Color Matching Old Car Paint


During the process of Operation Stude, I thought about painting the engine bay as long as it was empty. My Studebaker’s original paint is something which I love about her, I don’t plan on covering her natural patina for a very long time – if I ever do it will be for longevity sake rather than aesthetics. The engine bay however, is up for grabs in the paint arena. It’s already a “newer” looking color (since it hasn’t been exposed to the elements like the exterior) and the extra dirt and blemishes within the engine bay add to the extra clutter of all the wiring, etc that exist within the engine bay. But if you’re going to repaint an old car…how do you match the paint color?

I want to use as close to the original color as I can get. My 1955 Studebaker’s original color was Pima Red for the body and Sonora Beige for the roof – this is indicated on the original production order I have for my Studebaker (production orders by VIN are available through the Studebaker National Museum)…or if you’re not so lucky to have those resources, you can look for the color chart for your late model car at paint stores like TCP Global.

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The problem with ordering the original color is it would be too far off from what the paint looks like now, even in the less-faded engine bay – as it’s been nearly 60 years since the car was painted. Other than original paint codes, another option is color matching by computer. Take a piece of the color you want into a paint store and their computers can create a color match. Only problem here is, you’ve got to have a large enough piece to take into the shop. As there are no such removable peices in Stude’s engine bay, I had to try something else. The next best thing to matching the color directly, is a Pantone color book (since I had one at work that I could borrow…if you don’t have access to something like this, a collection of color samples from Home Depot can suffice). Of course, this all gets much more difficult for custom, candy, or metallic paints and I would suggest including a professional in those cases!

After getting a couple of samples I thought were pretty close, I found that Pantone # 1546U was on the dot. While I’ve decided not to paint the engine bay this time around, when it’s time for the Cadillac engine swap I’ll plan on it!


7 Responses

  1. Les

    Kristin, You’ve got a great blog going there, I enjoy what you write; as one blogger and car enthusiast to another keep up the great work!

  2. Arielle West

    Ok. Here I thought I was the only one doing what I’m doing. I live close to a guy who owns and is currently colour matching the rear window in mine, well the one right behind the pillar on the passenger side. I have a large binder of PPG colours that I’m using to do the non brown part of the interior where there are several shades of blue.

    I’ll probably also have to buy a paint sprayer as the colours usually don’t come in cans, or are looked down upon in cans buy the pros.

    The really weird thing is when I received my build sheet from the National Museum, I found the colour was coral and beige, not what it’s currently painted which is Maui, and Nocturne blue. Mine must have been repainted at some point because the interior looks exactly like yours (minus the seats and all), but the exterior looks totally repainted.

    I was thinking, “I could have a really kind of vanilla looking car (even though blue is my fav colour), or a really bright and cool one”. That took a whole 2 min., of my life to realise what I wanted, bright and loud!

    • Kristin Cline


      That’s so funny yours was originally colored like mine! I’m glad you like the redone scheme of your Stude – are you just repainting the interior?

      • Arielle West

        For right now, all I can really afford is to repaint the interior. I’d love to do the exterior, but that’s a while off.

      • Kristin Cline

        I know how that goes Arielle! P.S. about the spray cans…you can find shops who will put quality paint in a can. Sure, on a professional level you’re not going to get the same results as you would with a gun, but it can still do a pretty darn good job (especially if it’s decent paint). I sprayed Falcon’s hood with a $10 gun from Harbor Freight…while they can have some drip problems, my experience wasn’t half bad!

      • Arielle West

        Thanks! I’ll have to check that out! This guy uses PPG paint which I think looks absolutely incredible on older cars. I painted the mirror and mount bracket with this duplicolor Ford grey stuff and besides the rust pitting in the mirror, it looks great. I can just imagine what a paint sprayer will do for it.

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