In last month's Driving Old Cars, we featured mechanics and body work on our '51 survivor driver Chevy Fleetline. The car still has its original nitrocellulose black lacquer paint, so we decided to leave the good and refinish the bad to a level consistent with the rest of the car. We left some factory primer spots showing through the original paint, and some age cracks, repainting the surface rust and paint scaling areas. The repainted places were done with nitro over red oxide lacquer primer as GM did it, and it was amazing to see how well the new paint burned into the old, not leaving any blend lines.
After letting the lacquer dry for about a week, we did some old-school buffing to bring the old and new paint to a uniform shine. Restorer Jeff Coe headed up this project, using a buffing process different from today's base/clear coat buffing. Jeff started by washing the car using a good car washing liquid instead of dishwashing liquid. Car wash has a lubricant that dishwashing liquid doesnt have, and it doesn't dull the paint. After washing, Jeff wet-sanded with 1000 grit paper, then moving up to 2000 and ending with 3000, washing the car between each sanding to remove the residue from the previous sanding. Then he buffed with a wool pad, with the buffer set on low speed, applying just a little pressure on the buffer--a soft buff as Jeff calls it, to avoid burning the paint. All edges were taped with green tape to avoid paint burn. (Thats one good thing about these round-bodied cars--there arent a lot of sharp edges!) The car was washed again, and then polished using a clean wool pad and microfiber towels. These are great, not leaving any swirl marks. The final step was to wax using Meguiar's Gold Class. We like Gold Class because it doesn't dry in the cracks and doesn't leave a white buildup.
With the paint work done, we removed the rims and sand blasted, primed and painted them black enamelas GM did them in '51. Before sand blasting, we took a rim photo, making measurements of the pin stripes so that we could duplicated them later. We got lucky on the bright work. The stainless was in excellent shape, and we buffed it right on the car. We did have a few bad pieces of pitted chrome that had to go: The hoods bowtie crest and hood ornament. We replaced them with nice originals with a finish consistent with the rest of the car.
Our car is a Deluxe, and came from the factory with fender skirts. Ours, however, had disappeared over the years. Fortunately, they are being reproduced, and the new ones fit the car just like the originals. I think they complete the rear fender lines of the Abodies, and really give the torpedo shape these Fleetlines were known for.
While we were doing our paint work, we ordered parts for the interior, new speedometer cable, NOS clock (windup, 3-day), sent the radio out for repair and ordered parts to fix the gas gauge. Unbelievably, the only repair to the upholstery was to order some OEM gray pinstriped broadcloth for the front seat bottom (available at Hampton Coach). As mentioned in a previous article, the seats had been protected by nylon covers since 1953, so there was very minor wear. This car has a front rubber floor mat and gray carpet in the rear. The front mat appeared to be dark gray, but research shows all '51 front rubber mats were black, so we will carefully remove it and spray it with black rubber paint. The interior may be my favorite part of the car, with its original two-toned gray dash, shiny chrome radio grill bars and well-preserved upholstery. All this in such great condition after all these years. when I removed the radio, I spent some quality time working upside down under the dash and found the wiring was still good and even the heater unit still had its factory hammered dark blue paint.
This truly is a fun car to drive, work on and own.
My wife Karen's dad had a '50, and my dad had a '52, so this is like going back in time for us. We have tried to preserve the car and sort of lock it in time,and this is a key part of what old cars are about for me; remembering the people and the good times we had. Now when we drive the old Chevy and listen to the transmission sing as we go through the gears, or open the front vent windows and let the fresh air flow through the car, it puts a smile on our faces to know we don't have to park at the end of the parking lot or constantly look out the window of the restaurant, worrying about the car. A car like this is simple and its fun! I'm glad I put a survivor driver in my collection. See you next month and keep 'em driving!