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Removing Paint on Car Body Panels - 1967 Chevelle

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Through the continuous dumpster fire that this project has been, one thing remained constant. I didn’t want to have to strip all the paint off of the body. So, naturally, this article covers just that unsavory task and how I made it a little bit better through modern gadgetry and ancient chemistry.

Well, that escalated quickly.

I made contact with a local body shop who is capable and willing to take on the task of finishing the rest of the work needed to bring the car back to its former, shiny black glory. He strongly suggested that I remove the loose body panels and have them acid dipped to save time and money in the long run. Fair enough. I know that I didn’t want to pay an hourly shop rate to sand off the six or seven layers of paint that most of the car had on it. So without too much hesitation, I removed the front fenders, doors, hood and deck lid and sent them to our local acid dipper.

I must say, I was blown away by how clean and complete the stripping process was with those parts. They were first soaked in a heated base solution to remove all the paint, filler and undercoat. A high pressure wash and then the parts are them submersed in acid to remove any rust or other oxidation and neutralize the base. Followed by another high pressure wash and low pressure rinse. The final step is a rust inhibitor spray and wipe.

Since I hadn’t and wasn’t planning on taking the body off the frame, that part had to be done manually. Did you catch the part above where I said there were six or seven layers of paint on this car? As near as I can tell, it had the original primer and gold paint, black repaint and a second black repaint. Not to mention the dozen or so rattle-cans of etching primer that the unqualified “body-guy” poofed all over the back half of the car.

I had tried using 80 grit on my DA, and while effective, it was very slow and incredibly messy. Bear in mind, at this point, I had already finished most of the engine bay and had completely painted and assembled the undercarriage. I was not a fan of the dust.

I started looking at alternatives. While lamenting on Facebook about what an arduous task I was facing, a friend suggested I look into a Porter Cable tool called the “Restorer”. At first I was a little skeptical about spending another $100 on a gadget that may or may not do the trick. After a little more research and looking at reviews, I decided to give it a shot.

Q: What do sex, canned beer, sliced bread and rock n’ roll have in common?
A: They are among the best things ever invented. This gadget ranks right up there with ALL of them. I was blown away with how quickly it devoured the paint. They have a drum that is very much like a Kleen & Strip material but in the form of a 5” wide cylinder. The tool itself is a consumer version of a linear grinder. A tool used in manufacturing and metal finishing for ages. They’re usually outfitted with a stainless wire brush roller for creating a uniform straight line brushed pattern. This is a drum that’s also available for the Restorer. They also offer a variety of grit steps for sanding drums. The single, most important feature that made this tool so nice to work with was the vacuum hose port. This allowed me to collect the super fine and intrusive dust directly off the stripping drum with my shop vac.

Before and after - With literally 30 seconds of moving the Restorer across the surface.

I did find out, as I progressed across different parts of the car, that sometimes the sanding drums (80 grit) worked much more quickly and with less pressure than the rust and paint remover. Heat was a big concern for me when stripping off the paint. No one wants warped sheet metal. I was extremely surprised to find that the heat buildup was minimal. Just the same, I kept the tool moving across the surface as to avoid dwelling on any spot too long.

My short career as a stripper was dirty but rewarding. Something that was a little bit annoying was the inability to get very close to edges and details like the drip rails. For those, I had to resort to using Roloc pads on my angle die grinder. The edges, door jambs and trunk lip easily took as long as stripping the big panels. Even with that inconvenience, I’ll never strip paint off of anything using a DA again.

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