Straight-up rattlecan overcoats do much to help even everything up and level everything out don't they. Even during my airbrushing phase I used clear lacquers straight out the can for those reasons, and because I keep my models forever so I like to have a good thick coat of sealer to keep the decals from flaking off in a few decades lol...train guys I know are famous for thinning their clearcoats and yeah some of their older equipment show signs of decals lifting off, some rather badly. Not gonna happen to me, if I can help it. My work doesn't look as microscopically fine as it could but it's a small price to pay for a tough and lasting finish, I think.
Keeping models forever has also taught me that these thick overcoats do settle down over time. On my airplanes I use semi-gloss probably more than I should but over time it settles down to a satin-looking or even flat finish. Of course it's tempting to apply the finish I want right off but the batch of semi-gloss planes I finished 10 years ago during a building binge are calming down rather nicely now. I finished three NMF P-51's in that batch and now the anti-glare panels aren't shiny anymore but the NMF itself still has some nice life left in it.
I don't build for contests but if I did I'd wait ten years to enter anything. :)
I'm not retro, my stash got old. ~John Krukowski