There's nothing like a nice, clean slate. In fact, it's the thing car-guy (and -gal) dreams are made of-no layers of old paint, no hidden surprises, and instant access for bodywork.
When it comes to stripping our Corvettes down to the bare basics, there are three options: chemical strippers, by hand with sandpaper and other tools, and media blasting.
Obviously chemical paint removers aren't the first choice. When you're talking about stripping the paint from a Vette, chemical agents are always discussed, with the same conclusion: not many people trust them. Let's face it-fiberglass isn't steel, so there's a pretty good chance a chemical stripper will either attack the fiberglass, or seep into it and ruin any chance of achieving a good paintjob down the road.
Manually, you can use sandpaper either mounted on a dual-action sander and "jitterbugs," sanding blocks and contoured sanding pads, razor blades, or our personal favorite method, a wet sponge and baking soda.
Sanding a car by hand gets the job done, but it's not only time-consuming, it's incomplete: You don't typically get inside the trunk or body, under the hood, and so on. We've actually seen whole cars stripped with razor blades, and it's not nearly as hellish as it sounds. Once you get a good rhythm going and the razor's angle of attack right, it goes pretty quickly. (And for fun, you can sweep all the flakes into a bag and weigh how much paint your car had on it!) But sanding the car or giving it a close shave really only hits the easy spots-the exterior surfaces, the doorjambs, and maybe a couple hidden areas if you're aggressive. And heaven help you if the car is wearing several layers of paint stacked on one another.
That's why media blasting is one of the best methods of stripping Corvettes. There are some serious concerns with this approach, though, mainly that it can destroy the car if done improperly.
Media blasting is exactly what it sounds like: A medium-be it crushed walnut shells, sand, glass, plastic pellets, aluminum oxide, or a myriad of other materials-is run through a hose and launched at the car under very high pressure, just like in your home bead-blast cabinet. As the medium hits, it blows, strips, or tears off bits of paint, filler, and possibly fiberglass, depending on the material used.
One of the things we don't like about most media is that the residue gets everywhere in the car. We've seen blasted cars spill little piles of sand or walnut shells when rotated on a rotisserie, placed on a trailer, or hit with any kind of high-pressure air-like from a spray gun during the painting process.
One material that's made a big impact on the industry in recent years is baking soda. Soda blasting doesn't hurt chrome trim, glass, rubber, aluminum, or fiberglass, yet it has no problem pulling off paint, filler, undercoating, and seam sealer. Unlike other media, soda granules are soft and comparatively delicate, exploding on impact and turning to dust. (For this reason, the soda can't remove heavy rust on chassis components or other metal pieces.)
According to Lanny Porter, owner of NuTech Refinishing in Jefferson, Georgia, the exploding soda absorbs the energy, rather than transferring it to the base material. This is why it can be used on soft metals, glass, and fiberglass. Even so, it can still do damage because it is fired at the car at such high velocity. For this reason, an experienced hand is necessary, especially when working with fiberglass.