Projects & Repairs --> Restoration --> 1949 Cadillac

Restore an old car.

Restoring A 1949 Cadillac

After 60 Years This Classic Car Needed New Paint

In This Article:

Some trim parts are removed and the paint is sanded down to bare metal. The car is sprayed with two coats of primer and then a basecoat and clearcoat. The finish is buffed to a high polish.

Related Articles:

Skill Level: 3-4 (Intermediate to Advanced)

Time Taken: Over 200 Man-Hours

By Jim Wilk, Licensed Auto Body Technician


Spring 2008:

This 1949 Cadillac was kept in the garage except for parades and sunny Sunday drives.

After 59 years the original paint is worn in some areas the primer is starting to show.

1949 Cadillac in need of restoration. 


 Interior of 1949 Cadillac.

View of interior.


Still original. Interior and dashboard of 49 Caddy. 


 Speedometer and odometer on 1949 Cadillac. Original mileage and speedometer.

The odometer reads 41,185 miles, and we can tell by the amount of wear on the vehicle that the odometer hasn't "rolled over" the 99,999 mile mark.


The owner, who is a collector, asked that we remove as little chrome as possible, because of the rarity of the parts, clips and fasteners. We wanted to maintain the integrity of this Cadillac. There is a chance that when we remove a piece of trim that we wouldn't be able to re-install it without something breaking. 49 Caddy before restoration. 


 Old cadillac with paint worn off rear quarter. Some of the worn paint areas on the left upper side are apparent.

If you think you know old Cadillacs, let me ask you this... where is the gas tank filler?


In the 1940s the only color the Cadillac was manufactured in was black!  


Location of fuel filler and gas cap on 1949 Cadillac.  If you guessed the gas tank filler is under the left taillight, you are right.


It wasn't until the late 40's that General Motors ran out of leftover tank engines from World War Two and Cadillac started making their own engines. 49 Caddy engine. 


Restoring The Cadillac:

  I removed the sun visor first.


Then the headlight rings. Removing headlight trim on 1949 Cadillac restoration job. 


 Removing Cadillac crest or logo on 49 model. Now the Cadillac crest.


The front was ready for strip sanding. 49 Cadillac before sanding off the paint. 


  View of rear.


This 1949 Cadillac design did not allow for a very big trunk. 1949 Caddy with trunk open. 


 Removing paint from old car by power sanding. Strip-sanding, although dusty, allows for good control, unlike chemical striping which has it many drawbacks.

I started by using the 9 inch sander with 40grit sandpaper.

When sanding near chrome moldings I covered the molding with two layers of masking tape.


When sanding I apply light pressure and let the sander do the work. If the paper starts gumming up with paint that means I'm applying too much pressure.

I sand a small area, about one square foot, until the metal and paint get too warm. Than I move to another area of the panel while the first area cools down.

Sometimes I go back and forth between two or three areas until it is somewhat bare. Then I switch to 80 grit sandpaper on a six inch sander.

Restoring a classic car: Removing paint with a sander. 

Caution: Sanding in one area too long can generate excessive heat which can warp the metal and create a wavy panel. This is especially a problem with the thin metal panels on vehicles made after about 1960.

 Old car sanded down to bare metal. For the final sanding I used 150 or 180 grit sandpaper. Then the metal is ready for primer.


Sanding Tools:

These sanders are all air-powered dual-action (random orbital) sanders.

Green Arrow: Finish sander, smooth stroke. This tool is less aggressive than the others.

Red Arrows: Rough sanders, aggressive stroke.

The 9 inch sander (on the right) is very aggressive. We call it "The Hog".

Power sanders used to remove paint from classic car. 


 Sandpaper grits and power sanders. Green arrow: 150 grit.

Red arrows: 80 grit.

White arrow: 40 grit.


Attention To Details
Special Tools Used On The Tail Fins:

The '49 Cadillac has a narrow strip of painted metal between the rear bumper and the tail lights.

If I used the 6 inch sander on this area, there is a serious chance that I could damage the lights or the bumper when I tried to get close to the edges.

So I used a much smaller sanding tool.

Sanding details when restoring an old car.


Small grinder and Roloc discs.

Detail Sanding Tools:

I used this air-powered grinder (which looks like a drill) with an assortment of 3M Roloc abrasive discs.

The green and red discs are fine and coarse abrasive pads. The others are 36 grit sandpaper discs. All of these discs are 3 inches in diameter, and they screw into a holder that mounts in a die grinder.

Roloc discs are also available in 2" diameter, which are useful in very tight spaces.


The entire car has been sanded except for a few small details.

There were a couple of areas around the headlights that I also sanded with this detail sander.

Sanding around tail lights.


Using a detail sander to strip paint around tail lights and bumper on old car. I held the grinder with two hands to keep it steady while I carefully sanded around the edges of the metal.


My goal is to just remove the paint around the edges of the metal. Paint sanded down around edges of metal.


Sanding detail areas with a 6-inch sander. Then I used the 6 inch sander to remove the remaining paint.

I tilted the sander slightly, so only a small patch of the sandpaper was touching the metal. This gives me better control. I wanted to avoid touching the taped-off areas.


In a few minutes, I had removed all of the paint around the tail lights.

Old car after sanding off paint.

Next we lifted the Caddy on a hoist and sanded the bottom areas below the molding, using the 6 inch sander. There's no sense in laying on the floor to work when we have a perfectly good shop hoist.


Getting Ready For Paint:

The masking and taping process. Classic car with masking paper and tape. 


 Final sanding on old car before painting. Devin, the painter of this project, doing some final sanding before priming.


The 49 Caddy after being spray painted with primer.

We used Matrix System 2KPB Urethane Primer, which is a sandable fill primer.

This primer fills in the deep scratches in the metal. It saves us the labor-intensive step of applying automotive painter's putty to the entire car, and then sanding most of it off.

1949 Cadillac after applying gray primer. 


 Classic car restoration: second coat of primer on 49 Caddy. This 1949 Cadillac was primed and block sanded twice.

Note that the left rear fender was not removed because we didn't want to mess with the gas cap and fuel filler hose... and that complicated hinged tail light.


View of the different sanding blocks used. Even a paint mixing stick with sandpaper wrap around it can be used. Some of the sanding bocks are rigid, and some are flexible.

I used 150 grit and then 220 grit sandpaper to scuff-sand the first coat of primer.

Sanding primer before second coat. 


 Second coat of primer being scuff-sanded. Then we primed the Cadillac again.

After drying, we sanded the primer with 320 grit sandpaper.


I used a painter's Scotch pad to wipe the dust away so the deep scratches can be seen. Techniques for sanding automotive primer. 


 49 Caddy in gray primer. The final sanding was almost done.

Then the dust was blown off the vehicle with compressed air... while the spray booth ventilation system was running, which filters the dust out of the air.


I got the job of showing how to get this downdraft spray booth ready for painting.

First I brushed the filters with a broom, then I swept up the dust that fell on the floor.

Cleaning the spray booth before painting the car. 


  Then I swept the floor.


The color black is like a magnet for dust. Paint spray booth, interior. 


 Washing floor of spray booth to control dust. To control dust, I sprayed the floor with a hose.


Then the excess water was squeegeed out of the booth. This prevents water from splashing on the vehicle, plus the floor will be cleaner. Pushing water out of spray booth with squeegee. 


 Old car in spray booth before painting. The vehicle is placed in the proper position and re-taped and masked.

Then we wiped down the entire car with wax and grease remover. This removes any traces of skin oil from touching the car.

After de-greasing, Devin spray painted the car with Matrix System MPB basecoat and MS-42 clearcoat.

The next day I removed the masking. 1949 Cadillac after being spray painted black. 


 49 Caddy, rear. View of rear.


Show-Car Finish:

Bob Mapes, owner of R-Tech Auto Body, wetted the surface with a spray bottle and used 2000 grit sandpaper wrapped around a sponge block to scuff-sand the entire car. Then he rubbed-out and polished the paint to a showroom finish, using a buffer.

Read more about buffing paint to achieve a highly polished surface.

Scuff-sanding a recently-painted car to polish the finish. 


 Replacing parts on newly-painted Cadillac. I replaced the Cadillac crest.


There are vinyl gasket beads that fill the gap between the rear fenders and the body.

I installed new gasket beads. I simply pushed the gasket into the gap.

Installing vinyl gasket beads between body panels on a 1949 Cadillac. 


The Finished Restoration Job:

 49 Cadillac after restoration and new paint. The front of the car looked nice after we re-assembled everything.


Re-assembling the car is a meticulous job... you need to be extra careful not to scratch the paint.

But the results are worth the effort.

Rear view of 1949 Cadillac after restoration and new paint. 


Rear of 1949 Cadillac after restoration and new paint. The paint is so shiny you can see reflections in it.


Ready to leave the building. 1949 Caddy restored at R-Tech Auto Body in Traverse City Michigan. 


 Bob Mapes and old Cadillac restored at R-Tech Auto Body in Traverse City Michigan. Bob Mapes, owner of R-Tech Auto Body, and his junior partner.


The 49 Caddy is ready for parades again... Shiny 1949 black Cadillac after restoration. 


 1949 black Cadillac repainted at R-Tech Auto Body in Traverse City, Michigan. ...or an occasional Sunday drive.

Note the fall color in the trees in the background. We started this restoration job in the spring and finished it in the fall. Like many independent body shops, we do these restoration projects whenever we have some spare time between collision repair jobs. It's common for a project to take several months, but it helps keep the cost down.

More Info:

Tools Used:

  • Basic Mechanic's Tools
  • Sanders, 6", 9"
  • Die Grinder
  • Sanding Blocks
  • Spray Gun

Materials Used:

  • Sanding Discs, 150, 180, 220, 320 grit.
  • Roloc Discs, 36 grit, etc.
  • Sandpaper: 150, 220, 320 grit.
  • Primer: Matrix System 2KPB Urethane Primer
  • Matrix System MPB Basecoat
  • Matrix System MS-42 Clearcoat

Related Articles:

Web Links:



Home  |  What's New  |  Projects & Repairs  |  Links  |  Contact Us
Search Page

Copyright 2009
All Rights Reserved

Written February 19, 2009