People in collecting circles will often get very excited when they see an ‘Original paint’ car. Today, cars retaining their original paint are highly sort after.  But what do we mean by ‘Original paint’ and what makes it so special?

Let’s start at the beginning.

In the 1900s as the car began to supersede the carriage there were no specialist car paints, cars were simply painted like carriages were: by hand in lead paint with a brush and then varnished with the same products used in furniture manufacture. For a really nice finish the varnish could be sanded but, smooth or not, this of course did not last long in the rain and sun and it was common for cars to need to be painted every year.

By the 1920s manufacturers needed faster drying paint that could be applied on the new fast paced manufacturing lines. Nitrocellulose lacquers were being used along with the new invention of spray guns that gave a much better finish than paint brushes.

The 1930s saw the use of paints called stoving enamels. These paints provided both a glossier shine and much faster drying times. In the 1950s cars were painted with a new acrylic paint that required the cars to be baked after the acrylic was applied. Critically this paint dried faster which enabled a shorter manufacturing time creating more profit.

The product was easier to create consistent colour matches with but it wasn’t as glossy as the old stoving enamels. So, in the 1960s acrylic stoving enamels were developed which provided a tough finish with more shine and these too needed to be baked to cure the paint.

This process is called ‘Single stage’ (or ‘Solid’ )because the paint layer is the final finish on the car and it’s a very different finish from the modern products we use today which are known as ‘two stage’. These are typically urethane and polyurethane based and rather confusingly are often laid down in more than stages. After the application of the base colour coat, clear coat is then applied in a single, or multiple layers. The result is a durable, UV resistant and highly glossy finish that can be sanded back to create a very shiny finish. This is what we use to create our ‘Concours’ finish and it’s what most people want on a classic car respray (although perversely its’ not an original factory finish). When the modern two stage process is finished with the lacquer coat polished back it creates a smooth water like finish. The paint looks wet and liquid. The 1960s paint process on the other hand was not sanded back and was therefore slightly undulating and not flat. The finish is shiny but as the word ‘enamel’ in the paint type suggests its finish is rather like an old enamel cup, glass like with less shine than the modern materials. You may be surprised just how much this modern paint finish differs from the old 1960s finishes and it’s for this reason that some collectors demand original paint.

We often have a debate with a customer over a truly period correct look which would be a single stage finish or a modern two stage look. Two stage paint is far easier to repair as the lacquer coat can blended into adjacent panels and the whole area polished hiding the repair.A compromise between old looking and new looking paint is possible with a matting agent added to the two-stage process to dull the shine but anyone familiar with original paint will spot the difference.

If you have a car with original paint and need a repair carried out it’s much harder to replicate the original finish.  Long term single stage paint breaks down and becomes dull looking, it can also go slightly milky as the clays used in the original colours deteriorate. Two stage paint might be a modern improvement, but it suffers lacquer failure with the top layers crackling or delaminating from the base coat layer.

We are happy to serve the true concours enthusiast and paint cars in single stage to create an original 60s and 70s look. But we are equally happy to deliver a glorious 2 stage finish – as one Jaguar E-type owner said while deciding between the two: “Why would I pay all that money for something that is less shiny”. Well, some do but in the end its each to their own.

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