There is something about working on a project car that’s been taken down to bare metal that really motivates you to start thrashing to get it completed. Maybe it’s the peace of mind of having a blank slate to work with that flips a mental switch that makes you stay up wrenching until 3 a.m. on a work night; maybe it’s simply knowing that your carefully chosen paint scheme will be tied directly to the project without someone else’s terrible color choice from 1978 lurking underneath. However, motivation isn’t the most common reason why folks take their cars’ paint all the way off. Sometimes it’s what is “lurking underneath” that makes you want to tear off your project’s old skin to really assess what you’re working with.
In the past, when you wanted to strip a car’s paint to bare metal, you essentially had to remove it of all the trim, glass, and drivetrain before you could blast it. Sand media would pit and eventually break glass, and the trim would be annihilated by fast-moving particles. Also, sand media processes can actually heat up the metal through friction, causing it to warp in some cases. But there are safer and more environmentally friendly ways to strip your paint these days, and a soda blasting process is one of them.
The two most common reasons to get an old car blasted are to reveal any shoddy bodywork that may have been performed over the years and to get the car’s surface nice and smooth for a fresh coat of new paint. Sometimes you may pick up a project that you think is a solid specimen, only to find out years later that the quarter-panel was made of Bondo. Or, on the brighter side of things, you may think a project is junk, and it turns out not so bad. Albert De Alba at Cal Blast in Upland, California, can help you determine what you have by blasting all your old paint away—without removing the glass or trim. Cal Blast uses a sodium carbonate material, which is worlds “softer” than sand media—a substance common in industrial applications. For classic cars and restorations though, a soda blast is a much more viable choice, as it doesn’t heat the metal, yet is nearly as effective at removing coatings, such as paint, primer, old stickers, and body filler. Soda also leaves a protective invisible layer that will prolong your car from rusting right away, so you can actually drive the car around in bare metal. We did. However, soda is not aggressive enough to remove rust, so shops like Cal Blast offer a secondary copper blast process that removes rust as well as the invisible layer. If you opt out on the copper blast, you need to actually wash the bare car with soapy water before you can primer it, as it can create issues when the paint dries.
You may be wondering, why strip the paint off of your car when you can just paint over it anyway? Depending on the level of pickiness, car builders and/or owners don’t want to cover old paint because it can come back to bite them later. Body filler cracks, hidden rot, or shoddy bodywork, in general, can show up in your paint years later and also, if there is a hefty buildup of old paint layers, it can “fade” away body lines that would otherwise be defined.