

Do clear coat tends to separate from the base after being chipped in a spot? That is an issue for my car since the headlight doors get chipped quite easily (one of the bad things about having the front of your car being painted). Do clear coats resist chipping better?

Reply from Kerry:

Not as much anymore. If everything is 'right' the clear will adhere to the base just like one coat adheres to another. There are 'rules' that must be followed. For instance, clear must be sprayed within a certain period of time so it can bond to the previous coat. Once the previous coat has hardened, it must be scuffed to provide enough 'tooth' for the next coat to stick. Same is true with other paints. The rule of thumb is that once a coat is no longer 'tacky' you can spray the next coat.

Question from Michael:

Does anyone know when the factories stopped using lacquer, and began using enamel? Would a lacquer finish be correct for a '53? Is lacquer easier to apply in any way? (I know it requires more sanding).


From Bob:

The correct paint for a 53 would be enamel, which is currently available in most areas as acrylic enamel. Once it is painted, have it color sanded and buffed and the finish is about as close as you will get to original. Chrysler has always used as far as I know enamel paint, & Ford as well. General Motors used lacquer up through 1958 and then in 1959 started to use acrylic lacquer. There was an old rumor that Ford traded its' enamel paint formulas in the late 30's, for Chryslers hydraulic brake system. I've never seen proof to this story. I think when most people describe the base coat/clear coat look with terms like "cheesy," they actually are inferring that these modern paint systems have a much too "wet" look for cars built from the 60's on back. I agree, and if you are worried about chips from everyday use go with urethane. Since I live in the desert, I can tell you ongoing horror stories about clear coat problems. I suppose if you are in a different weather zone it may not be as big of a problem.

From Bill:

Lacquer was first used on the 1923 (or there about) Oakland and was a DuPont product. Ford used Japan Black enamel on the Model T for many years. I am not sure when colored enamels became available, but that was after lacquer was introduced. Prior to lacquer, colors on cars were obtained by using colored varnishes. This process involved many layers of coats, drying between coats and sanding each coat before applying the next. The whole process took about a month from the time of assembling the body to shipping it to the assembly line. Ford used Japan Black enamel as it dried in one hour.

The heat-dried enamel used by the auto industry produced a shiny finish without sanding or buffing. That is why after-market paints were offered in heat-dried or air-dried versions - the heat-dried version would not shine if air-dried.

It is not a matter of when manufacturers stopped using lacquer and started using enamel though, but a situation of what manufacturers used lacquer (e.g. General Motors) and which manufacturers used enamel (e.g. Chrysler, Studebaker).

Chrysler was a major user of enamel paints, then acrylic enamels, although the Imperial was done in lacquer in many years. In 1953 Chrysler did their cars in enamel.

Question from Clay:

My original thoughts were that a car's paint can never be too shiny as long as the sheet metal was straight. Now I am not so sure. As it so happens I just returned from a car show this afternoon that had a wide variety of cars from the 20's through the 70's . I hate to say it but some of cars that had a slightly duller finish looked better than the ones that had the "wet looking " paint. What to do?

Reply from Bill:

The cars I have in base/coat/clear/coat, are shiny, but I wouldn't consider them has having a wet look. Forest Green Metallic is a beautiful color, almost looks black when in the shade or at night. I have one car in this color, which happens to be a convertible, has the original paint, still very good, but does have a few minor nicks and scratches. This car is totally original, other than for tires, belts & hoses, and I plan to keep it that way, but if I did plan to repaint the car, it would be done in base/coat/clear/coat.

Question from Neal:

Later this year or early 2002 I'm sending the Aquitania off to get some minor rust issues addressed and then repaint her the original Aqua Mist, a non-metallic color. The comment below that "a car with a solid color just plain looks cheesy in clear coat" is now making me wonder whether I should go the urethane enamel route that Roger has suggested. I had my Cordoba repainted its original Crimson Red non-metallic with the clear coat back in 1995 and it still looks great. Is it the lighter '50s pastel colors that look cheesily inappropriate, whereas a darker color looks OK? Or is it that I may not have as discerning an eye as others?

Reply from Mark:

In my opinion - again, as someone said, this is indeed subjective - it really makes a BIG difference what color we're talking about. Black, in particular, is a very difficult color. It can be a very nice color, but there's no such thing as one kind of black. There are gray-blacks, blue-blacks, shiny deep blacks, dull surface blacks, etc. Maybe you think I'm crazy, but black is a whole range of possibilities, and so are all the really deep colors, like the Burgundies and Plums and Forest Greens. These are colors you can really look "into," if they're done well. They can have a lot of depth.

I once saw a black car painted with a really good lacquer and I have to say, I don't think I've ever seen a deeper, shinier, more lustrous black than that. Lacquer just really seems to be "good" for black. But then, maybe it was the skill of the painter.

In my opinion, which could change here, depending on what examples people bring out, the lighter colors look good in the basecoat/clear coats. A new silver car, for example, beats any of the silver paints I ever saw in the 60's. But a Midnight Blue or Forest Green in the old style looks better than the new.

Anyway, I think you ought to consider what color you're going to paint your Imperial first, and then ask yourself "How am I going to use this car?"

Ultimately, of course, it's your money. There probably is no one "right" way to paint a car. As long as you don't paint it Gerber's Metallic Stewed Carrots Orange, I'm okay with it.

This page last updated October 12, 2004.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club