How To Refurbish Your Engine Bay – Hot Rod
With a lot of elbow grease you can look good when you pop the hood.
When our classics rolled out of the factory, the engine bay was designed to be functional, but not really what we would consider visually stunning. It was simply a place to house the drivetrain with maybe a few chrome widgets to spruce it up a bit. Of course, 50 years of wear and tear means it’s most likely time to refurbish your engine bay.
Now, there’s two ways you can go: custom or restored. Restored would be getting back to looking how it did from the factory, while custom would let you do as little or as much as you want and can afford. Either path requires planning and a fair amount of old-fashioned elbow grease.
How to clean up your dirty engine bay
As you would expect with a 50-year-old engine bay, the one on this Camaro was just worn out and tired looking. How good your project comes out will come down to how much effort you’re willing to expend and how many parts you are able to remove.
The engine bay was sound, meaning no rust, large dents, or other damage, but it was covered in 50 years of oil, grime, and surface rust. The process here is simple but messy (putting down a tarp under your car is good move). Spray with degreaser, scrape, spray, scrape some more, and just keep going until you’re down to clean metal. Pulling the engine makes all of this much easier and will give you a chance to clean up and detail the engine as well (as well as replace any leaking gaskets such as the one for the oil pan).
A real time-saver is using a pressure washer loaded up with some grease cutting soap. We wouldn’t advise doing this in your driveway. Also, if the engine is in place, be sure to protect areas from water intrusion.
After a long day of scraping and blasting you’ll be left with a clean, though still ugly, engine bay. Keep in mind that any exposed metal will quickly develop surface rust, so work fast with some paint. You can also use a rust inhibiting spray or surface rust converter.
Making your engine bay look great is more than just fresh paint. Replacing the worn bits with fresh ones will make a huge overall impact. The best part is that small widgets like these hood bumpers are cheap and easy to find.
Stock wiper motors are pretty ugly, and while painting them will help, we would suggest, if the budget allows, replacing it with either a unit from Detroit Speed or one of the hidden systems from Raingear. Either way you go, remove it from the firewall so you can do a better job.
Of course, it’s best to do these repaints before you install pretty parts, such as tubular control arms, but if those parts in place then be sure to mask them off to prevent overspray.
When dealing with the brake booster or master, we would unbolt it from the firewall, pull it forward a bit, and wrap it in a bag. Removing all the way is better, but then you’ll have to deal with brake fluid and bleeding the system when you’re done.
The more sanding and work you put in before paint, the better the results will be in the end. There are really no shortcuts here unless you own a media blaster.
With the engine bay completely sanded, we moved on to paint. You can just rattle-can it, or you can try some of the new products from Eastwood. Our bay was nearly rust free, but we hit a few surface rust areas with their Rust Encapsulator. To use it, we simply sprayed it directly over the surface rust. The encapsulator is a great product because it neutralizes the rust and keeps it from spreading.
Before painting we wiped down the surfaces with Eastwood’s Low Voc Pre Painting Prep. This cleaner helped remove any last wax, grease, or dirt from the surfaces. After all, paint sticks great to metal, not so much to contaminants. We simply sprayed the surface and then wiped it down with a clean rag.
Eastwood’s 2K Aero-Spray line of paints use a two-component system to create a very durable paint similar to what you would get from a spray gun. To activate the paint, we used the red cap to push in a plunger on the bottom of the can that punctured a bladder inside the can. You need to shake the can for around two minutes to mix the catalyst with the paint; once opened you’ll have around 48 hours to use it up. Because this product is the same as what comes out of a spray gun (contains isocyanates), Eastwood states you should wear eye, skin, and respiratory protection when using it. You’ll also want to do it in a very well-ventilated area. If this isn’t for you, then we highly recommend SEM Trim Black because it’s easy to use, covers evenly, and looks great. You can buy the SEM online or at many automotive refinishing suppliers.
For a better final product, we gave most of the major areas a layer of Eastwood’s epoxy primer (PN 14149 Z). The spray pattern was much broader than a typical spray can, which made covering the areas easier. Make sure you mask off everything to prevent overspray. Once dry, we hit it with some 500-grit sandpaper. Again, painting is all about the amount of prep work you’re willing to do.
We then sprayed the core support, inner wheelhouses, and firewall with the low gloss under-hood paint (PN 14147 Z). For the frame, we used their satin-black Chassis Black two-part paint (PN 14145 Z). It will take more black paint to cover the grey primer, so if you want to save some cash skip it (or find a black primer) and go directly to paint. In our case, we used almost three cans of the low-gloss under-hood paint and two cans of the Chassis Black.
With the engine bay painted you’re ready to reinstall your painted and detailed original engine or a new mill. We also need to paint the rusty cast iron brake master. The project took two very long days, but it was time well spent.
In our case, we’re dropping in a shiny new Chevrolet Performance 383 crate engine. We also added one of Chevrolet’s super-affordable small-block serpentine drive systems.
And after adding the rest of the needed bits, including a radiator close out panel from Detroit Speed, the engine bay in our Camaro was looking great and nothing like the mess we started with.
Another sad engine bay we refurbished was the one in this 1969 Nova. Even with the cool stickers, and new fuel filter, it was a complete mess.
Unlike the Camaro, we went all out on this engine bay by pulling the front sheet metal and professionally painting everything to match the car. The engine is basic 350 crate engine from Chevrolet that we dressed up with a billet serpentine drive system from Eddie Motorsports.
We also went further on this project by adding billet hood hinges and fancy fasteners from Eddie Motorsports. When doing a custom engine bay, these little touches really add up to set you apart from the crowd.
Even hood bumpers can get the custom treatment.
As you can see, this route, while more expensive, yielded an even better end result. Whatever direction you decide to go with your engine bay be sure to have fun giving your car your own personal touch.
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