The first Corvette bodies were constructed of fiberglass. There were a number of reasons of this. Fiberglass is a relatively workable material so if designers or engineers desired to make changes in body design or shape, they could do so relatively easily. In addition, fiberglass is a lightweight material, which is better for a car built for speed and optimum handling. However, the main reason, as it is with many production decisions, had to do with the economics of building cars. It is expensive to make the machines and the tooling used in the construction of metal automobile bodies. With low production numbers, (approximately 300 Corvettes a year in the beginning), it did not make economic sense to make steel tooling for such a low number of vehicles. Plus, at the time, in the early 1950s, only a few years after the end of World War II, there were supply problems with securing enough steel to make cars. Today, like most auto bodies, Corvette bodies are composites of steel and carbon.
The following is a rare glimpse into workings of the Chevrolet paint department, which is responsible for painting the composite Corvette panels that make up the body of this famous car.
Nearly all of the painting is done by robots, which are controlled by computers. This includes controlling how much paint is applied for how long, the direction of the spray gun, what gun paints what part ?computers even control opening and closing the doors to the paint booths.
The first step in the process is determining the number of cars to be painted. Paint department personnel puts the vehicles in batches of perhaps 10 cars according to color. Batching the same color cars together is best for the environment and it is obviously more economical to paint all cars of one color at the same time, or as many as possible. It is interesting to note that the body panels are charged electrically before they go into the paint booth. Therefore they attract the paint, which forces it to adhere to the panels more evenly and quicker and with less robotic motion and wasted paint.
Painting a complete Corvette body takes between six and seven hours. The panels arrive at the paint department with a ?grounding? material already applied. (This material is also called a conductive primer.) The first coat applied in the paint booth is a dark grey or white primer. This primer is then baked for about 30 minutes at 265 degrees F. After this dries, any dust or dirt is sanded off. Next, one of eight ?water born? base-coat colors are applied and allowed to dry. These paints are made by Du Pont and when applied, range from .07 mil to 1.2 mil in thickness. After the car panels are painted, they dry to around 80 degrees F, after which a clear coat is applied. Next, the completely painted and clear-coated body panels are sent to the oven where they are heated to about 250 degrees F for between 25 and 30 minutes.
Paint department personnel achieve a great degree of satisfaction when they receive positive feedback about how great the paint job is on a new Corvette!