Experience D’Orth



During these winter months, most of our Ferraris are snugged away in their garages awaiting springtime’s cleaner roads, but because of the forced inactivity,  this is a good time to take care of major service or restorative projects.  A couple of our members innocently asked me recently about where to get their pride and joys repainted during these dark days.  With Pandora’s box of memories thus pried open,  the subject brought up yet another of my all-too-vivid learning experiences from years gone by:


In high school, following my (first) motorcycle period, my car was a parental hand-me-down, a 1958 Opel Rekord.  GM-owned Opel sold these cars here through Buick dealers forty years ago;  it was a Camry-size 2-door sedan with a 2-liter 4-cylinder and three-speed column shift.  Mine was a strange, utilitarian color described by a friend as “bright grey.” This wasn’t a bad little car, and being only a few years old, it withstood my aggressive use of its meager performance better than it should have.  In fact, I won my first trophy with that car—in a local sports car club time-speed-distance rally!  Many other fruitful placings followed that auspicious beginning, and over time junkyard scavenging added an MGA’s Abarth free-flow exhaust, some Marchal rally lights and other tricks.  It was common at the time for clubs to award engraved dash plaques to class winners, and by my senior year the Opel’s dash was paved with them.  This is not to imply that I’m a mathematical genius like Norm Littlejohn—who was a serious and successful rallyist—but rather that I had found a loophole!  


The Central Florida Sports Car Club had a broad palette of tasty rural two-lanes that wound around the surrounding lakes and orange groves, but frequently had to connect sections with a stretch of the red clay roads common in the area.  Often washboardy and alternately dusty or damp, the club always dropped the average ‘way down on these after a couple from Tampa shook two hubcaps, a headlight bezel and an exhaust bracket off of their brand-new Alfa Veloce on one of these roads.


TSD rallys frequently change the required average speed depending on how good the road surface is.  Checkpoints will be placed in secret locations that are intended to catch teams off their averages,  like right after a slow section where they may have gotten behind. On good roads,  I couldn’t begin to match the quick acceleration and cornering abilities of the XK Jaguars, Austin Healeys, etc., but when the roads got rough and narrow the average would drop dramatically so these cars could gently pussyfoot along to the next good road where they’d hope to make up the lost time.  My tough little Opel and I, however, might enter these rough sections behind on time, but we didn’t care about no stinkin’ ruts or bumps and would gain time where no one was supposed to be able to, and would hit the checkpoints that were inevitably soon after the bad roads,  right on time!


Anyway, these hijinks and some other minor body contact began to create the need for a repaint.  A decent Earl Sheib job at the time was $199, but that was ‘way too much.  Instead, afternoons after school I  bondoed the dents, primed and sanded the whole car and took off most of the chrome trim.  My dad knew somebody with a paint gun that had agreed to shoot the prepped car for $50 and a six pack—that was more like it.  On a Saturday, I took a pile of newspapers and masking tape over to this man’s place.  It was an older wooden building that had until recently been a cabinet maker’s shop, but was being switched over to auto repairs.  I taped up all the glass and remaining trim while he fiddled around mixing the paint and working diligently on the six-pack.  His last instruction were to carefully wipe the car down with a ‘tack rag’ that picked up all remaining specks of lint and then to hose down the shop floor to prevent any dust.


As he began to spray the car he told me to take off and come back in a couple of hours so I could remove the masking while the paint was still tacky, which helps reduce tape lines.  When I returned, the door was unlocked, but he was gone and there were a lot more than six cans lying around.   But the car looked good and he had left a note that the car would be completely dry the next day and I could pick it up then.  As I was carefully pulling off the paper and tape, somebody else came in, looking for the painter.  He gagged at the overpowering paint fumes, saw the beer cans and scoffed that his pal had been too dopey to open some windows.  He proceeded to helpfully open a couple of panes on each side of the shop and the air began to clear appreciably.   When finished, I hitchhiked on home, shutting the door behind me.  The next afternoon, I excitedly went down to get my beautifully refinished car and stopped in my tracks as soon as I opened the shop door.


The car didn’t look bright and shiny, but rather was quite dull and had a strange, rough texture all over it—like a big Chia pet.  Then I noticed the sawdust all over the floor, the benches and everything else.

Looking up, I saw for the first time the exposed ceiling joists.  On the top surface of each horizontal beam was a mound of sawdust, which had accumulated during the years of cabinetry.  The nice cross breeze our interloper had created wafted a lot of it down when the wind came up the previous evening, all over my still-tacky car!  Now the paint was hard as a rock, and kind of felt like one, too—all grainy and rough.  Just like the non-skid grit they put in the wet paint when doing stairs and other slippery floors.


While I was screaming in outrage, the sobered-up painter wandered in and began his own histrionics.  The ‘helper’ turned out to be some pal who was notorious for his thoughtless meddling, and this wasn’t the first project he had unintentionally screwed up.  After we each calmed down, he agreed to re-sand the car to get the dried-in dirt out if I would supply some more paint to redo the job.   You can imagine what a task sanding this dried-in grit must have been.  Consequently,  the finished job was just so-so and ever after that the Opel had somewhat of a teen-age complexion.


                                                                                                                                                --  Bill  Orth  --