This is what the Chevelle looked like on Westech's dyno when we did the rearend test ("The
It was inevitable. Our white '66 Chevelle faced a serious image problem. No, we're not in danger of appearing on some sleazy entertainment program like TMZ any time soon. But if the Fox channel did care, they'd notice that the A-body's paint has seen better days. Editor Glad finally had enough of its monochromatic visage. "Do us all a favor and de-'80s that thing," came the cry from the editor's chair--and he was right. The Chevelle was way past due for a makeover--mainly because of the many hard miles since the late '80s, when Scott Sullivan dipped the whole car in black and white lacquer. During the last 20 years, it has served as a cross-country runner and daily transportation for the fledgling Smith kids, suffered multiple indignities during countless grocery store parking lot skirmishes, was gravely wounded with a broken motor and cracked A-arm in the '90s, and has slowly climbed out of the primordial ooze sporting a GM Performance Parts 383, a TCI 400 trans, a Strange S-60 Dana 60 rearend, and an Art Morrison 10-point rollbar. Unfortunately, these mechanical upgrades were still trapped in an ebony-and-ivory look that just screamed, "Hey, 1988 just called and it wants its Euro look back."
Since classic lines never go out of style, we decided to return to Chevelle roots with a little citrus flare. This is when we piled on the effort. The original lacquer was badly neglected with deep paint fissures and Bondo cracks that rivaled the Snake River Canyon. Our story begins with transforming clouds of Bondo dust into a new look with a wholesome Huggin' Orange glow. Damn that overspray....
Bring In The Strippers
The deep cracks in the paint demanded we drill down to parent metal, and some of the primer appeared damaged as well. We decided to strip the car to the metal because of the deep paint cracking over most of the horizontal surfaces. Plus, there are questions about compatibility between lacquers and today's urethane enamels. Totally stripping the car eliminates any potential problems. Most '60s muscle cars were painted with acrylic lacquers, and GM was the last major company to use lacquer through the mid-'80s, so the best guarantee to avoid problems is to remove all the old lacquer and primer when using modern paint. If the existing paint is an enamel, then you could get away with perhaps as many as three layers of paint if only because the new enamels tend to be more flexible than lacquers. You may have heard about the new water-based-type paints that are coming. According to our mentor, Mike Paradis, who teaches at West Valley Occupational Center in Woodland Hills, California, these can be used over existing solvent-based primers and with solvent-based clears. The big thing to remember is to use the same brand for all levels of paint product, from primers to topcoats and clears. Mixing manufacturers is an invitation for compatibility problems.
To begin the stripping party, we had several options. At first, we lined up behind mediablasting. The materials vary from sand (not recommended, since it can warp large panels), walnut shells, plastic media, and even baking soda. The baking soda has many attributes, including that it will not harm glass or stainless trim, which means the car does not have to be masked to clean off the paint. But mediablasting is expensive. A typical job, depending on the size of the car, generally starts around $1,500. Chemical dipping is another approach but requires that the car be literally stripped to the bone. Prices are comparable to mediablasting, ranging between $900 and $2,000, depending on the size of the car.
Next, we considered that nasty, hand-applied Aircraft Stripper, but while effective, we passed because it also attacks plastic body filler and we wanted to retain as much of the original bodywork as possible. Finally, Paradis suggested we strip the car using a simple variable-speed buffer, a soft adhesive sanding pad, and several sheets of 36-grit sandpaper.
Because much of the horizontal surfaces were cracked right through the primer, we elected
We started by borrowing John McGann's Makita variable-speed buffer and outfitted it with a
When we reached the plastic body filler on both quarter-panels, we left it in place so we
This pile represents barely half the paint and debris we pulled off the Chevelle in a whol
This 1/4-inch-thick body filler area cracked badly right behind the rear window, leaving t