NOTE: An updated of this article can be found here.
Let me first tell you the story behind why I created this vehicle.
In the mid to late 1980s my mom bought herself a range-topping Volvo 245 GLE. It was powder blue in colour, with black leather interior, chrome trim, automatic gearbox, 4 cylinder 2.8 litre engine, the works. It was her pride and joy.
In the early 1990s, she, with dad in the passenger seat, was driving it down a motorway towing a horse trailer. Two horses were in the box, and things were going well until she was overtaken by a large articulated wagon.
The truck overtook way too fast, and the resulting turbulence sucked the horse box into his lane. As he passed, the trailer continued to sway from side to side. A police officer riding a motorbike had seen what was happening, and stopped the traffic flow behind them.
The horsebox and the car were now in the “death-wag”, twisting like the Tacoma Narrows bridge in a gale. As the back of the trailer swung to the right, so too did the front of the car, and vice versa – eventually, and it all happened very fast, the trailer flipped – still latched to the Volvo, it flew up and forwards in a 180 degree arc until it crashed onto the roof of the car.
As the trailer settled back into position, the vehicle jack-knifed and came to a rest in the middle of the highway, completely totalled. The car looked like it had been folded like a piece of paper – the rear of the vehicle was almost at a right-angle to the front.
The remarkable thing is that my parents and both horses walked away from the accident without a scratch on them. Trauma, perhaps – mom told me how she was walking around in the middle of the road amidst the wreckage with a strip of the chrome trim in her hand, trying to put it back in place – thinking that it would be needed, when they managed to put her precious car back together.
Anyway, out of respect for that vehicle, I decided to restore an old Volvo 245 GL model I found online. It would prove a great, solid model to use to reproduce my mom’s car.
Stuff you’ll need.
- Rotary power tool (I am using a Ryobi 2 speed cordless)
- Drill bit
- Utility knife
- Putty knife
- Paint stripper.
- Container – could be a tin can or a plastic tub like mine)
- Acrylic paints
- Cardboard box
- Aerosol paints: grey primer, white primer, body colour, clear lacquer/varnish.
So, here is the original model. I showed it to you guys earlier in the blog – copper/brown with yellow “Touring Club de France” decals. It set me back £1.50 and, being a Majorette, will prove a good, reliable canvas.
The first thing we need to do has already been discussed in the blog post “Wheel Swapping” where it is necessary to dissassemble the car. That article can be followed from the top of the page or you can find it here. Using a 3mm drill bit and rotary tool, take away the material around the top of the so-called “rivets” until you are able to pry the body away from the chassis using a utility or putty knife.
The Volvo only had one rivet at the front, and was attached at the rear via a hook. But yours may have two rivets, three, or even four – so this may take you longer depending on what you’re dealing with. Note that some rivets are tricky to remove, so don’t expect perfect results every time.
Separate the chassis from the interior, the glass, and the body. Keep the other pieces safe!
2. Strip the old paint
Before we apply the new colour, we have to remove the old one. You could, of course, just spray your new paint over the old body, but it would come out lumpy and peel off in an instant.
In order to remove the paint from the body, we need paint stripper. There are a number of products you can buy, but seeing as I’m on a budget and am of the mind that they all work in pretty much the same way, I’m using a product called “Durabond” from my local hardware store.
Protective equipment should really be worn, but I’d be a bad example for that. You REALLY don’t want to get this stuff in your eyes, at least.
Always use stripper and aerosols in a well-ventilated area!
You should isolate the metal body inside some kind of container for this. I use plastic tubs from the leftover Chinese takeaways I get every Saturday night. Throw in a dollop of the paint stripper alongside the metal body of the car, and use a brush to cover it.
Now you have your first period of waiting. The stripper should get to work within an hour, but some paint is a bit tougher than others, so I had to wait around two hours before it worked with the Volvo.
Once you’re satisfied the stripper has done its job, use an old toothbrush and some warm, soapy water to scrub it away. Your stripper won’t have reached every nook and cranny, so your model will probably come out with a bit of debris left in the door seals and the panel grooves. In order to remedy this, use your utility knife to pick away the remaining paint, and sandpaper will do so too.
Sandpaper the entire body down. Be wary of rubbing away some of the smaller details, particularly on nice castings like this Majorette – you can wear away the lettering on the back of some cars, and the headlight details.
This is how mine was looking after the stripping, chipping and scrubbing.
Now that you’ve prepped the bare metal casting, you have a blank canvas from which to work. Now it’s time to apply some paint.(We will be focusing on restoring the other parts of the car too)
3. Applying the paint
Before we can just go ahead and slap the colour on, we have to consider preservation and quality. You could go right ahead, and spray your colour on. Some people do. But I, and most other restorers, will go through layers of primer and top coat. Look at it like painting your nails – if you apply the colour, it will last 2 or 3 days tops. But with a bottom coat and a top coat, you preserve the colour in a nice sandwich of paint, making the colour even and protected.
Start with grey primer. I’m using aerosol paint I picked up from the same hardware store I mentioned earlier – at £1 a can, it’s great value. You will need to lift your car up, in order to make it easy to handle and in order to paint it from all angles. Coat hangers are good, but if you’re doing a lot at once, like I sometimes do, upturned plastic cups are a good alternative.
Use a nice, ventilated space, like a garage. Make sure you wear some kind of mask so as to not breathe the paint fumes, and wear gloves/goggles. Safety first!
A cardboard box with one side opened used as a studio will catch all the excess spray, which is better than it going on the wall. Make sure to get all the little hidden areas! Use short, sharp bursts of paint, sweeping side to side over the body. You should only spray for around one second – otherwise the paint will clump and begin to run down the body. You want thin layers that stick.
It ought to be touch-dry within about half an hour, at which point, apply your second layer of grey primer. (more primer will provide a better finish, but will risk hiding some finer details. You may have to choose what is more important to you)
Since we will be applying a colour coat to this Volvo (light blue) we will require white primer, for a better finish. If you plan to colour your car black or grey, then grey primer will work fine.
I’ll be applying two layers of white primer on top of the two layers of grey primer.
Once again, don’t forget all the hard-to-reach places!
Once the final layer of primer is finished dry, it’s time to apply our colour. There are a broad range available. I’m using a proper auto spray paint from Halfords, so it did cost a little more at around £7, but provides superb quality. Cheaper sprays can look as nice, but I find they’re more likely to chip or not stick properly.
In the meantime, I used black aerosol to colour the interior paint (it was beige before) and I didn’t bother using primer with that, as it will be inside the car and not at risk of being damaged.
Now we have to lay the casting aside for a while! The paint will take a long time to dry, so we can go watch TV, get some fresh air, or maybe consider the direction in which our life is leading.
For this part, we’re going to need some brushes, a paint pallet, some hot water to wash them, and some acrylic paints.
(Note: ordinarily I wouldn’t put the car back together until it had its final lacquer layer, but for the purposes of photos, I have decided to keep it together while I paint)
After a nice sleep, we can clip the car back together (chassis, interior, glass, body) and see that it looks pretty good so far, but it’s missing something. I’ve already made a start by repainting those tired old wheels with some silver paint, but the body needs some work.
I recommend browsing Google for some images of the car, to see what the trim looks like. You could of course go crazy, and paint flames and stuff on the side – but at the moment, we’re recreating a real car, so I’m going to look for an accurate example of a Volvo 245 GLE of the period.
This part of the operation requires a steady hand, a fine brush, some quality paint.
There really is no trick or secret to this part, other than to practise. Masking tape is of course an option, if you want to have crisp lines without being furiously intricate, but because the paint was still quite fresh, I don’t like to use it unless the paint has been sitting for over a week – otherwise you risk pulling it off if you’re not careful. By all means, if your paint is good and dry, use masking tape, but peel it off VERY slowly.
I started with the chrome trim on either side of the car, then blacked in the door handles.
A lot of the details on the car were unique to its model and series – for instance, on later models, that silver badge in front of the front door is an indicator light. So you have to examine the photos carefully to make sure it’s accurate.
Front badge chrome detail.
Rear light clusters, registration plate and silver badging. Note also the black door handles and the black vent on the rear right hand quarter.
Silver badging and front light clusters. Note, that on European/international models, the Volvo 200 series came with white parking lamps. The American version had orange side markers.
Some final touches to the rear number plate and badges.
And now he’s ready for his lacquer! Take the car apart, and repeat the methods we have already stated for applying the aerosol paints. Make sure to use very fine sprays – you don’t want the lacquer to pool on the paint and spoil the colour. I only generally use one layer.
Once the lacquer has dried, put the car back together. He’s ready to show of his nice glossy sheen now.
The horse trailer I own may not resemble the one my mother owned, but it’s as close as a replica of the set-up I can make.
Remember that crumbling old wreck we started with? No, neither do I! ^_^
I hope you enjoyed this how-to and the photos. Good luck with all your own creations!