Volume III, Issue 8, Page 12

In the real world, your Chevy most certainly won’t be exactly what the doctor ordered. You can bet your last buck that when you’re starting from scratch, it will have to go to either a chassis shop or a body shop.  And before it goes there, it’s going to need work (in some cases, extensive work). If the car isn’t stripped and cleaned, be assured that the chassis shop or the body shop punch card (with your name on it) will be a busy one.  In some cases, it might take 100 to 200 hours to complete. Factor in a shop rate of $40-$80 per hour and you can see that costs can prove to be epic.

It’s not a big stretch to drag your Chevy shell to the local paint strippers and have them peel off the exterior finish, but in many cases, a total disassembly of the vehicle isn't really necessary.  You might not want to remove the glass, doors and other hardware.   Know that each method of removing the finish has its drawbacks (stripping the media cleanup, chemicals lurking in body crevices, and so on).  Some cars really don't need body laundering at all, only the undercarriage. So how do you get a real grip on the cleanup?  You have to get down and dirty.

Begin by removing anything flammable.  Most chassis shops mandate that the complete fuel system be removed, along with the exhaust, brake lines and the interior (good body shops appreciate that too).  Remove the electrical system, including the battery.  In addition, some items like gas-charged shock absorbers should be taken out (they can explode if heated excessively), and if you're working with a late model, disarm or remove the air bags.  A word of caution here:  Use extreme care in removing the air bag system.  Buy a factory service manual and follow it to the letter.  Sudden air bag discharges tend to be both violent and hot.

Some cleaners give off ugly fumes and the residue will turn the floor of your shop into a cesspool. The best place to clean the chassis and underbody is outdoors.  At this point, it's also a good idea to put a 4X8-foot sheet of plywood under the car.  Some of the cleaners can raise havoc with concrete or asphalt driveways, and more importantly, the environment.  If you're working on gravel or good old Mother Earth, then the plywood sheet makes life a whole bunch easier while you're on your back.  Support the car solidly.  We usually include wheel ramps on the rear and two axle stands under the nose along with a set of "just in case" axle stands at the front.  Keep a floor jack and a healthy fire extinguisher within arm's reach.  On the other hand, if you’re fortunate enough to have a rotisserie, then the drudgery is significantly simplified (see the accompanying sidebar for a closer look at an uber-cool rotisserie).

Okay, you have the car supported, stripped of parts, and you’re ready to prep and clean the chassis.  Now what?  The tools of the cleanup trade are basic and a wee bit crude:  you'll need a propane torch along with two bottles of propane (a heat gun won't get the undercoating hot enough to peel away).  Two spray bottles of Easy-Off oven cleaner and three or four bottles of heavy-duty brake cleaner will usually get the job done.  Collect a half dozen heavy duty Scotchbrite® blue scouring pads as well as a stack of heavy shop rags.  You'll need a sharp putty scraper (likely your most important tool), a medium size flat blade screwdriver and finally, a small gasket scraper. Invest in quality heavy rubber gloves.  Don't use disposable gloves; they’ll disintegrate.  If your car doubles as a toxic dump, then double or triple the amount of cleaners required.

Begin with the easy stuff.  Generally speaking, this means starting in the engine compartment.  Get out your plywood bed and shampoo the engine and compartment first.  Some engine shampoos aren't biodegradable so you’ll need plenty of water to flush away the residue.  When the engine compartment is done, work your way rearward, concentrating on the center section (between the frame rails or rocker panels).  Use the Easy-Off and brake cleaner, Scotchbrite pads and rags to clean up the grime.

Here’s a before look at the engine compartment in our Nova.  There's too much hardware to work around. You have to remove virtually everything before fabrication can begin.