Watch Single-Stage Car Paint Come Back to Life After 37 Long Years

Single-stage paints can keep on trucking long past the day your clear coat is dead and gone.

byLewin Day|
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Once upon a time, most cars used to ship with single-stage paint, where the color top coat went on over the primer and was buffed up to a glossy shine. They've since fallen out of favor, with two-stage clearcoat systems having been the industry norm for decades now. However, the old ways do have their charms, as demonstrated by this restoration job on a classic 1984 Volkswagen Scirocco from the team at Deutsche Auto Parts.

Modern cars almost all use two-stage paint, with a top clear coat layer over the color, used to add gloss and shine to the finish. Over time, this can degrade, picking up scratches and swirls, but can usually be restored to a good shine with some basic detailing. However, over long enough time scales, these paints can have the top clear coat layer crack and flake off entirely. This commonly appears as jagged matte patches on a panel, and the only solution once the clear coat is gone is to repaint the entire panel. 

YouTube/Deutsche Auto Parts

Single-stage paints have the benefit that above the primer level, it's color coat all the way down. These paints tend to oxidize fairly quickly compared to modern clear coat paints, becoming dull and matte over time. However, as long as there's still enough color coat on the car, it can easily be buffed back to a glossy shine with simple detailing techniques. Unlike clear coat, there's no extra top layer that ruins the finish once it's flaked off. If there's still a thick enough layer of color on the car, it can be brought back to life—often to an impressive degree. 

YouTube/Deutsche Auto Parts

The basic process is demonstrated ably by Neil from Innovative Detail in North Carolina, who was tapped for the Scirocco job for his expert detailing skills. The first step involves a basic inspection of the car, combined with a waterless wash to remove any surface contaminants. Neil notes the heavily oxidized paint, along with areas where previous over-enthusiastic buffing jobs have worn through the paint on the edges of the bonnet. A paint thickness gauge is then used to determine how much color coat is left to avoid accidentally burning through what's left during the detailing process. 

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With the basic prep done, it's time to get buffing. With a variety of electric buffers and various pads to make the best work of the large flat areas and the finer details, Neil works over the whole car to bring back something closer to its original showroom shine. Some areas, such as the hood edges and patches of the roof, had long ago worn through to the white primer undercoat, and were beyond saving. The rest of the car shines up an absolute treat, however, coming back as a vibrant glossy red rather than a dull matte orange.

The final result is not a show car finish by any means, but looks far more presentable and true to the original paint job the car shipped with in 1984. The fresh shine complements the car's new motor swap nicely, too. This process is something you simply couldn't do with a car covered in patches of flaking clear coat, showing the long-term benefits of a classic single-stage paint system. While we doubt the industry will ever return to the old ways, it's nonetheless nice to see a classic car restored without having to resort to a full respray. It might just get you contemplating a weekend attempt to shine up some hoopties in your own driveway.

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