Description: How to find the best paint match for your classic car. Using the knowledge of fellow enthusiasts and seeking expert help from colour services companies.

Tackling the problems of finding an accurate colour match for older cars

A key part of renovating a classic car is repainting it in its original colour. This can be a very difficult part of the process for older cars where the exact colour ‘name’ as given by the manufacturer is unknown, or the appearance of the original colour has deteriorated over time. Fortunately, specialist help and advanced colour matching techniques are at hand.

Defining ‘classic’ in classic cars

A classic car can mean different things depending on who you talk to. In the USA there are more specific definitions as many states have their particular taxation criteria based on age, but here in the UK it’s less clear cut; this article sheds some light on it.

As it will likely be an older car, the original paint may have long since faded and maybe even been covered up in a totally different shade in an ill-advised respray undertaken some time previously.

So how to find out what paint colour should be used?

Owners’ clubs

If there’s an owners’ club or some type of community – quite likely these days with the advent of social media and online forums covering specific interests – this is a worthwhile first port of call. A photo of the car posted in the relevant forum or social media platform may reveal very quickly what colour you should be looking for.

It it’s less obvious, maybe a certain shade of blue as opposed to a bright colour like yellow or orange, you may have to arrange for someone to physically examine the car’s paintwork. This could be a worthwhile step if you’re fully committed to getting the best restoration possible for your classic car project.

Paint codes

Your car may have the paint code somewhere on the bodywork or maybe on one of the door jams. Somewhat confusingly the code may not bear any relation to the colour; for example ‘brown’ may not have the letter ‘B’ anywhere in it, but if you can find the code this makes for a good starting point.

Finding it could be a challenge; again owners’ clubs and other knowledgable people on forums may be able to help for your make or maybe the dealership (if it’s a marque still operating) may be able to help you find the paint code.

Armed with this information, you can go to a paint specialist to get an accurate colour match. Some have an online database of paint codes for cars and what colours they relate to.

Specialist colour matching

To find an exact colour match may require more specific and specialist help; even when the colour has been identified there can be variations amongst the same shades. This is sometimes down to weathering and fading over the years, and the fact manufacturers have tended to use different paint suppliers who inevitably may provide different variations on the same basic shade.

Specialist technical equipment such as a spectrophotometer is used by some colour services companies; this machine measures colour electronically and can produce very accurate colour matching results. This can help enormously if you haven’t got a paint code.

In order to enable the colour company to determine your paint colour this way, you’d need to provide a sample such as a fuel filler cap, flap or other reasonably sized area. Further information would be important such as the manufacturer, model, year of manufacture and a general description of what colour the car should be.

You can usually send the item to be analysed in via courier and they’ll return it once they’ve analysed it and prepared matching paint for you.

If you’re only looking to paint some of the car it’s vital that the sample comes from the area that you’ll be painting. If, for example, you supply the fuel filler cap but you’re actually painting a couple of panels on the other side you may not get an exact match.

Detective work

Sometimes a very old car that requires major renovation may be in such a poor state that even identifying what shade beyond a vague ‘possibly blue or maybe green’ is almost impossible. In these cases, a visit to view the car from a colour expert may be required.

They may have to carefully remove layers of colour to ascertain what the original would have been, and research colours of the time from the specific manufacturer of the particular model you own.

Use the experts

Things have come a long way since body repairers ordered some paint and mixed it in the hope it would provide a colour match. Using the specialist help discussed above you stand a very good chance of finding the paint to do your classic car justice.