Speed Demon News: Tips on Color Matching your Paint Finish

By: Patrick Smith & Jeffrey Wright

At first glance, it looks so easy. You have a car and want to get it touched up to fix a chip or repair a section that's damaged. Why, just go to the paint aisle of your auto supply store and match it up. That might work if the car is only a few years old or you were given the paint code when you bought it. With older muscle cars or hot rods from the 1950s, it's a whole different ball game. Chances are these cars have been restored at least once, possibly 3 times before you bought it. If someone deviated from the factory paint code, you'll have to color match it.
In the old days, you went through paint chip books from all the manufacturers and picked the closest match available. If you suspect it was re-sprayed, you'd have to select the closest color you can find. It could be a fleet truck color, an older or newer paint than the car you own, it could even be a boat or motorcycle paint color, if not something totally custom made. The field is wide open. Today we have some technology on our side that's really helpful. The use of computer Spectrameters allows the vendor to match the paint as closely as possible to existing paint mixes and lists the best match(es.)

The Spectrameter usually requires a surface area the size of a credit card to get a reading good enough to match. Iíve had experience with Spectramaster color scanning systems before. A customer of mine restoring a 1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible with a special order paint code sent me a paint sample from the inside of a door to assure a good match free from sun fading. Thatís when I discovered the sample needed to be at least credit card sized. Eventually we got a scan done and it turned out to be a match to a commercial airline company. It was a bright orange color not used in Chevrolet civilian vehicles at the time.

I bought a 1981 Trans Am two years ago that had been stored 19 years inside an apartment complex garage. Water from a leaking pipe overhead stained the hood of the car, necessitating the previous owner to repaint the car. It turned out well, not amazing concours quality but excellent for a cruise night or local show. Not long after I got it home I noticed the paint chip samples the first owner got as part of his order form scratch pad included code 29 Dark Metallic Blue and code. These were the two colors he was considering for his car. The Dark Metallic Blue sample didnít quite match the actual paint on my car. My color was about the same hue but more washed out. When I took pictures I noticed some variation in color due to lighting and the ability of metallic paint to display some ďflop.Ē No matter what I did, I never got pictures to match other code 29 blue Trans Ams. This started me on the research trail about paint mixes. I remembered in the past as a paint mixer for a jobber that factory paint codes were a bit misleading. You actually had to pull the correct model year fiche and follow the mix formula, pour the amounts into your can then stir it up. Then it was put on a shaker and examined by the painter for approval.

By now I figured someone messed up. Thatís not code 29 blue on the car. What is it actually? I remember my friend Trevor Hurd, owned a 1981 code 29 Blue Trans Am. I looked at the pictures of it and the color is darker than mine with less metal flake. His hood bird stands out nicely against it. I compared my car to other Trans Ams online at places like tachrev.com and tranzam.com. Both have lots of pictures of factory paint colors.
For awhile, I was convinced Pontiac had changed their paint mix twice in 1981 because I was seeing so many cars with really dark blue finishes. I was reluctantly taking the sellersí word that the cars were original paint. Clearly this wasnít the case many times. Iíd developed a theory of two paint mixes in 1981 based on the idea that Pontiac dropped the dark blue console and dashboard about half way through the year as supplies dwindled and changed to a darker, Navy Blue mix to blend better with the black or chocolate dash. A neat idea but new research doesnít support it. To solve my paint match dilemma I talked to Jeffrey Wright, a twenty year body shop and paint veteran in Virginia and fellow Trans Am enthusiast. I told him my suspicions and asked if he could provide paint codes and the corresponding PPG mix numbers. Jeffrey not only did that, he also discussed some variables that can affect the paint match process. It was very interesting and I've included it here. Jeffrey refreshed my memory about paint mixes and taught me some new tricks that happen in re-spray land since I'd been working there.

ďIf youíre trying to match the color thatís on your car but donít know what it is, buff a few spots then take it to a paint store. They should be able to scan it with the Spectramaster or some other type of paint scanner. If youíre finding the paint code doesnít match your carís finish it couldíve been sprayed the wrong mix or maybe itís a different color.Ē
Jeffrey also gave good advice about what happens when itís a custom mix or unknown paint code. ďA blendable match is what the machine usually comes up with. Sometimes going from a single stage to a clearcoat will change the color a little and vice versa. Remember, on original paint Trans Ams, they used water based lacquer.Ē When youíre using a body part for scanning, itís a good idea to stay away from areas exposed to lots of sunlight. On metallics, UV ray exposure changes the paint, often fading the metallic component. With spoilers and the endura nose, you have another situation where the paint may not match the rest of the body. The combination of road rash, sunlight, flexible paint agent and rubberized surface can alter the way paint looks. Your best bet if you want a good match to the existing paint is to take the sample from the area that is going to be touched up. If itís a matter of a complete repaint, then choose the paint area that hasnít been exposed to sunlight. Jeffrey also supplied a list of relevant blue paint codes from the 1979-1981 era to help me track down my color. The code on the far right is the PPG paint mix number. Various manufacturers use different sales names and code numbers for the same paint mix. With GM they often kept the same code number but changed the name and formula! This is why the PPG code is provided as well. 1979 code 29 blue isnít the same as 1980 code 29 blue on Pontiacs or other makes!

1979 29 Nocturne Blue Chevy, Pontiac PPG 3121

1979 83Dark Blue Met Corvette PPG 3074

1980 22 Med Blue Met. B.O.P.C. Cadillac PPG3206

1980 28 Dark Blue Met. Corvette PPG 3235

1980 29 Nightwatch Blue Irridescent PPG 3207

1980 30 Med. Blue Met. Chevy, GMC truck PPG 3252H

1980 27 dark blue Met. Chevy, GMC truck PPG 3161CBM

1981 29 Dark Blue Met. Chevy, B.O.P PPG 3207

1981 28 Dark Blue Met. Corvette PPG 3074

Iíve included below photos of some vehicles to illustrate the research. The first two pics are of 1979 Nocturne Blue code 29 Trans Ams. In overcast weather, the green undertone is easily visible. This is due to the paint mix formula. Nocturne Blue is a one year only color for Trans Am. 1979 Camaro Z/28s coded 29 used it as well but the GM sales name is Dark Blue Metallic. Pontiac brought in Nightwatch Blue Metallic in January, 1980 as a replacement color. It is also code 29 but beware! The PPG paint mix is different.

Two Nocturne Blue Trans Ams. Note the green undertone prominent on overcast days.

The next vehicle is a Trans Am described as Nocturne Blue yet clearly lacks the green undertone that is part of the paint mix. In full sunlight we see metallic blue but no secondary paint color. The gold SE pinstripe indicates a recent re spray and in fact the text does mention a newer paint finish. While coded from the factory as 29 Nocturne Blue, it appears the re-spray didnít use the correct 1979 paint mix. Compare it with theTrans Ams above it.

Here is a 1979 TA coded 29 but has been repainted. It doesn't look like Nocturne Blue to me.

 Now this one was hard to find; a 1980 Nightwatch Blue Trans Am. Brett Campbell had one on his gallery page at 78ta.com. This car displays the favored tan on Blue/Gold combo. We are fortunate that Campbell has a nice set of photographs of this car. I just chose one to illustrate the difference between 1979 and 1980 paint mixes. Notice there is no green cast to the car? On overcast days it is blue. In sunlight it's the same only more intense. This is the same color used on 1981 Trans Ams coded Dark Blue Metallic. This is in fact how my car should appear.

1980 Nightwatch Blue Trans Am, 1981 is same color but different name.

The fourth picture shows a 1980 Corvette with code 28 Dark Blue Metallic paint. It is a Corvette color and isnít listed on F body paint charts that year. There is notably more metal flake compared to code 29 and no green undertone. The effect is a curious washed out blue tone. Compare with the Trans Ams above.

A 1980 Corvette code 28 Dark Blue Metallic. Notice how much silver metalflake appears on the cowl tag?
This color is most like my Trans Am.

  The Corvette matches the color of my 1981 Trans Am. A close up of the paint code on the cowl tag above also reveals how much metal flake is present. For some reason, my car was re-sprayed this color. After thinking about it I decided to use a five color gold Trans Am decal set to compliment the color better. The 1981 two tone blue decals virtually disappear with the paint on it now. A five color blue hood decal wonít be much better because two of the colors will disappear as well. The gold colors will stand out much better with this shade of blue. 

Here is my 1981 Trans in full sunlight. No green undertone, no Navy Blue, just a lot of silver.

 As for code 83 Dark Metallic Blue Corvette 1979, here is a picture of the car with that finish. It appears to be Navy Blue. The 1981 code 28 Dark Metallic Blue Corvette paint reverts to the same PPG paint mix as 1979. If you look at a 1979 Dark Blue Corvette, youíve also seen what the 1981 ĎVette should look like.


Here is 1979 Dark Blue Metallic Corvette code 83. Again, completely different color! This is
a Navy Blue Metallic and Corvette uses this paint mix in 1981 as well. Only 1980 Corvette Blue
has a ton of silver metal flake in it.

 Can you see now why some Trans Ams in the online ads just donít look right? If the painter just goes by the GM code on the cowl tag and doesnít check further, it could be wrong. Just goes to show you have to dig deeper when it comes to color matching your carís paint job because weird things happen in re-spray land.
*Article copyright by Patrick Smith & Jeffrey Wright 2012. Images by PHS Media Archives.