There are several methods to remove old paint. Each have their advantages and disadvantages, though all the techniques we will discuss can be successfully employed to strip the car. The most basic technique is simply sanding the paint. This is very easy with a metal-bodied car, since the material removal essentially stops once the bare metal is reached. On a 'glass-bodied car such as a Corvette, the sandpaper will keep cutting right through the factory gel coat and through into the fiberglass. The bottom line here is that sanding can inflict serious damage to the body panels, digging in and creating waves and scars that were not there before. We have, however, seen experienced Corvette technicians strip a car using a common air-powered D/A (dual-action) autobody sander with no damage at all. Operator skill is the key between success and failure here.
Another approach to stripping, which like sanding can be done by the home hobbyist, is chemical stripping. There are many brands and formulations of paint stripper on the market, some with harsh chemicals, and some newer environmentally friendly types. When contemplating a chemical stripper, be sure to use a product that is rated safe for fiberglass. Chemical strippers vary in their effectiveness and may take multiple applications to strip difficult or thick paint. Overall, for the do-it-yourselfer, chemical stripping is the favored technique. When using any chemical stripper, the manufacturer's instructions and precautions should be followed, and the material should be tested in a small contained area of the car's body to guard against an unexpected reaction with the panel. The chemicals and removed paint can be very messy, and care should be used to contain the used material. Normally, after chemical stripping, the panel surfaces will need to be thoroughly cleaned and neutralized, and the panels given a final detail sanding by hand.
Besides the above-discussed process of sanding, there are other mechanical means of paint removal that will work to strip the paint off your Corvette. Many Corvette enthusiasts and restorers will use a scraping technique, typically employing a razor blade on edge to literally scrape the paint off an inch strip at a time. With the right technique, scraping can be very effective and surprisingly quick, removing the paint without damage to the underlying panels. This is especially effective with the old and brittle original lacquer paints and primers. Of course, a sharp blade in the wrong hands has the potential to gouge and scar the panels, so caution is the watchword here.
Blasting is yet another option for paint removal, but unlike the other techniques mentioned, it is generally done commercially. Many types of media are effective in removing paint without damage to the fiberglass below, making this a very viable option. When shopping for a commercial blasting establishment, look for a business that has had previous experience with Corvette bodywork. Blasting soft fiberglass should not be done using some of the harsher media often used on steel.
Difficulty: 3 Wrenches
It has long been said in the classic car world that paint can hide a multitude of sins. Once the paint is stripped and your machine is sitting there in bare 'glass, it is all out in the open. This is really the point at which a true assessment of the condition of the body can be made. It's not uncommon to find some real problems that were hidden by the previous paint, and some can require very extensive repairs. Often these are botched or shortcut previous repairs, using improper materials or techniques. We've seen examples where every body panel turned out to be junk, hidden under multiple cheap repaints and bondo. These kinds of problems simply do not provide the solid foundation required when it comes to high-quality Corvette paintwork. Usually, these improper repairs, if neglected and simply painted over, will show through over time making it impossible to achieve a top-notch finish.
If major improper panel repairs are found under the paint, the best course of action will be to replace the full panel. It can be distressing to contemplate having to replace major body sections when all seemed relatively sound under the disguise of the old paint. The truth is, replacing the panel is definitely the superior alternative, and is actually quicker and easier than a partial panel repair or patching the damaged piece back together.