Project Car Diaries: Free Old-School Industrial Paint Transformed My 1969 Dodge Charger

When a friend of mine said he had some high-quality industrial paint I could have for free, I wasn’t worried about the color.

byHank O'Hop|
Maintenance & Repair photo
Hank O'Hop


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There’s no denying that this 1969 Dodge Charger had a fierce look in primer grey. Funny enough, that simple rattle-can coating was a bare-minimum effort to make the car one solid color after some bodywork. But over the past year, this car’s become even more special, and now that I’m done welding, it deserves to shine. And I really wanted to try my hand at a DIY paint job.

The real weakness of the primer-only coating is that it did very little to protect the car. Where I’m at in Pennsylvania, rust is a real problem and if you don’t take preventative measures your metal’s going to disappear.

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Over the years, the remainder of the rust that I initially put off dealing with began to show through. Even the new metal I had welded in place had developed some surface rust. When I finally got the car into a garage, I knew it was time to give the metal the treatment it deserves with some proper repairs and a coating to seal it from the corrosive conditions I expose it to.

Countless early mornings and late nights were in order, packed with endless hours of cutting, grinding, fitting, and welding. The fun didn’t end with the shaping of body filler, either. Even the painting and finishing stages were a hefty task. Nevertheless, I forged on and the day is finally here. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, my 1969 Dodge Charger returns to the world in a fiery orange glow.  

Hank O'Hop

Why Orange?

I'll be the first to tell you that this will never be another car for the Duke boys. For the sole reason that, while second-generation Chargers are rather rare, I've seen at least five General Lees in the area. Whether you're a fan or not, it's kind of played out, and I'd rather have a legend all my own than replicate another. 

I'll also be the first to tell you that this is not a great paint job. Heck, it's not even good. All that I care about is that it's a solid layer of protection. In fact, I almost couldn't care less what color it is as long as it's not rusty. So when the owner of a local oil delivery service, and personal friend, called me up and said he had some paint from the old days that was actually going to withstand the test of time, it caught my interest regardless of the color. And when he said I could have it for free, the choice was obvious.

Hank O'Hop

To say that the orange doesn't speak to me at all would be a lie, though. It was my dad's orange 1969 Dodge Charger that I grew up worshiping and longing for, after all.

Ironically enough, orange isn't my first pick for the color of the car neither was it for my father. He had actually planned to paint the car burgundy, which I agree would have been a stellar choice. But it's almost like the car itself had selected the color and willed fate into leading us back there.

Here’s how I painted the car 

The paint I scored was DuPont Imron: Gulf Orange. Imron is a durable paint intended to be used on industrial equipment of all sorts of applications, on land, water, and even the sky. When talking with a veteran painter, he told me stories about how he used it to paint flight helmets, and that just added a whole new layer of awesome to the story of this car. Not only that, the conditions this paint is designed to face makes it the perfect fit for a car that's going to see the abuse I intend to subject the Charger to.

Hank O'Hop

With that in mind, I went forward with painting the car as I would an industrial machine. I was clean and sprayed the floor with water to keep the dust down, but I didn't go over the top as if I were laying a show-quality paint job because that's exactly what this isn't. Again, it's just a barrier to protect the car from rust.

The main advantage of an old-school paint like this is durability, and in my case, the zero-dollar price. The downsides are that it's pretty toxic. So I had to be careful.

Tools and Supplies 

Hank O'Hop

Painting a whole car, even with a “quick and dirty” method, takes a lot of time. As soon as I got ready to lay primer, my $20 swap meet air compressor called it quits. I did manage to revive it in a half-an-hour with a cheap rebuild kit, but that set the tone for the litany of hiccups and setbacks I'd have to overcome. 

I'll admit for the record that I used Rustoleum Rusty Metal Primer as the foundation for this paint job. I know full well that it's not designed to serve as an automotive primer, but this isn't automotive paint, and keeping it cheap made it fine by me. I spent a ton of time blocking it and fixing solvent pop issues, but I ultimately got a base layer down that I could work with. 

Hank O'Hop

I did some mixing before I laid the color. I wanted to at least try to match the orange that the car had when I pulled it from the field, which was much more red than the Gulf Orange I was given. I found a local gearhead selling off some inventory of DuPont Centari mixing tints he scored from a now-closed paint shop. The shade I used is known as Monastral Red. I did a 50/50 mix of the two hues, which is even more red than the car was when I found it, but I'm pumped about it because it does land between the original and a color of another personal hero’s car, Bobby Isaac’s Poppy Red ’69 Daytona Charger.

I did have my fair share of struggles with mixing up the activators and thinners I needed for this single-stage paint job. It took me multiple shots to avoid solvent pop and fish eyes, and I still have a bunch of work to go back and touch up. For those of you looking to paint your first car, that's where I'd spend the most time researching and sciencing things out, especially if you are after a nice coating with outdated paint like this.

Hank O'Hop

The conditions in which the paint wants you to spray created another hurdle. From what I was told and what the instructions say, temps of 80-90 degrees are ideal, with it stating you don't want to paint when it's any colder than 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Since we had a cold spring this year, I had to wait for a heat wave to roll through so I could hit the majority of the car and relied on space heaters for touch-ups and panels separate from the chassis. 

Overall, I’m happy with the results. Yeah, it’s objectively not the best paint job, but it’s protection. I'm OK with the lack of shine and it looking like a tractor or old biplane someone shot in their barn because, in my eyes, it has more in common with something like that than a trailer queen.

Hank O'Hop

Not only that, it’s still lightyears apart from the dilapidated rust bucket it was when I pulled it from a field. Besides, my truck developing a rod knock and some serious rust issues of its own gave me no choice but to get this thing wheels up and move on.

This Isn’t Over 

While the car is in color, I'm nowhere near done working on it. The folks at the Dodge Garage said it best when they called it “the project that never ends.” However, the color falling in my lap was exactly what I needed for an actual vision of this car to come together. Up until that point, I had all kinds of ideas for it, but nothing seemed to stick. Now that it's orange, I know exactly where I'm taking this, and the interior is what will bring it all together. 

Hank O'Hop

Back in its glory days, this car had some trick, velour door cards that perfectly represented the era's hotrod culture. I want to bring that back but with some slight tweaks. I have an eye for custom door panels with seats to match. I feel ProCar Rally seats are the perfect fit, so that’s what I’ll be saving up for. 

Aside from that, it's all nuts and bolts, which I'll likely focus on first as they're easier to knock off the to-do list, the biggest target being the rear differential. I need something stronger than the current 8.25-inch diff, preferably an 8.75-inch with a dropout center section that matches my insatiable need to try different combos. And now that I have a paint job suited for aviation, an engine to match is surely on the dream board. Though, nailing down a period-correct Hemi is a tall order that will require a fat piggy bank. In short, the Charger has a long way to go, and there's plenty more to come.

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