What to expect with your new RCR car
Expectations- Your kit and what to expect
Building any car isn’t really like a Lego. While the RCR cars are probably the easiest cars of their type to build, you must be determined, be able to overcome issues, and generally keep a cool head, because sometimes - as with any complex project- you will occasionally find yourself stuck for a while. We’ve found that the number one contributor to satisfaction with the build process is not having a tool-filled shop or garage, or even having built a car before. Instead, it is all about having the right expectations. This is quickly followed by patience and determination. This section is an attempt to explain things in advance, so your expectations are in sync with reality.
What is “gelcoat” anyway, and why is it on the bodies?
All high quality composite bodies use a substrate that is visible on the outside of the panel. This material is called gel coat, named for it’s thick, jelly-like consistency when applied to the mold as one of the first parts of the panel-making process. When cured, gelcoat becomes a thick, hard layer of color that covers the natural-color of the fiberglass or other composite material and resin. Because the quality of RCR bodies is so high, some builders prefer to sand down the mold lines, and buff the gel coat to a high finish, saving the time and expense of paint. Done this way, a gelcoat finish can last several years and still look good. We’ve even seen some builders buff the body, and spray it with a normal automotive clear coat to preserve the gelcoat finish even longer. And of course, it makes a perfect foundation for a normal paint job, in any color. Cars are available with a wide range of gelcoat colors at no additional charge.
So what does it look like when you get the car?
Well, the body will have small mold lines that you will need to carefully sand down until they are level with the rest of the body. This is normal, and not a defect. When done carefully, you won’t be able to see these lines in the gel coat unless you get close to the car. Sometimes you can completely remove them. You will also end up polishing the gelcoat for a shinier finish as well. If the body doesn’t gleam when you get it- it isn’t supposed to. You need to either polish it, or prep for paint. From ten feet, the car can be polished to look very good indeed. Many people have come up to the factory race car and remarked on the paint- but it is just polished gelcoat!
A painted body will always look better than a polished gelcoat, mostly due to the effort required to prepare the body for paint- any minor defects will be corrected, and the car can be painted to look just as good, or better, than a factory car.
Comment from one builder:
"I was planning on going with a gel coat finish. I spent a lot of time being extra careful and patching the gel coat as I went along. While the car looked good in gelcoat, I ended up having it painted. I sure wish I didn't spend the effort trying to keep the gel coat perfect."
Will the body have imperfections in the finish?
Yes. No fiberglass body is perfect from the mold, and occasionally small defects will be present. You might see an area where the gelcoat was missed, or where a chip was created in handling, or where there are one or more other small issues. These can all be fixed with a small bottle of gelcoat that can be applied to the affected area, and polished out until it is fixed. These are a normal part of any fiberglass body and don’t constitute a defect per se- just a normal part of manufacturing low-volume fiberglass bodies.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of polishing the gelcoat instead of painting?
Just polishing the gelcoat and correcting any minor problems can be done in much less time than prep for paint, so the investment of time and materials is very low compared to paint. However, a properly painted surface will last longer than a gelcoat surface. Since there is no UV protection, eventually gelcoat finishes will fade, especially reds. They can sometimes be brought back to life after a few years in the sun, but there is a limit to how often that can be done. Some builders polish the gelcoat and then spray the car with a good automotive clearcoat. This protects the gelcoat from UV degradation, and is a less-expensive solution that a full paint job.
Painting the car allows bodywork to be done, and if you are adding features like fender vents, they can be blended in much more professionally with a painted solution compared to polishing gelcoat, as the edges can be covered, and painted as well as the rest of the body. If you have damaged the car body while working on it, the paint option allows you to repair that damage with normal body repair techniques and completely hide them under prep and paint. That’s harder- and sometimes impossible- with just a polished gelcoat finish.
Who are the best candidates for just polishing gelcoat instead of painting?
A racecar is a great candidate for polishing gelcoat. You’ll save thousands in paint prep, and the car will look very good on track, and in the pits. Many racers just polish and go, as it is faster and cheaper on a race car where show car finishes are not expected or desired. On the other hand, if you want to compete in car shows, you need to paint the car- this is the only way to achieve perfect or close to perfect results.
All of the RCR cars have really good fit considering they are low-volume fiberglass-bodied cars. Right out of the mold, you can get pretty good fitment with just careful movement of the various body pieces. But no car like this will have 2mm body gaps like certain new production cars. Production car manufacturers can maintain those tight gaps in part because the parts are steel, not fiberglass, and because those manufacturers have economies of scale that permit them to make precision steel press-molds that are extremely expensive. If you require very tight body gaps like your new Mercedes S-class, fiberglass kit cars may not be realistic for you, as even if you do the body massaging necessary to get to those gaps, the bodies will move over time and lose some of the gap precision you put into the car in the beginning. What is realistic? Most cars of this type have 3/16” gaps, and the better cars can usually get to that or 1/8” gaps at best.
Most kits are delivered in 18 weeks or less. But sometimes, stuff happens and they don’t. Some of the things that affect delivery dates are listed below:
Deviation from the standard: For example, when you ask the factory to make the car fit an engine they’ve never done before, sometimes that takes more time. Or when a new transaxle is specified- it usually looks simple, but the details usually take more time than expected. If you can’t tolerate a delay for these reasons, don’t deviate from the standard, or better yet, consider whether building a car is really a good idea.
Changes to the order: For example, when a buyer selects a gelcoat color, and then changes it mid stream, it sets back the entire manufacturing order. Expect a delay, and don’t be upset if cars that were ordered after yours are delivered ahead of you- changes cause problems in the manufacturing process, and while RCR is very flexible, they can’t make miracles happen very often. This is true for any change, including wheels, tires, chassis or body options, etc.
Options choices that are not high volume: For example, if you choose to get factory-installed wide flares on your new GT40 MKII, the flares may not be in stock, and will have to be built in line with others.
Delays from suppliers: Wheels, fuel fillers, instruments and other parts not made directly by RCR are often the source of delays. Some people say “Why doesn’t RCR just change vendors to those that can produce things on time?” Of course, if it were that easy, it would have been done long ago. For many reasons, it is almost impossible to keep stock of every part for every car at all times. Sometimes a vendor will only make a production run every six months. If the factory has an unexpected run of orders, and existing stock that was thought to be adequate is exhausted, the parts just won’t be ready until that production run is finished, no matter how often you, or the factory calls. Many times there is only one vendor of a part, and if that vendor is out of stock, there is little the factory can do about it. Most of the time, cars now ship with no or virtually no back ordered parts. But it does happen, and you must be able to tolerate that uncertainty. Eventually, they all come in, usually well before you actually need them. But parts shortages do happen, and you need to be prepared for the possibility of that. This is actually the biggest source of delayed deliveries, and something we are constantly working to make better. But it is likely to continue to be a challenge for the long term, as is the case for any small-volume manufacturer that has to rely on other suppliers for specialized parts.
Occasional unexpected circumstances: A couple of years ago, the factory moved to a much bigger, more efficient building to accommodate increased volume. That one-time move caused some cars to miss their expected delivery dates. They all got delivered, but the move took longer than anyone expected, and that affected deliveries. We don’t expect to have to move again for a long time, as we have lots of space now, but it’s an example of something that took longer than expected and caused some delivery delays.
Despite all this, most kits are actually delivered on time and very complete. The key here is to manage expectations. We do very well for the industry, but there are sometimes occasional delays, and every builder needs to be able to understand that and be able to deal with them when (and if) they arise. If you can, you will enjoy the build!