Lee Malkemes with the Little Georgia Shaker in
Wilkes-Barre in 1995.
Then late one summer day, my wife Maureen, suggested that we walk over to the National Guard Armory not too far from our home in Kingston, PA to check out a gathering of the local Mustang club. I had been to one or two of their drive-ins already, and the thought of tramping over to look at the local iron again didn't really sound too inviting. What I really wanted to do was take a rare nap and get rejuvenated from a hard week at work, but she said she was really interested, so off we went.
We got there just as The Little Georgia Shaker was coming out of the building for the tow home. I was stunned - jaw hanging open and everything. Where did this car come from? When I walked up to the owner and asked him about the car, he filled me in on a bunch of details and then gave me his card. When I asked him if he was going to be in the area for very long, he looked at me and smiled. "I guess so. I only live about a mile from here."
It took a moment to sink in. "You mean the car is here in WilkesBarre all the time?", I asked. Okay, I know it was a dumb question, but I was still in a state of shock. After all, it is "The Little Georgia Shaker”, not "The Little Pennsy Ground Pounder." Go figure. A famous drag car right there in WilkesBarre, PA. Two conversations, a photo shoot, and a few phone calls later, I was totally hooked on building some nice models of this car. With its colorful history (see sidebar on the history of the car) this is one of those cars that lends itself to five or six different model versions. That was all the good news. The bad news was that nearly simultaneous with my discovery and desire to build them all was Revell's announcement that the one remaining Thunderbolt kit was about to be discontinued. Fortunately, from time to time they can be found in a variety of places, you can always find a few at reasonable prices at model car shows and swap meets, and there is always e-Bay.
There are several purposes for this article. First, is to outline a step-by-step guide to painting with lacquers. To do this, I’ve included some shots of the original Little Georgia Shaker model as I was building it, but some other illustrative photos will show some additional versions of the car that I’m currently working on. The second is to show the great history behind this beautiful car and the rest of the Shakers that Hubert Platt ran – there were several ranging from a 1963 Z-11 Chevy to the 1964 Ford Thunderbolt seen here, to a Falcon, several Mustangs, and eventually a Pinto. The Little Georgia Shaker, in my opinion, is one of the prettiest T-Bolts that ever ran, and a lot of other folks feel the same way. In building a model of the restored version of the car I experimented with a number of things and I wanted to share them here. So the third reason for this is to cover some of the details built into the models such as the rubber matting in the interior, other interior updates, and detailing tips such as boots on plug wires, and how to do a “Buried Treasure” approach to chrome scripts on model cars.
This article will focus on using lacquers on plastic models and provide a step-by-step guide on how I approach using this particular type of paint. Please keep in mind that I do not think my approach is the best – it simply is the approach I have found that works best for me and I offer it up as a starting point for helping others to get into using this particular medium. There must be a gazillion ways to paint with lacquers, use an airbrush, figure out how much thinner to use, what air pressure to use, and how heavy each coat should be. The range of technique isn’t as simple as Right/Wrong – it’s far more along the lines of Ugly-Poor-Good-Better-Best and I think, as in most things in life, our existence is in great part an adventure to discover what is and what works best for each of us. I love to experiment and try new things, so hopefully this will prompt further discussion or contribute a tip or two to your own collection of modeling skills.
Painting with Lacquers
I love painting with lacquers because they are so durable and forgiving when compared to typical enamels or other acrylics, and lacquers tend to go a lot further than enamels too. This may have to do with my painting style, but it seems to me that the color coats build faster with thinner layers that translate into using less paint. I can blow through a bottle of Model Master enamel paint in my airbrush in a snap, but it takes a bit longer to do that with equal amounts of most lacquers.
There are some drawbacks however – supply being the biggest one. When I first started painting with lacquer I settled on DuPont Automotive Lacquer system, but much to my dismay, DuPont sold off their finishes business. In another one of those ironic twists, it seems that the big boys are moving away from lacquers just as hobbyists are getting into them and getting a reliable supply may take a little work. Duplicolor can also be found in many of the automotive parts store chains and you can at least get a lot of the basic colors and supplies that way. Model Car World is one supplier that I have used with very satisfactory results, getting specific colors so be sure to look them up.
You also have to use a bit more caution and care when painting with lacquers from a safety standpoint, but the results are outstanding and about as goof-proof as it gets - that is, once you've gotten the hang of it. Another surprise for me was the advent of the Alclad2 metalizing system. I just recently started to use this product line and am nothing short of amazed at the results. Alclad2 is compatible with lacquer-based systems in that they can be applied on top of most lacquer primers and colors and the application techniques and tricks between the two tend to overlap – if you have what you need to do Alclad, you probably have almost everything you need to do automotive lacquers and visa-versa. But there are some things you really can’t live without if you are going to use either or both systems safely while getting great results.
First, you must have a good quality airbrush and a decent compressor capable of sustained spraying at a range of about 6 to 40 PSI. You also must have a respirator-type mask and either a nice, open, out-door space to paint or a really good spray booth. If you are missing any of these, absolutely forget using lacquers or Alclad2 until you do.
Getting back to paint supplies, currently I’ve found two sources for supplies that seem completely compatible and can cover just about any topic you may want to paint. First is MCW (Model Car World) Automotive Finishes, which can be found on-line at www.mcwautomotivefinishes.com . They have an amazing list of colors that they offer and have colors for just about any topic you might like paint. Especially handy is their Racing catalog which lists colors by driver or sponsor, so if you are looking for the right shade of blue for any of Petty’s race cars, or the correct shade of purple for Silkcut Jags, they probably have it listed. If not, they are terrific about matching colors. For a little bit more, they can match the color of just about anything you might want. MCW does a great job and I have been very satisfied with their service and their products. The typical 1 ounce bottles of color go a pretty long way too, so the cost is not that different than grabbing any other model paint off the rack.
There are a few lacquers that you might decide you need a lot more of than the 1 ounce or larger bottles MCW offers. If you really get into it as I have, you may want to invest in quart cans of key colors and finishes such as Primer, Clear, Black, and White. Duplicolor has stepped up and now offers a line of pre-thinned, “ready-to-spray” finishes that are ideal for bulk purposes. At about $25 a quart, it’s pretty cost-effective if you paint a lot, or have a buddy willing to share, and you can find it at many of the automotive stores such as AutoZone, National Auto Parts, etc.
The steps in the process
The whole process begins with good prep work on whatever you are painting. Any scratches, seams, or dimples have to be filled and sanded first. Unlike enamels, lacquers don't build up enough to hide even small flaws, so they all have to go before you start. Adzing (yes, that’s really a word…) is when you drag a sharp blade sideways over a seam or surface as a way of planning down any kind of material like wood, clay, or plastic. So in our world, adzing a seam by scraping a hobby knife blade or single-edge razor blade will make quick work of removing any of these molding leftovers. After that, I lightly rub the entire model with 0000 steel wool. Steel wool will remove seams and other flaws quickly while leaving a more uniform finish and fewer deep scratches than sandpaper will, and makes fast work of prepping parts.
Once the body has been cleaned and washed with a toothbrush scrubbing with warm, soapy water and then completely dried, you can begin painting by applying a light coat of primer – and I do mean light! You are not looking for full coverage here, but more of a “conditioning” of whatever subsurface you have, be it styrene, resin, Alumilite, etc. When I first started using lacquers, the thinners or reducers were so strong and volatile that you could turn a styrene body shell into a puddle of melted plastic if you were aggressive about painting and used heavy wet coats right away. It seems as if the environmental concerns and restrictions now 30 years later have created a kinder, gentler generation of lacquers, but caution is still the watchword of the day. The benefit is that if you go easy, your first, very light coats can create a barrier to what follows – and that means it’s possible to overcoat some enamels without crazing any earlier coats of paint. The trick is that lacquer solvents tend to evaporate far more quickly than enamels or acrylics, so you can lay down a few barriers and maybe get away with lacquer over enamel – even though conventional wisdom says otherwise. I’ve done it a couple of times, but still feel guilty about it.
After the first few light coats are on, you can check the model for any flaws that may have shown themselves. Correct any of the flaws and then reapply some light coats of primer over those corrected areas. Allow the model to completely cure – 6 to 8 hours will do it if you are pushing – and move on to a couple of medium coats of primer. MCW’s primer is great right out of the bottle. If you are using Duplicolor’s Primer, you should cut it with a little Lacquer Thinner to help it flow through the airbrush better. I’ve found in the cooler weather here in Arizona, that a 4 parts Primer to 1 part additional thinner is a good mix. When things warm up and Arizona is in it’s blistering full glory, more thinner is needed to keep the paint flowing because the thinner evaporates so quickly, and at some point, spraying at high temperatures just isn’t worth it. DuPont used to have a variety of thinners that were temperature adjusted – and you may still be able to find them or products like them. Recheck the model for flaws, rub it down with some 0000 steel wool, and if everything looks good, move on to the next step. (I find that I usually end up rubbing most of this set of primer coats off. They are light applications anyway, so what you end up with will look like the shell in the nearby photo.
Next, I spray the Primer onto the model in two separate pairs of wet coats using 20-25 psi. The key is to make sure the coats are wet as they hit the model. If they aren't, the lacquer will dry as it hits the model and leave you with a rough, almost granular surface. If the paint is drying too fast, try increasing the flow a paint a little or add a little Retarder (if you can find it) to the mix. As an alternative, you can also add a little more thinner, or cut back on your air pressure a little. Hitting the right combination is a matter of adjusting several variables, so try experimenting with several combinations until you hit on something that matches your gear and spraying style. And keep track of the air temperature as you go – adjusting for this will become automatic after a while.
When this set of primer coats has cured (not just dried to the touch, but really cured - give these coats about 12 hours at least), sand the primer with 0000 steel wool or 3200 grit paper. Be sure to get in all the little nooks and crannies and smooth the whole paint job down. At this point you may end up removing almost all the primer, but that's okay. It will show up any places that need repair, so make those before you go on. Be sure to wash and scrub your model with some warm, soapy water and an old toothbrush before your next coat of paint. Hasten drying along with an old hair dryer.
At this point, if your car or truck has any body scripts, fine logos, or body details, you can lay a quick layer of Bare Metal Foil over the details, buffing the chrome down with a soft cotton swab. It isn’t necessary to cut the chrome foil close to the script – in fact, I advise against it. Instead, leave a fair amount around the script in order to give the foil some real bite and allow you to bury the foil in a way that keeps it hidden. I did this on all the logos on the T-bolt and then applied the next layer of paint which is the sealer layer. I know this sounds nuts, but the idea is that after all the paint layers dry, you will be able to go back and carefully rub through the paint back down to the foil, which produces a very delicate and realistic appearance as show in the photos of the finished Shaker. For now, bury the foil in the next coat or two of sealer and we’ll come back to this later on.
Sealer and Color coats
Sealer has a slicker finish to it than straight primer. It comes out very smooth. MCW has a separate sealer like the old DuPont system did and theirs is almost Dark Ghost Grey in color. Alclad’s primers have sealers built into them too and you have several colors to pick from including white, gray, and black. Duplicolor’s primer is a very pale gray and good under light colors like yellow, white, orange, or even red. Choose your sealer wisely, or be prepared to undercoat the final color coat with a base color designed to make your final color “pop” and not “poop”. In a strange twist on this idea, Alclad’s Chrome and Polished Aluminum are recommended to go over a black undercoat, which, very honestly, I thought was crazy when I first read it. However, the gloss black undercoat really brings out the metal depth and shine, so experimenting with the undercoats is well worth doing.
Apply two wet coats of primer/sealer or sealer and allow the model to cure once again. Check for any flaws and rub them out or add paint where needed. This time around be careful to use a progressively lighter grit and to rub as if you were polishing soap bubbles - use a very light touch. Sealers seem to rub out easier than primers. I avoid using any rubbing or polishing compounds at this point to avoid adding any wax or oils to the coats already applied. Instead, be sure after handling the model to once again wash it with soapy water and dry it thoroughly.
The color coats came next. The Shaker is painted Guardsman Blue Metallic. If I were doing an enamel job, the usual practice would be to undercoat the metallic with a coat of metallic silver, but when using lacquers you can either go with the silver or use a white base. White actually makes the color “pop” more, so in this case I applied to light coats of white gloss. You want just enough to cover the sealer coats and give you a neutral base to apply the color coats to.
By now, you must be thinking as I did the first time I did this that all these coats of paint will obliterate any detail. This many using enamel certainly would, but lacquers dry so incredibly thin that we still have a long way to go before we get to that point. Never the less, it is wise to make sure each coat – or at least each color or material – has a chance to fully cure before switching to the next set of layers. I learned this lesson the hard way when I tried rushing a paintjob and found the final color – which had been dead-on when I applied the last wet coat – had shifted to a garish version tinged in grayish shade of cream, which were the dark primer and yellow cream undercoat
Once the white base coat has cured, the first set of color coats go on much the same as the first primer coats. The only difference is that I apply paint to all the edges of the model, such as the fender edges and lips, hood edges. door jams, or roof lines. Once these have set, I then apply two sets of wet coats of color over the entire model.
After the model has cured for a day or so, I check it over for flaws and lightly rub them out using 4000 grit sanding film. A final color coat is applied by thinning the paint a bit more and spraying on only one thin wet coat.
The final color should be both smooth and glossy. If not, start by lightly sanding the body with 6000 grit sanding film to smooth any rough spots and overspray the entire model with a couple of wet coats of Clear thinned and applied the same as the color coats. When you are done, you will be ready for decaling and retrieving the “buried treasure”.
Remember the chrome foil we buried in the paint? Using some very fine polishing compound and a soft rag, you can go back over scripts and details that were covered first in foil and then in paint. Using a very light touch and checking often, polish the raised details until the paint has been worn through and the chrome appears. It won’t take much and you have to really be careful, but the results can be nothing short of exquisite. The trunk lettering and Fairlane scripts were retrieved this way and I like how fine they look when compared to other techniques.
The neat thing about lacquer is that if you screw this part up, going back and doing a patch is much simpler than if you were using enamels. Go too far with enamels, and they can be a bear to patch back up. Lacquers on the other hand blend better, which makes it easier to repair. DuPont actually had a “hot” clear, called “Uniforming Finish”. It had a way of softening the layers immediate below and helped in the blending and leveling process. I haven’t found an equivalent yet, but I’m looking!
Fred Cady had a great sheet of decals for this car. Sheet # 443 supplies you with all the decals you will need to build the car either as Hubert Platt drove it or as it's been restored by Lee Malkemes. The decals come with each color as a separate decal. That's right folks, you register them yourself. Now, this isn't as bad as it sounds. Fred made some of the finest decals around. His film conforms beautifully to compound shapes and layers easily. For that matter his decals are often thinner when layered than some printed, pre-registered types out there on the market. And his decals don't bleed. I've been hooked on his products for years and found them a breeze to use.
The two tricks to using his decals successfully are to trim each decal very carefully and allow each layer to dry completely before adding the next layer. For example, we first applied the white shown in photo #1 on the side of the car. The light blue layer came next, applied as shown in photo #2. The final layer of red then completed the decal in photo #3. Pretty easy, right?
In a variation on that idea, I noticed that the restored version of the car has red piping in the centers of the letters on the back fenders. My hands aren't as steady as they used to be, so I had to find a "cheat" to help me paint in this detail. First I applied a name decal to the side of the car, as in photo #4. When it was dry, I painted over the center of the letters with red oil-based enamel paint, such as Testor’s Pla #1104 Red, photo #5. Don't make the mistake, as I first did, of using a water-based acrylic for this. You'll see why in a moment.
The final step was to apply a second name decal over the first. Thus the red shows through The water based acrylics will bleed if you float another decal over them, so be sure to use an oil-based enamel. Due to the quality of Cady's decals, you can do this over and over and no one will ever know.
Slixx decals also came out with a decal sheet for the Shaker using the more traditional and modern printing methods. Their sheet is #HPTB-1179.
Lacquer coats over decals
When all the decals have been applied and have completely dried (I usually wait a week for that). you can apply a series of clear lacquer coats over them. The trick is to dust the clear over the decals with very light, almost dry coats of clear until you've built up a few light coats.
They will act as a barrier for the final wet coats in order to ensure a high gloss final finish. To get the dusting right. add a little more clear to the paint-to-thinner ratio than before. Then lightly spray the clear on at between 15 and 20 psi. Allow these mist coats to dry about fifteen minutes before adding the next coat. If the clear seems to be drying flat instead of with a sheen, you're on the right track. When it has dried an hour or more, you. can go back over the entire model with some good wet coats of clear, thinned to the original proportions.
When the final coats of clear have dried. wait a day or two before you handle the model. For that matter, wait a week or two if you can before polishing the finish with anything like Novus #2, or one of Meguiar’s products.
You can apply chrome foils right over the final finish with no problem. Just don't use rubbing alcohol to remove any excess glue - it may remove the paint as well. We found that if you use Q-Tip brand cotton swabs to buff the foil down, you won't tear the thin foils as easily. Q- Tips have more cotton and have softer ends than cheaper cotton swabs.
If you happen to get a spot of super glue on the paint, don't use a debonder to get the spot off - it will remove the paint. Hit the glue with some cold water and lightly rub the spot with your finger tip. Then carefully remove the rest of the glue by rubbing it out with 4800 and 6000 grit sanding film. With a little luck and some polishing, you will get the spot out - one of the great advantages of using a lacquer.
The older I get, the more amazed I am at the crazy coincidences that occur in life. Occasionally, a simple little event will kick the wheel chocks out from under the sedate trail you are on, and off you go on a wild rollercoaster ride that takes you all kinds of strange places. You end up experiencing all sorts of things you never expected - always with a few surprising twists to keep things interesting.
Such was the case with my desire to build a 1964 Ford Thunderbolt. When I was a teenager, an older buddy of mine had one and he scared the absolute life out of me in a high-speed demo ride around town that left me convinced that both he and the car were on the wicked edge of nuts. When Revell issued the kit, I bought each version and vowed, of course, to build them but never got around to finding the right one to build.
Life is a scratchbuilding project
Build On &
In Part 2 we'll discuss the detailing that went into the model.
Some would say, and I would agree, that The Little Georgia Shaker was and still is one of the prettiest Thunderbolts that ever screamed down a track. A true gem if ever there was one.
To my knowledge, The Little Georgia Shaker is the only Thunderbolt painted Guardsman Blue, the same color used on Shelby Mustangs, etc. The 13th Thunderbolt built, and originally owned and raced by Hubert Platt. Hubert then painted it Guardsman Blue and lettered it as The Little Georgia Shaker, a variation of a name carried by most of his cars.
When Hubert received his new Ford Falcon the following year (he named that one The Littlest Gerorgia Shaker), Lee Malkemes of Wilkes-Barre purchased the T-bolt from him and re-lettered the car as Malfunction II (Lee’s nickname is “Mal”) and raced it for a while traveling up and down the east coast. At a race in North Carolina against Ronnie Sox and the Sox and Martin team, he hit a chuck hole at the end of one of his warm-up runs. The impact tore the spindle and front right wheel off, sending the car into a wild end-over-end wreck that nearly put it into the woods.
Malkemes broke his neck from the sheer violence of the tumble, but swears he was lucky since he wasn't wearing a helmet. "If I had been wearing a helmet, it would have killed me for sure. The weight of the helmet would have snapped my neck and it would have been all over." Lee said.
After they salvaged the engine and other usable parts out of the car, the hulk lay derelict in a junk yard for many years. Finally, after a trip to the site of his accident with Jim Amos of Bee On Video, Lee got the bug to repair the grand old girl. the beginning of the 1994 racing season, he had restored the car to full racing trim and has been tearing up nostalgia meets with it ever since.
The restored version differs from the original slightly for safety and performance sake, but the car is as faithfully restored as it could be. Collectors apparently agreed. In 2006, Malkemes sold the car through the Barrett-Jackson Auctions for a reported $165,000.
As for Platt, the famous straight-line driver passed away in 2015 after a brief bout with cancer.
Thunderstruck - The Little Georgia Shaker T-Bolt
Most of my projects begin with a real vehicle or prototype that I then try to replicate. These are some samples of the real thing and you can click on the link below to take you to other material used to build the model.