The steel valve covers on my '67 big-block coupe had seen better days-the paint was peeling and traces of rust were starting to lift the paint in other spots. This is a natural occurrence when you live in a reasonably damp and humid environment, such as on the New Jersey shore where I hang my Corvette hat. I decided that some underhood beautification was long overdue, so I took off my valve covers and proceeded to refurbish them, documenting the process along the way.
It doesn't matter if you've got a small-block engine in your Corvette; as long as it has painted steel valve covers, the steps I'm showing here will apply to them as well. To get the absolute best results, you'll have to strip the valve covers down to bare metal. While you can use chemical paint strippers, I don't like them for three reasons: 1) the stuff is very caustic; 2) disposing of it is not easy if you want to be ecologically correct; and 3) the stuff makes a royal mess. That being said, another choice is sand- or bead-blasting, and that's the route I choose.
You don't need a large or expensive blasting cabinet to do this job. I use a hand-held sandblasting gun I got from Sears for about $50, and it does a very adequate job on items like valve covers, intake manifolds, and other small parts. The gun holds about 5 pounds of blasting media, which does quite a bit of surface area. Of course, you'll need an air compressor to power the blasting gun. And you'll definitely want to use eye protection, some heavy gloves, and other protective clothing because sand particles propelled at high speed hurt! I highly recommend using a face shield rather than just goggles since getting pelted in the face with ricocheting sand is no fun, believe me!
You're going to need some primer to seal and prep the bare steel for paint, and you'll also need the appropriate color spray enamel for your valve covers. My '67 required good old Chevy Orange, but for later years, blue would be the right color. While you're at it, you would do well to get yourself a couple of spray can trigger grips. they make controlling the spray a lot easier and much more comfortable than pressing the spray button on the can with your finger.
Be sure to choose a work area that has lots of light and is far enough away from other objects you don't want to get hit with sand or overspray. I used a plastic tarp in the yard to blast on, and this (or an old shower curtain) will work just as well in your driveway. In addition to catching the spent sand, there will also be paint particles and chips in the mix. this paint waste is toxic, so dispose of this sandy refuse in a responsible manner.
As I mentioned, I live on the New Jersey shore, so getting sand is no problem whatsoever-it's literally all over the place. However, if you live in an area that's far away from the beach, you can pick up a 50-pound bag of sandbox sand or sand for cement mixing at the local home center for under $5. Fifty pounds will be more than enough to do a pair of valve covers, and you'll have plenty of it leftover for other projects.
As for spraying the primer and color coats, the ideal situation is to have a spray booth, so if you have access to one, by all means use it. I, however, don't have that luxury, so my spray station consisted of a piece of plywood on two saw horses in my garage with the door open for ventilation. I used a disassembled cardboard box to act as a backsplash, and I wore a disposable dust mask. a respirator offers better lung and bronchial protection, however. Make sure you have plenty of ventilation.