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Ever since we’ve put the mechanical bits back in order on our 2001 Discovery, we’ve been dying to start having fun with it. When we picked it up, it was fairly complete and mostly functional (except for that engine), so it didn’t need a lot to put it straight. A new headliner was installed and a couple trips to the local U-Pick-It yard netted the few missing trim items on the interior. The only part looking slightly sad now was the exterior, which showed ten years of suburban weathering plus a minor rust bubble where one too many garage scrapes had done more serious damage. A previous fender bender on the right side also meant there were small inconsistencies from panel to panel. What we needed was a quick and dirty paint job, only quicker and dir… well, cheaper.
When we visited the SEMA show last fall, we took notice of the numerous companies that have popped up to offer pressure-sensitive, self-sticking vinyl film engineered for the express purpose of wrapping complete vehicles. Far from just a giant sticker, these advanced films offer superior adhesion and surface shaping characteristics, allowing them to conform — and stay adhered — to just about any clean, non-porous surface. We had to try this out, and we figured the relatively flat surfaces of the Discovery might be an ideal canvas for our first attempt.
A call to a local sign shop armed us with product lists from both Avery (the same company that does the ubiquitous mailing labels, among other sticky office supplies) and 3M. We scoured each company’s color palettes, but were drawn to the more comprehensive list of matte finish films from 3M. Once we convinced them we were a top-notch graphics shop, they also sent out several sample packs, allowing us to test drive our options before making the big buy.
We were universally drawn to the Matte Military Green film as an appropriate choice for a Land Rover. A 5-foot-by-25-yard roll was ordered up, ensuring we’d have enough for screw-ups and any other eventualities, with perhaps a bit left over to stretch across some motorcycle parts.
Prepping the Rover for its color change was a fairly straightforward affair, consisting of a thorough washing and drying, followed by an exfoliation with a clay bar. Next, all of the interfering external hardware such as lights, washer nozzles, door handles and rear hatch trim was removed. A final once-over with body prep solvent removed any traces of waxes or oils that might prevent good contact between the paint and the adhesive.
While many of the pro shops can run a sheet of film over the entire length of a vehicle in one shot, we chose to cover one panel at a time, starting with hood. A section of film was cut large enough to drape every edge by at least a couple inches. The backing paper was removed and the vinyl laid out onto the broad panel, carefully so as not to kink it or get it stuck to itself. Starting at the center, we used a hard rubber squeegee — the same type used to install window tint film — to smooth out the film on the hood, working progressively outward toward the corners.
From the beginning, we knew the raised “Land Rover” letters on the hood, as well as those for “Discovery” and “V8” on the back, would be covered rather than trimmed out to create the effect that they had been stamped into the metal, such as on a pickup truck tailgate. A heat gun instantly relaxed the vinyl, allowing it to conform to the contours of the letters. Fresh double-edge razor blades perforated the film enough to release any air that had been trapped and bubbled underneath.
Once we were satisfied with the lay-down, we trimmed the edges so that the vinyl would roll under each edge for a clean look. The same basic method was repeated down both sides of the Disco, working the 3M film from the center of each panel outward until it covered smoothly. Only the roof and the rear cargo door proved really challenging. The roof is so large that the five-foot width of the film couldn’t reach edge to edge. In addition, the roof rails were left in place, as removing them would have required pulling out the headliner. The solution to both obstacles was to cover the sides of the roof first, pulling the film up in between and just beyond the roof rails. Then a final sheet was run over the top of the roof, covering the edges of the side pieces. The rear door features both concave and convex surface details, making the lay-down more difficult than the relatively flat hood, doors and fenders; luckily, the spare tire assembly covers most of the small imperfections (a couple wrinkles and stretch marks from overworking the film).
Over the course of three days, the old Land Rover was transformed from its worn-out, ubiquitous metallic green to a more distinct, less conventional military hue. The total cost of the film was around $300, far less than even Earl Scheib will do these days, and the only cleanup was backing paper and vinyl scraps. As for durability, it’s been through the automatic car wash twice now with no issues, and a couple of brush scrapes picked up on a trail have required no more than simple window cleaner to remove.
All told, the 3M color change was quick, inexpensive and very effective. The color itself has drawn mixed reactions, but those tend to fall predominantly along gender lines, girls not so much digging the military look. The rest of us, however, think it suits the truck just fine. As far as improving its looks, we say, “mission accomplished.”