When it comes to the world of automotive refinishing, it seems as though the varied specialized products are nearly endless. When considering the types of primers below and the color and possible clear coats that may follow, there certainly are a wide range of product types, and it pays to become familiar with them. Each manufacturer of paint products offers their own specific line of primers and paints, providing a "system" approach to refinishing. The logic here is simple, basically providing a blueprint for taking an automobile body through the refinishing process. This blueprint provides recommendations on compatible products within the product line from the first layer of primer through to the final application of top coat. From the standpoint of utilizing a proven process in refinishing your Corvette, it's hard to argue with the logic of following the manufacturer's directions from start to finish.
Even with the caveat of sticking to one manufacturer's line of primers through finish coat, one is left with several choices right from the start. Primary on this list is just what kind of paint to use. Here, the end goal becomes one of the key decision points. Is the project aimed at turning out as true to factory original as humanly possible? Is the goal a show-car finish replicating the factory colors? Or is the project a custom with wild effects, or a budget repaint on a "driver" quality car? The materials in each of these scenarios will generally be quite different. Let's have a little look back at the history of Corvette paints in general and then follow with an overview of the paint systems commonly used today.
Up until 1957, Corvettes were painted with a formula of paints referred to as nitrocellulose lacquers. These paints, introduced in the mid-'20s, revolutionized automotive refinishing by providing manufacturers with a quick-drying and relatively stable paint system that could be readily manufactured in a wide array of colors. The name nitrocellulose lacquer is derived from the origin of the resin used in its manufacture, a product of the nitration of cellulose materials, primarily cotton. Lacquer paints are purely solvent-borne, and cure only by the evaporation of these aggressive and volatile solvents. Along with a very fast drying component, the nitrocellulose lacquers offered ease of application, much better color retention than previous paints, and a surface that could be polished to a very high luster. The clincher was that the nitrocellulose paints were ideal for application by spray technique, leading to the early universal use of spray techniques at the manufacturer level.
These days, the original nitrocellulose paint formulations are nearly completely gone. These antiquated paints were definitely a leap forward in the '20s, but lack the durability and resilience demanded by consumers. While it is still possible to obtain nitrocellulose from specialty antique materials suppliers, from a commercial refinishing standpoint, this is an extinct type of paint product.
GM abandoned nitrocellulose in the late-'50s, turning to acrylic lacquer as a more modern formulation of lacquer. These acrylic lacquers replaced the nitrocellulose resins with a synthetic polymer resin derived from acrylic acid. Although these acrylic resins are also used in enamels, GM utilized the acrylic lacquer paint formulations, which, like nitrocellulose, featured very fast drying times and very easy application. Acrylic lacquer was the primary paint formulation used by General Motors for the majority of the production years in which classic Corvettes were manufactured, serving until the early-'80s. These paints were reasonably durable for the time, and moderately glossy, though the finish would respond exceptionally well to polishing.