Very nice job. Yes, keep the paint around. The firebox gets up way over 1000 degrees and the stuff will flake off after a few smokes, especially the front of it near the smoke chamber and the top of it.
Got yourself a nice rig now. Welcome to the world of cutting wood in your spare time! Take your time learnin the smoker, and what it wants. You will be rewarded nicely.
I had a 73 maverick growing up. it was my second car, inline 6, what a wonderful inexpensive way to get around. Drove it to the junkyard stuck in first gear, and drove it into the pile of cars( I was young then) It had 297.000 miles on it, same engine, just had to replace the cam at 145K.