A high-quality paintjob captures our imagination because it is so very distinctive. When it comes to getting show-caliber paint, you have to consider the level of paint expected and the type of finish you want and can afford. A factory finish with a hint of orange peel requires less work. A glass-like finish that looks like it was dipped in paint calls for a lot more prep time along with meticulous detail work during and after painting.
A paintjob is only as successful as its foundation. Poor prep means poor results. You’ve got to have a perfect surface, which involves tremendous amounts of time and tenacity. Your first order of business should be paint prep supplies, making sure your materials are compatible with the brand of paint you are going to be using. This compatibility applies to all primers and fillers. This means paying strict attention to your paint manufacturer’s detailed instructions. Choose a broad range of sandpaper grits ranging from 80-grit for the tough base surface prep, like cutting filler, all the way to 1,000-grit for final surface prep. You should also plan to invest in a selection of short, medium, and long boards for sanding a variety of surfaces.
We went with 3M’s Scotch Performance paint masking tape and Summit Racing’s Refinish masking paper to handle our masking efforts when it was time to spray jambs and, ultimately, the entire body. You want masking tape and paper that doesn’t allow primer and paint to “creep” underneath the tape.
We talked to Scott Brideau of Car Concepts in Nampa, Idaho, who builds some of the finest show cars in the nation, and his body filler of choice is Evercoat Rage Ultra. Scott tells Chevy High Performance that a solid foundation is the starting point in any paintjob. He defines a solid foundation as proper rust repair and metalwork that allows all the gaps to be correct and the panels to be in perfect alignment. What’s more, you must engage in steel prep that never allows rust to return. Scott will spend many hours shuffling sheetmetal around and doing minor adjustments—adding or removing metal—to make the gaps as uniform as possible.
Most paintjobs begin with paint removal. There are several ways to remove old paint. Sanding with an orbital sander is known as mechanical removal, which is performed with 80-grit paper. You may also have old paint mediablasted with plastic, walnut shells, or crushed glass. Baking soda may also be used, but Scott cautions that the surfaces must be properly neutralized for proper paint adhesion. In some areas there’s even dry ice blasting, which is the best form of paint and rust removal because it leaves no residue. There’s also chemical removal or dipping, which requires extensive clean-up and purification of the steel when the stripping is complete.
Scott’s preferred method is to send a car out for mediablasting to remove multiple paintjobs and expose the extent of any previous repairs. He also adds that the original factory paint makes a good foundation for a fresh paintjob, depending upon when the vehicle was manufactured. Enamel and lacquer from the 1960s and 1970s works quite well as a foundation. However, waterborne finishes from the 1990s and beyond are terrible foundations.
The best approach is to take the panels down to bare steel and start clean. Once down to bare steel we washed the surfaces with POR-15 Metal Prep from Summit Racing, which is a phosphoric acid that etches the steel for better paint adhesion. From there, we took a Scotch-Brite pad and washed the surface with dishwashing detergent to get the surface clean then pressure-washed all the seams to remove any traces of Metal Prep.
Once you have a pure surface, it’s time to work out the imperfections. Rusted-out panels can be patched or replaced, which is another tutorial entirely. Spot-weld cutters, grinders, and the like are available from Summit Racing Equipment and Auto Metal Direct (AMD) offers just about any type of replacement panel available for vintage Chevys.
Our objective this time is to take you down the home stretch of body preparation and show you how to get a perfect surface with help from AR Auto Body in Lancaster, California. They tell us it is always better to slow your roll and be methodical in your paint prep work, then lay down a quality finish when the body is ready. If you choose to opt for cheap primer and paint to save a few bucks you’re going to get what you pay for. Spend the time and money now so there’s no chance you’ll have to strip, prep, and paint all over again. CHP
Photography by Jim Smart