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Ice work ... if you can get it; Diamonds are a car's best friend, or so motor giants Nissan have found in the bid to get the best paint jobs. RUSSELL BRAY reports.

Security guard Alan Howat has an unusual job ... guarding diamonds.

That might not strike you as that unusual.

But Alan isn't employed at a jeweller's or guarding bank vaults.

He works for Nissan at the Oriental car giant's factory near Sunderland.

And it's Nissan's obsession with quality rather than a move into diamond trading that allowed him a brief chance to display more than 700 of the gems on his hat.

The diamonds in our picture are about eight months supply for the factory.

They are fired at car paintwork at speeds of more than 100 miles an hour as a unique means to measure its toughness against stone chips.

Nissan revealed their technique when they opened their doors for the first time to show some of the secrets behind its high-quality cars.

Diamond, the hardest substance known to man and many hundred times harder than stone, is used because its regular shape gives a consistent result.

Paint test panels are frozen to -20C because paint is like plastic and more brittle at low temperatures.

Diamonds - at pounds 18.50 each - are then fired down a long glass blowpipe using compressed air.

Ninety shots are fired at a different part of each panel and the depth of damage and the profile of the fracture is then examined by microscope.

Paint is slightly porous so it's only part of the surface protection a car's body needs. Full protection is achieved using a combination of coatings that "lock" together.

After clear top coats and "surfacers" there is a self-healing phosphate over the base steel to inhibit corrosion.

Failure in the tests could mean the coatings are not binding together correctly, the paint was wrongly applied or the "mix" has slipped.

Doing tests on the factory site allows any problems to be sorted out as quickly as possible.

AFTER repeated firings, the diamonds are no longer of use and are environmentally disposed of.

Nissan also tests its paint for chemical resistance and even has its own formula for "aggressive" bird droppings.

A mix of egg albumen - with a total nitrogen content of 14 per cent - and water, it is baked on for an hour at 50C and a humidity of 30 per cent. Afterwards, the panel is checked for swelling, shrinking and cracking.

Other substances used for resistance testing include sulphuric acid, petrol, oil, screen wash, insects and even acid rain.

Sunlight doesn't just age us, it ages paint too.

Looking like a big arc welder of the future from Tomorrow's World, a carbon arc weatherometer is a device to simulate in 1500 hours 10 years of real-life exposure of the paint to the elements.

Step inside and you could get a real suntan in five minutes.

Conditions from Florida sun to the humidity in Okinawa, Japan, can all be produced, along with rainfall.

All car manufacturers do some tests and so do paint manufacturers, but I have never been shown such obsessive attention to quality.

Nissan carries out 500 tests and insists the paint makers do the same.

"We are asking for a superior product for our vehicles, but they may use our ideas and philosophy for other people," says paint technologist Ian Burgman.

"This is our worldwide standard. Some car makers only do 27 tests, others as many as 96."

Nissan are the first car makers in Europe to offer a production line model using high technology ChromaFlair "flip" paints.

The paint acts like millions of prisms with multi-layered flakes, no thicker than a human hair, breaking up natural light and reflecting colour according to the thickness of the layers.

Mystic green versions of the special edition Primera GT flip from green to purple.

So, with all this high tech, is it still worth spending a Sunday afternoon once every couple of months polishing?

Yes, the protection is worth it, say the experts.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Bray, Russell
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jul 8, 1998
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