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Old 09-25-2018, 11:26 PM   #1
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An Old Man's Guide to Painting a Corvette

I'm an old guy, been working on and painting cars for 40+ years. I don't profess to know the latest wiz bang tech, high output tools or even the latest in water based paint. What I do know is what works for me, that is what I intend to present here. Start to finish.

Here is a video of my results, you can decide if I am qualified and choose to continue reading or not:

The intent is to present a guide for preparing and painting your Corvette. Each step will be covered in depth and with known good techniques and products. They may not be the best or the most expensive, I just know they work because I have used them multiple times. There are as many different opinions on how to paint a car as there are painters. Tips are welcome of course; I'm quite sure most will be valid and provide excellent results; however, I cannot attest to the validity. The intent is to show how years of experience have taught me to obtain quality results. I hope this will help you plan, prepare, spray and finish a great looking paint job. It's not rocket science, a little practice with the right tools, quality materials and you to can achieve outstanding results.

OK, enough said about intent. Let's get going.

The Plan:

You will need a place or two to do the work. Time in the space is subjective to how much time you have to work on the car. Average time for me is about 6-7 weeks, working an average of 6 hours per day. The space must be well ventilated to allow a fumy mess or two, a place to store parts, a place to paint with excellent light and ventilation. Sanding dust and over spray will permeate the space too. Transportation to and from a paint booth or a suitable space to paint.

Tools and equipment need to be part of the plan too, air compressor, air dryer, regulators, air filtration masks, sanding blocks, spray gun(s), buffer, buffer pads, etc. Sometimes you can borrow tools, just be sure you return them with some form of compensation. Oh yea, a beer fridge is helpful too.

Materials are not cheap and it's best to plan for their purchase as part of the overall plan. This can be stretched out over the time it takes to move between steps. Depending on color, good quality paint can range from $200-$600 bucks a gallon plus the activator, $250 for a descent clear. Thinners, wax & grease removers, cloths, rubbing compound, abrasives, resins, fiberglass, filler, buffing supplies, etc. Plan on $1200-1800 in materials.

As a novice painter the most forgiving solution is a single stage paint in a solid color because it is much easier to repair if you make a mistake. Not many shops paint in single stage anymore. Base coat/clear coat is the norm, a coat of base color goes on dry, followed by shinny wet coats of clear. It's much easier to spray metallic paint in base coat/clear coat. It is less forgiving because you can't really touch up a small space without very advanced techniques. This is also true for single stage metallic paints. You will likely end up masking, prepping, repainting and clearing that part of the car. Yes, I've had to do that, but it usually it sets the project back only a day or two. Not a big deal in the overall scheme, nothing to be afraid of.

Here is the methodology I use to work through the process. Using the following steps, the tools and materials needed for each step will be covered as the blog advances in the process.

Prep for stripping (disassembly)
Strip the outside
Strip the door, hood and t-top jams or clam shell jams.
Body assessment
Prep for fiberglass repair
Repairing the glass
Sand glass to contour
Finish the glass and curing time
Mask & prep for primer
Block & prime, block & prime, repeat......
Mask & prep for paint
Spray body jams and recesses
Feather edge over spray
Mask jams and recesses
Spray body Color
Spray body Clear (if two stage)
Curing time
Cut and buff

Overall Assessment of this project:

The car represented in this blog is a 1978 Silver Anniversary Corvette. It has been repainted previously and the paint has deteriorated, poor adhesion has allowed the paint to separate from substrate as it shrinks with age. Stress cracks in the usual locations and a substantial mismatch in hood to fender alignment needs to be repaired/fixed. The factory bumpers are in good shape and match the body pretty well, not perfect but better than the replacements I've seen. I do not intend to remove them. Doors hinges are not sagging, they open, close and fit the body reasonably well, again I do not intend to remove them, although some gaps are poor and will be addressed. The owner desires a step above driver quality paint, but doesn't want the expense of the disassembly/reassembly necessary for perfect show quality. The color is metallic so base coat/clear coat will be applied in this instance.

Your assessment may be different, your car may be already apart, need substantial fit and alignment work, rust repair, body mount replacements, etc. Those items fall more under a total restoration plan than a painting plan. Right? Therefor some assumptions are in order.

Your paint is only as good as the substrate (surfaces below paint), uncontaminated substrate is critical to adhesion, reducing blemishes and good long lasting quality. I will refer to substrate concerns often in the coming posts, pay attention as this is crucial information. This assumption is that proper discipline has been applied to substrate preparation.

Consider weight when deciding if your body is ready for paint. For instance; engine & transmission weight will change the frame to body relationship, in extreme cases doors that fit perfectly without the engine installed might have to be readjusted or have gaps refit. This is not something you want to discover after the car is painted. The assumption being the body was fitted with weight on the chassis.

If you are considering painting your car, it must be assembled and body adjusted as close to specification as possible. If sagging door hinges or misaligned body panels exist they must be addressed before considering paint. Here the assumption is you are starting on a solid foundation.

Body mods such as fender flairs or hood scoops are fitted and installed. Air dams, valences, ground effects, fitted and removed. The assumption here is that all body additions are fitted and mounting holes exist before the painting process begins.

Any existing body repairs are stripped down to glass and rebuilt using proper materials. C3 Corvettes are constructed with polyester (poly) based resins, therefor poly resins, filler, primer and paint are used to get expansion and contraction rates as close as possible to eliminate the chances of ghosting (1) when the car is exposed to sudden temperature swings such as parking in direct sunlight. You cannot trust that filler used previously is polyester filler. The assumption is that proper repair materials are used in all repairs.

(1) Ghosting is the odd shaped lines under the paint that appear and disappear with temperature changes. These are caused by different expansion and contraction rates of the substrate materials used.

Next Post: Prep for Stripping
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