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Paint Codes for British (or any other) Collector Cars

A common dilemma encountered during the restoration/respray/repair of collector cars is maintaining the correct, original color for the body. Most, if not all original color codes are dutifully noted in factory publications and probably on the door post or bulkhead plate, so the process of ascertaining the factory name of the color and the paint code or number is not difficult. One may even procure such information from the paint code charts printed in the front of your favorite British parts suppliers catalog for your particular marque. The problem lies in that the paint code is likely obsolete, long dropped from the databases of major paint suppliers largely from lack of demand. Walk into a major auto paint supply store and announce that your TR2 is Pearl White, and the Dockers number is BF5460, and they will think you are referring to your slacks. The color codes of most vintage British automobiles have been long dropped from the computer data bases of most major worldwide paint suppliers like PPG, Dupont, Glasurit, Speis Hecker, etc., more than likely from minimal demand of that color, or VOC law changes that require reformulating of color codes has resulted in that shade being dropped from their database of formulas. It is easy to procure correct codes for a 1998 Nissan Maxima, but nearly impossible to find Opalescent Silver Blue Metallic for 1967 Jaguar under it’s original factory paint code designation. On occasion, an inquiry to a paint company’s archival paint library like PPG in Ohio may produce a code, but the code is more than likely for lacquer or enamel  ( not a good idea unless you are under a limited budget), not urethane as most restoration shops utilize, or the latest state of the art water borne variety of paints. The correct code for your car, if determined and available in a workable formula, sprayed out and displayed for all the world to see  is a suggestion of correctness at best. Walk down the line at any major field meet, and you will see many versions of the same color code. Any factory paintwork has long ago faded or died off, taking it’s original look with it. The factories also utilized more than one paint supplier in the course of a model’s production that also resulting in shading differences. I have found after dealing with this issue for years, the best avenue is either to find a late model car with a color close to what you are seeking, or to peruse the 25 year old, faded color books at your local auto paint supply store. They generally have a color spectrum book of available shades designated by a number, not a name, from which you may make your selection and spray out a sample card to see if it meets your eye. If it does not, try again as you will have to look at the car for a long time. I try to defer the color choice to one person and one person only, the guy writing the checks. In the end, it is his opinion that matters most.

Laycock Overdrive Units/What oil?

Over the last 20 years or so, I have rebuilt hundreds of British gearboxes and Laycock overdrive units. Some have been for customers that install them in cars undergoing restoration/repair in their own garages, but most have been in shop rebuilds that I have had the opportunity to watch, sometimes for many years, after the rebuild procedure. I am amazed at the amount of misinformation on the Intergoogles that have confused the car owner as to the correct oil to utilize in their gearboxes, as well as the differences in recommendations of the various car manufacturers during the production span of Laycock overdrives. Triumph and Jaguar for instance, recommended 90 weight hypoid in all their applications. MG and Austin Healey on the other hand, prescribed motor oil in the gearbox/overdrive units, the same as the engine oil. Volvo utilized ATF (auto trans fluid), in their cars that were fitted with Laycock “D” and “J” type units. Speaking of Intergoogle misinformation, I have read on-line testimony from apparent credible sources, that the use of 90 weight hypoid oil in Laycock “A” type units will result in rapid build-up of internal operating pressure that will cause the explosion (implosion?) of the overdrive unit, and that 30 weight non-detergent is the only answer. Total nonsense. Your pressure gauge is busted. If this was the case, one must ask why the Triumph and Jaguar factories, both fairly competent in the production of automobiles, utilized nothing but 90 weight hypoid in all their applications, overdrive or not,  from post-WW2 to 1976 without a single service bulletin warning of excessive pressure build-up caused by the use of 90 weight hypoid. I am of the opinion, as a result of many years watching the running in of in-house rebuilds, that most any lubricant, be it motor oil, hypoid or ATF, is suitable for any vintage British gearbox and/or Laycock overdrive unit, provided it is clean and changed regularly. The exception is the use of hypoid oils carrying the GL5 designation, which contain additives corrosive to brass over the long term, for limited slip differentials. Your gearbox probably has brass syncro rings and bushings, although you will not live long enough to suffer the maladies of GL-5 useage. The vast majority of gearbox/overdrive failures are owner-induced, usually caused by ignoring maintenance procedures and changing of fluids on a regular basis. A good percentage of the overdrives I disassemble in the normal course of rebuilding have an alarming amount of sludge build-up in the unit, particularly in the accumulator bore.  For in-house rebuilds, I use 85w90 GL-4 hypoid exclusively, in all applications, and have never had an issue. Whatever fluid you choose to use, make sure it is changed at factory recommended intervals, at least seasonally, the adjustments tended to and filters cleaned, and you should have no running issues. As the late John Muir, mechanic, philosopher, author and VW guru stated, “Be kind to your ass, for it bears you”.

How to Drive Your Laycock Overdrive Equipped Car

It is a mystery to many British car enthusiasts driving their Laycock equipped overdrive cars, how to properly engage and disengage the overdrive function with the least trauma to the car. A rule of thumb that I subscribe to, is to treat the overdrive function as an additional gear when upshifting. That means when accelerating up to freeway speeds and you are in fourth gear direct drive, depress the clutch prior to engaging overdrive for cruise, treating it as an additional normal gear, much like the gearchange from third to fourth. That eliminates the “kick in the butt” feeling experienced when engaging 450 PSI of operating pressure without clutch engagement and your foot on the throttle. You need to lower your engine revs by 400-500 RPM’s for smooth engagement. A depressed clutch and minimal to no throttle will accomplish this. Conversely, when downshifting from fourth gear overdrive to fourth gear direct, it is necessary to increase your engine revs approximately 400-500 RPM’s to match engine revs with road speed. The Austin Healey cars accomplished this through the kick-down switch located on the bulkhead that made it necessary to “blip” the throttle for electric disengagement of the overdrive to occur, thereby increasing engine revs to match road speed. Triumph and Jaguar overdrive equipped cars do not have this function, but disengagement of overdrive with the electric switch, coupled with a manual throttle blip with your foot and a depressed clutch, will increase the engine rev’s sufficiently to allow a smooth transition to direct drive to match road speed.  This habit of overdrive engagement/disengagement will extend the life of your OD clutch linings, as well as allowing the use of your overdrive to cause the least amount of stress to your British (or other Laycock equipped) car. Smooth is good. If you are using your British car in a competitive environment in full anger, forget I said anything. Thrash it until it breaks.

Auto Restoration-The Cost of Doing Things/Materials

I recently conducted a tech session for the local Seattle area Triumph club explaining the processes of performing a full, bare metal respray of a collector car. I closed the tech session with a comparison of the cost of paint materials consumed in the refinishing of three separate project cars.

First, was a Triumph TR3A, the victim of a minor traffic mishap. The front shroud and left front fender was reshaped by another local shop run by a friend of mine. Britsport was hired to flat and surface work/prime the repair areas, then blend the color and clearcoat the entire car. Total cost of all paint materials including primers/basecoat/clearcoat was $615 to the customer.

Second, was the Austin Healey 3000 depicted in “Current Projects” (note Dec. 2010 project now filed under “Past Projects”). It was a full body strip of all coatings, and after the required metal work, full build up and flatting of the body, then the application of a PPG base/clear system with a seal coat under the base. The total cost of all paint materials consumed for the project including etch primers, high build primer surfacer, as well as the final application of the base/clear, was $1917 to the customer.

Third, is the 1954 Aston Martin DB2-4 drop head. After several hundred hours of alloy work, the substrate was conversion coated, etch primed, then several sessions of high build primer applications utilized during the flatting process. The entire carbody was then sealed, then topcoated with clearcoated 22-Line Glasurit Ivory paint. Every surface, inside and out, was painted to a very high standard befitting an Aston of this stature. Total cost of all paint materials to date of this post is $4057 to the customer, and the detail paintwork of small components in body color is not yet completed.

The ever increasing cost of paint materials is staggering, due largely to continually changing VOC (volatile organic compounds) levels and environmental laws. There is rarely a delivery of paint supplies to my shop that does not reflect an increase of costs. The cost of a pint (the least amount you can buy) of normal paint to perform a spray-out for customer approval of color is between $75 and $100. An amazing fact considering the cost of top coats of the first vehicle I performed a complete respray on in 1979, a 1948 Chevrolet 5 window pick-up, was $32.00, purchased at the local Napa store in Glendive, Montana. This truck, incidently, was purchased for $75 from a farmers field and three long years was spent in the restoration process trying to create ” chicken soup from chicken feathers”. Not a fiscally responsible endeavor perhaps, but a very steep learning curve. The truck turned out fine, and I drove it for years.

Collector Car Inspections and Appraisals

Recently, I have witnessed two separate collector car inspections/appraisals conducted in my shop by two different “licensed and bonded” automotive appraisers working for collectors wishing to have documentation to offer insurance carriers, mortgage holders, etc. The first gentleman, a very well known automotive appraiser appearing on television specials as well as a producer of DVD’s focused on the fine art of car collecting and valuation, was hired to inspect a Jaguar 4.2 Litre Series 2 E Type FHC for insurance purposes. The car was available at that time on the local market for $25,000 cash, a decent price if not a bit cheap even these days. I watched him carefully look over the exterior of the car, taking photos as he went, then inspect the somewhat worn original interior and non-detailed engine compartment. At no time did the gentleman inspect the engine or head stampings comparing those with the chassis plate fixed to the bulkhead, or even make a feeble attempt to peer underneath the car to determine the state of the body and chassis. The car was then pronounced valued at $50,000 fair market. I understand that the appraiser is working for the car owner, but a $50,000 valuation for a Series 2 FHC with some needs? The insurance company will not blink, as they have the appraisal in writing, and the premium payment by the owner. What about the poor chap 3000 miles away reading an ad stating the car is professionally appraised at $50K and buying long distance, sight unseen? Just asking…

The second instance was roughly the same. The appraiser, whose business card lists his expertise as “Antique/Special Interest/Sports/Classics/Trucks/Rods and Customs”, was hired to inspect a vintage 1969 Alfa Romeo. His inspection was even shorter, taking sporadic photos, and not bothering to pull the hood cable to see if it indeed had a motor under the hood, and if it did, does it kinda look like an Alfa? His business card reminded me of a old boys card from Oklahoma that was sent to me with some 1917 Maxwell parts I had purchased from him back in the ’70s. Included in his listed professional pursuits was “land, fly swatters and manure”.

If you manage a living at it, I guess you are a professional.

Buy carefully, buy smart, buy right the first time if you can afford it. Quality inspections by marque specialists are always cheap, compared to the rat hole you can find yourself  in with a empty wallet, and a mongrel disassembled in the garage.

We specialize in Jaguar, MG, Austin Healey, and Triumph