Silver Bullet Blue Flame Edition

Shiuming Lai rebuilds and redecorates the company Jag, Wolfsburg style!


[Photo: Jaguar in silver]

Here at MyAtari Towers we love a blast on Tempest 2000 in between editing and laying out articles. 19 months ago I thought about over-clocking our big cat but only got as far as removing the internal top-shielding to study where to stick and what size heat sinks. I remember even further back at university reading on Usenet someone got really nice frame-rates on Hover Strike with 50+ MHz GPU/DSP, but had neglected to keep the system cool so it only lasted a matter of seconds...

[Photo: VW Reflex Silver paint set]

More recently I looked at the spray paint set that was bundled with my car and a light bulb appeared above my head. While I sub-consciously deliberate over the Jaguar's bits and chips I'll give it a face-lift! Unless you know what you're doing, any repair on a new car needing a re-spray is best left to the professionals, and with the best-before date of early 2004 coming up I didn't want to waste it.

Design considerations
First of all, there's no point modifying something only to make it worse in any respect. The Jaguar is a lovely piece of kit as it is, we only want to enhance that. After doing a feasibility study I decided to only paint the Jaguar itself and not the controllers, because the latter are exposed to far more handling and thus more likely to develop unsightly patches of wear and tear. This, and other points covered in this article, will be applicable and adaptable to your own personal projects, too.

[Photo: Original unmodified Jaguar]

Stock Atari Jaguar before going under the knife. Note my cool black IBM keyboard, which has blue LEDs although you can't see them in this picture. IBM was contracted to manufacture and distribute the Jaguar, since Atari had sold its own Taiwan assembly plant.

Anything with detachable parts, be they moving or just sub-assemblies should be stripped down and painted individually, to achieve the best quality finish. Masking is quicker but I only recommend this in cases where no other sensible solution is available. For example, I wanted to preserve the product information label underneath, because it gives authenticity. I've seen many car tuning enthusiasts like to "de-badge" their motors, removing all trace of original names and logos; this is not my style, it just reminds me of the naff old days when BBC Television covered up or removed all product logos in programmes, because as part of a public-funded corporation through license fees it was deemed inappropriate to show commercial branding, or something like that. I could have peeled it off and stuck it back on after painting but no matter how carefully labels are removed, it's impossible to get them back on looking the same, or factory-like.

[Photo: Masking the bottom label]

The arched shape of this label is no problem to mask. Align the masking tape perfectly along the straight edge.

[Photo: Mask cut to size]

Then using a scalpel with a new blade, carefully follow the indentation of the plastic at either side and the curved top, to get a perfect mask.

[Photo: Jaguar's rubber feet]

I also prised off the rubber feet using a flat-blade screwdriver. They wouldn't have the same grip if painted over. The adhesive layer on them is very strong and good for re-use so be careful not to scrape if off.

Next was to remove the red power button and power indicator light from the top half of the case (oh, I haven't mentioned about taking the Jaguar apart but it's so simple, just four screws for the case and another four inside holding the motherboard). The power button was easy, being a spring-loaded affair with two integral retention clips. The power light was more difficult. In some equipment you see the exposed LED head itself, in others there are shaped and sometimes coloured lenses, or even "light pipes" for bending it around corners or channelling it further away to reach awkward spots without diffusing too much. Atari chose the latter and mounted the LED right against the PCB. A common light plastics manufacturing technique is used to hold it in place: the smaller part is mounted on some posts, the tops of which are melted, forming a rivet-like head that must be scraped or chiselled away. After this, the posts will still be good for one more melting, using the tip of a soldering iron, to put the part back in place. Otherwise good old-fashioned glue will do the job.

[Photo: Power light and switch fitting]

[Photo: Power switch]

[Photo: Power switch and light lens removed]

Pre-painting preparation
Surfaces should be lightly sanded down prior to painting but I didn't do this for lack of a suitable grade paper (lame excuse, really). It is also important is that the surfaces are clean and grease-free. To this end I used normal domestic dish-washing detergent, hot water and a scrubbing brush, until everything was literally squeaky-clean. Once the two halves of the case were dry I sprayed on some plastic primer (which is designed to give the paint maximum surface adhesion), and allowed it to dry for 24 hours before applying the base colour coat, as suggested in the instructions. Primer comes in various colours, use the one that is the closest match to the colour coat.

[Photo: Grey plastic primer]

[Photo: First coat of silver]

[Photo: Wrong texture on finish]

Silver saturation
Remember the '70s? I do, just. Serious hi-fi separates were chunky and silver. In the next decade it all suddenly changed to black and silver hi-fi went out with flares and platform shoes. Now we've come full-circle and today we're inundated with silver consumer electronics and, of course, silver cars everywhere on our roads! Modern clean-cut design and materials have shown that silver, when done properly, has a stunning effect, without the cheese factor of gold which is obviously not gold (though admittedly I'm quite partial to brushed champagne gold hi-fi). Silver is high-tech and industrial as well as glamorous, a perfect marriage.

The first silver coat went on very smoothly, but when I came to spray the second coat, the small can (150 ml) began to expire, due to all the test patches I had sprayed, otherwise it would have been just enough. Care must be taken here: always shake the can between sessions (even if allowing the painted surface to dry for 10-15 minutes between coats). Towards the end, the paint can have a tendency to come out with a slightly different composition, the metallic pigment literally separating from the solution mid-spray (this can also happen if the spray distance is too great, so you need to experiment, I find about 25-30 cm is right). In the picture above, this can be seen as a slightly off dark/dull patch (circled). The texture of the finish is no different but the pigment is not there so it catches the light differently.

My options were to sand the patch down to reveal the good coat underneath or buy some more paint and paint over it, I chose the latter when I found I'd missed the bottom of the side skirts (where the top and bottom of the case meet) and an area at the back.

I drove into Kingston upon Thames early one morning to shop for paint. Going back to the subject of logos, there was no way I could mask the intricate Jaguar logo emblazoned on the top of the case so I simply sprayed over it, with the plan to screen-print a much larger logo down one side in its place. Regular spray-painters will know how closely the paint follows surface contours, so in fact I was left with a feint Jaguar logo in relief from the original printing. This was sufficient to use as a guide-line for hand-painting it back in the original position, because considering that the Jaguar logo type is a brush script anyway, any handiwork imperfections would not be as drastically visible. After parking my car and taking a round-trip walk of the town centre I still had to wait for the model shop to open, then I could purchase a small pot of enamel paint and a rather pricey fine brush. The cheaper ones were too soft.

As far as colour choice was concerned, it had to be blue. I'd compared a silver paint with various shades of blue and other metallics but settled for striking "Lego" blue. Then it was off to my local VW dealer for some more of that lovely Reflex Silver, unfortunately it was only sold as a set with yet more lacquer so I ended up with something extra I didn't need.

[Photo: Blue modelling enamel paint]

[Photo: Testing pad]

[Photo: Pencil outline of Jaguar logo]

[Photo: Side view of finished logo]

The day before, I'd sprayed an old floppy disk (chosen for its similar material properties to the Jaguar casing) in silver to act as my testing pad for the blue paint. I strained to keep an eye on the Jaguar logo contours while painting, then had the forehead-slappingly simple idea to sketch the rest of it out in pencil outline first!

Paint finishing
What gives metallic car paintwork its incredible lustre? It's not just the base colour, it's also the final coat of clear protective lacquer. My previous attempts at lacquering were disastrous - the critical point to understand is that the base colour must first dry and harden properly, and I don't mean dry to the touch (which happens well within the hour) or even a couple of days, otherwise the lacquer reacts with the paint and melts it away destroying all that hard work! VW's scant instructions gave no hint of the the drying time of its paints but I knew from other brands to expect around 10-14 days in normal (without forced heating) conditions. I noticed from the repair patch I sprayed on the domed part of the case that even after several days of being dry to the touch, the more recently sprayed part still released paint odour. Once this had subsided, I used a fan heater to further accelerate the drying. Doing this brought out some more odour from the new patch, but not the rest of the painted area. So if you heat your painted object (within reason, no hotter than you would use to dry your hair because you don't want to distort the plastic) and it still smells of paint, it's almost certainly not yet ready for lacquering.

Watching paint dry
Looking at the fully painted Jaguar I just wanted to finish and enjoy it as soon as possible, so I needed some distractions to allow the paint to harden. Good things take time. The diffuse green power LED had to come out, I replaced it with a water clear blue type (3.3 V rating, part JA30H from Maplin Electronics,, for maximum focus and brightness. I cannibalized one of my spare previously modified PCs for this, because my local Maplin store doesn't seem to grasp that I buy blue LEDs practically every week and never carries stock. I'm very impatient when it comes to getting materials for projects!

While the motherboard was out on the bench I put a dab of metal polish on the RF output socket and restored it to its original glory. It would then gleam like a chrome-tipped performance exhaust!

[Photo: Original green diffuse LED]

[Photo: RF modulator]

[Photo: New blue LED in place]

Lacquer is very difficult to apply perfectly on irregular surfaces, much more so than base colour. It's clear, making it hard to see how it's going on (especially with a reflective metallic base coat), and it's less viscous, meaning it runs more easily. When you spray metallic paint, you can see any blotches magically evening themselves out, so you get a nice consistent finish. Not so with lacquer! It must go on perfectly first time and any excess should be gently brushed off immediately, because it quickly starts to set and will form lumps where it is dripping. Any attempt to remove excess after this point will "scar" the lacquer. My main concern with this project was to get a good finish on the top, the bottom was not so important, especially as the Jaguar's underside is more heavily textured and would negate the shining effect. Despite a few drips, everything went quite well. All that remained was to clean up, stick on a nice badge and then polish for a super-smooth protective shine before re-assembling.

[Photo: Applying the badge]

[Photo: Washing]

[Photo: Polishing]

[Photo: Polish drying off]

[Photo: Extra gloss sealant]

[Photo: Two halves before assembly]

From start to finish this project took two weeks and 21.42 in styling materials - the Jaguar itself only cost 15! If any readers have personalized Ataris or hints and tips please send us pictures, we'd love to see your mean machines!

[Image: Blue Jaguar logo]


[Image: Style.]

[Photo: Jaguar gallery 1]

[Photo: Jaguar gallery 2]


[Image: Power.]

[Photo: Jaguar gallery 3]

[Photo: Jaguar gallery 4]

[Photo: Jaguar gallery 5]

[Photo: Jaguar gallery 6]

[Photo: Jaguar gallery 7]


[Image: Docking station.]

[Photo: Jaguar gallery 8]

[Photo: Jaguar gallery 9]

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MyAtari magazine - Feature #3, October 2002

Copyright 2002 MyAtari magazine