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  • Writer's picturePaul Wegweiser

Skin Deep

While I compile my second list of major parts I know the car will need, I'm killing time (and my fingertips) trying to establish how much of the factory paint might be salvageable on this uniquely gray 1969 2002. The factory name for this color is "Bristol" and it's a fairly rare sight on BMWs. Used only on the early (pre 1973) cars, it was probably seen as too mundane for all of us North American hippies and swingers in the 1960s and 70s. It's a color that (at least recently) become sought after and appreciated, as modern auto makers now emulate these pastel and gray non-metallic hues on their current offerings. From Audi to Subaru...the dove/battleship/squirrel gray might be the new black!

When I first set eyes on this car in the dark garage where it lay dormant, I thought maybe someone had sprayed silver (BMW called that color "Polaris") on the panels, in an effort to make the car a bit more snappy. Metallics from that period are notorious for fading and changing colors, as the decades passed.

Silver? Gray? I had no idea where this was going to go.

Once I got it out in to the light...I was still confused. Earlier, with a flashlight, I saw the original "Bristol" paint decal in the engine bay...and it warmed my heart to think that at one time...this car... might have been gorgeous.

I soon noticed strange vines stuck to the paint along the hood and front fender. It was as if they had somehow embedded themselves into the paint, forming little black dots about the size of a pinhead. They were EVERYWHERE! "I'll just wash them off" I thought.

Oh how naive I was!

I'm not saying it was aliens, but.... it may have been aliens!

I found that the ONLY way I could remove these little dots, was use of a plastic razor blade followed by extensive effort with rubbing compound and a polishing cloth, afterward. I started on the hood...and bit by bit that original color came back to life! I was so proud of myself!

Pride is the precursor to misery

After many hours of polishing, things were looking good, and it gave me hope that the rest of the car might clean up well. I found that the vertical surfaces of the hood had an extra layer of what appeared to be clearcoat, obviously sprayed after some bodywork, to make the repair paint pop nicely. Originally, these cars had what is known as a "single stage" paint... they spritzed it with color, and then let it alone. In the 70s and 80s, "base-coat / clear-coat" became popular. The base layer goes on somewhat satin-like, and then a high gloss clear is applied on top of it, to produce the shine. That's what must have happened to this car. Every vertical panel had this stuff...and it did not age well.

The clear coat made figuring out the real color a bit confusing!

So... I decided to start excavating in select areas... to see what had become of the original paint. Since rubbing compound worked well on the hood, I tried it elsewhere with minimal results. Then I got more aggressive with it....from brakleen to mineral spirits....and finally found something that (with some elbow grease) removed the weathered aftermarket clear coat, to reveal the subtle hue of factory Bristol gray. With gloves and super fine (#000) steel wool, I was able to reveal the gray paint underneath. I worked one small area at a time, while following up with polish and wax to protect the newly exposed old paint. The results were promising!

You can see the difference between the freshly cleaned front half, and the rear quarter panel here.

Things were going swimmingly..... until I uncovered some old bodywork. I'd see light coats of red oxide primer here and there, but most of it was on top of the gray paint, and although it filled my cleaning / wiping rags with redness...I was eventually able to get the gray layer exposed....until I wasn't. It was maddening... because I'd remove one layer of red primer to reveal an odd non-factory gray....then another layer of primer...until... I was left with bare metal.

That was a problem.

If people ask "is that original paint?"...I'll just say... "yes...all 4 paint jobs are original".

Luckily, most of the body work was dent repair and not rust repair. Fenders can be bolted on, so I refrained from being horrified, but now I had a problem: raw, unprotected metal. What to do? I visited the local auto paint shop and found that Bristol gray wasn't in their computer database. They generously sent me home with a color sample book, but nothing seemed to match well. I did the next best thing: I grabbed a paintbrush and some gray "POR-15". For those of you unfamiliar with the stuff, it's a product that's designed to paint right over rust - and is rumored to be tough as nails. I figured I had nothing to I went for it. I've had mixed results with such products, as the thought of merely "painting over oxidized metal" just seems like a short sighted plan... but in the interest of preserving things until I had the time and budget to make it "nice"... this would do the trick. It truly IS tough stuff. Once it dries, you cannot remove it from your hands, and it seems impervious to all but the most coarse sandpaper. Painting "over" it, is also a tricky process, as it forms a smooth glass-like surface not conducive to the addition of common paint. a temporary measure, it was fantastic.

Perfect enough...and at least the raw steel is covered.

While cleaning and polishing and painting all this stuff, I removed the belt line trim, which involved a 5.5mm socket and a dremel tool, to remove the threaded fasteners too rusty to come loose otherwise. BMW uses a combination of plastic and metal fasteners to hold this stuff on, and all the clips are available individually or in kit form from us. Also in parts related news: The trim along the front of the hood (often called "nose chrome") is again available after a long backorder period. Cost is $135.00 and easily shipped to your door.

Still undecided as to the final "look" of this car....currently considering a "vintage rally" theme!

I decided I wanted to make this car look I'm playing with various livery options. The car will tell me where it wants to go from here. I've gotten it running and driving under its own power once again, after 30 years of storage.... so tune in next time and subscribe to this blog to get updates!

Here's a hint: I haven't stopped grinning in 2 weeks!

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