Recently I had the chance to pick up some paint and finish tips from Edwin Alvarez at Corvettes by J & D in Bellflower, California, where they do first-rate professional restorations of classic Corvettes. When they get through with a car, its paint looks so deep, dazzling, and liquid that you could almost go swimming in it. There is no hint of orange peel or other imperfection anywhere in the finish.
To achieve such a level of perfection takes hours of preparation before the car is painted, and more hours of careful hand sanding after the paint has cured, but it is worth it. None of it is easy, and it's anything but quick, but the results are spectacular. This final finishing process is called color sanding, and that is what makes the difference between a trophy winner and an also-ran, but preparation, especially on a fiberglass car, is also important.
Alvarez tells me painting a car such as a Corvette is not like painting a metal-bodied car. That's because fiberglass moves, shrinks, and changes with time. Even the most perfect fiberglass body will, in time, start to show the seams where it was glued together and will show small, shrunken flat spots as well.
This story started out to be about color sanding the new urethanes, but after hanging around at J&D for a few days, I realized there was much more to the story. We won't go into the actual shooting of the paint because that is another story in itself, but we will talk about some of the unique problems fiberglass car painters face, as well as how to color sand the new urethanes to a show-quality finish.
In The Beginning
The major challenge that faces Corvette restorers is getting the old paint off. You don't want to use conventional methyl chloride paint strippers because they can cause damage to the plastic below. About the best way to remove the old finish is to use an air or electric circular sander and 300-grit open coat, dry sandpaper. This process, using such fine sandpaper, takes more time, but it also minimizes the risk of damage to the fiberglass underneath.