For the long holiday weekend, I decided it would be nice to travel back to my hometown for a visit! The last few trips I’ve made over, I haven’t had time to work on my Fiat, so I decided this would be the trip that I would get some work done to it! My parents recently purchased a Buick Skylark GS 400 Convertible at the classic car auctions in Deadwood, South Dakota, so they have been prodding me to get my Fiat out of the garage, which may or not have played a small role in the decision to go work on it. So I asked my girlfriend if she would make the trip with me and help with the Fiat a bit. Amazingly, she agreed! So here is what we got done on my little Italian roadster!
I purchased this car quite a few years ago and while I was attending college, I would slowly fix things on it. Being Italian, it’s biggest issue has been rust. It wasn’t serious, but it was enough to annoy me. So I slowly cut out and replaced all the sheetmetal that had been eaten away at by the tinworm. I still have a few pieces to replace, but for the most part, the car is done on rust repair and bodywork fronts. When I bought it, it was already running, with a fairly new 2.0 liter engine and the rest of the drivetrain appeared to be fresh as well.
Being off at school meant that it would sit for long periods of time, be driven for a few weeks, and then go back into storage, which can wreak havoc on seals and gaskets. Amazingly, the only seal that has given up the struggle was the pinion seal in the differential. I actually covered that repair in this article!
After replacing the pinion seal, I moved to Boise and the car has been parked since. The last time I tried to start it, I wasn’t getting any power to the starter. I assumed I must have damaged something in the process of fixing the pinion. So Monday morning, I crawled out of bed bright and early (I had to edit posts and moderate comments before I could do anything). After I finished my morning’s work, I woke my girlfriend up and we headed out to assess the Fiats situation. When we opened the garage door, there she was, looking eager to be revived. We rolled it out the garage and my girlfriend (Becca) remarked at what a neat looking car it was. She is still new to the classic car world, but already has good taste in automobiles! As I looked at it, a crazy idea came to mind. This car needed some paint! I’ve treated all the bare metal and rust prone areas as I’ve fixed them, which means the car is a patchwork of bright red paint, the original maroon color, and black primer. It really looked terrible!
And this is when the idea got really crazy! There are two things you all need to know about me. First, I like getting my hands dirty. Second, I will go to extreme lengths to save myself a buck. To say I’m cheap would be the understatement of the century. In my constant pursuit to save money, I’ve spent far too much time trying to find ways to paint a car on the cheap (if I would have used that time to make money, I could have afforded to have the car painted already!). I’ve looked at every option from Maaco to rolling on Rustoleum. Well I recently came across a rather fascinating product known as Plasti Dip. I’ve seen quite a few cars covered in the stuff and it usually looks pretty good, so I looked at Becca and said, “let’s dip this Fiat”. So we ran to the store and bought 6 cans of Graphite grey Plasti Dip, 3 cans of glossifier, some wet sand paper, and tape. Before we could lay down any dip, we needed to wet sand the car. We went over the entire thing quickly with 1000 and then 2000 grit, which left a nice surface.
We then tapped off all the trim and anything we didn’t want dip on. There happened to be a can of red dip around the shop, so I did a test spot to see how the stuff works. After it dried, we were able to peel it right off, leaving a nice untouched surface underneath. I’m thinking this could be my new all time favorite product. I can make a car look like new without ruining the original finish. When I want to get rid of it, I just peel it off. And my absolutely favorite part, it’s cheap! I spent less than $50 for all the paint!
We spent the rest of the day laying down coats of dip. In hindsight, I wish I would have gone with the red. The graphite looks awesome, but didn’t lay very well. I had assumed it would be grey dip with metallic flake, but it turned out to just be straight flake. By the time we were done, we were both covered from head to toe in what I would classify as sparkles… I hate sparkles. It was nearly impossible to get the stuff to go down without leaving streaks. Some areas covered really well and look fantastic, while others are patchy. It looks good from about 20 feet, but any closer and you notice just how uneven it is. That’s alright though, because I can always peel it off and paint it red! Once we were finished with the clear coat (glossifier in the dip world) the car looked like a proper sports car. Now we just needed to get it running!
I still haven’t changed that darn timing belt, but I wanted to make sure the engine was still working correctly and hasn’t by some freak chance seized up. So I started checking the electrical systems, but everything looked great. I couldn’t find any disconnected or damaged wires. So we grabbed my dad’s truck and a set of jumper cables. We hooked up to the battery, but nothing would come on. Even after letting it sit for a few minutes, the engine wouldn’t even turn over. At this point, my dad had joined us and he was expressing concern about the motor. He even had me concerned about it, but then I decided to check the trunk mounted battery more carefully. That’s when I discovered that the battery was sizzling (definitely not a good thing). Once I removed the battery from the equation, all the lights came on and I was able to get the engine turned right over. I didn’t want to risk the timing belt breaking, so I didn’t mess with it anymore than that. But now I know I just need a new battery and a timing belt to get my Fiat back on the road! I was thinking about selling this sweet little machine, but with the dip on, I just can’t bring myself to part ways with this car, at least not yet. It helps that Becca loves the way it looks and has encouraged me to keep it (with the stipulation that I get rid of the Spitfire of course)! So I guess I better get to work on the Spitfire so I can find a new home for it!