"Fixing A Corvette Door Latch / Panel Fabrication"

        There are multiple projects going on here in the Southern Wheels shop, ranging from engine rebuilding to painting.  Each time we work on a project, even if it's one we've done before, we always learn something new.  We get e-mail, faxes and letters daily from our readers and advertisers with new products and restoration information they have learned about.  Thanks, everybody!  You really make the work interesting and fun.

        One of the projects this month is our '64 Vette.  It has a door latch problem (driver's side) since we bought it.  When you close the door, it wouldn't always latch and from the inside, the release knob had to be pulled back as far as it will go, then it had to be hit with my shoulder to get it to open.  We replaced the swivel door pull (door lock remote control).  This didn't correct the problem.  The trouble was in the latch (lock assembly).  It is operated by pulling back on the door lock remote control knob, which moves the rod that pulls the lever on the lock assembly forward, releasing the rotating wheel on the latch, allowing the door to open.

        On our lock assembly, the lever that the rod fits into was worn at the top (at the contact point that releases the latch).  Using our MOG welder, a little weld was added to the lever at the contact point, resulting in less lever travel to open the door.  In addition, we found a fiberglass stop just inside the door.  This was found by reaching inside the hole left when the lock assembly was removed.  It keeps the lock assembly lever from moving too far forward when the rod is pulled.  We ground about 1/4" away with a die grinder, allowing the lever to move fully forward.  We then greased the lock assembly and re-assembled it. It worked beautifully, with one finger touch.  We re-installed the door panel and checked the door lock striker plate, which had to be moved down slightly.  This can be done easily by backing out (but not removing) the screws and moving the striker plate.  A simple fix.  It makes me wonder why we waited so long to fix this.  It makes the car a lot more enjoyable to drive, and it's a lot easier on my shoulder!

        We moved next to the '41 Packard LeBaron.  With the rusted doors removed, work begins on replacing the metal destroyed by years of abuse.  The front passenger door, about midway down, is rusted away, not just the door skin, but also the framing around it.  Fortunately, the driver's door is in solid shape and could be used as a guide to restore the passenger door.  Restorer Charles Butts laid both doors down, measured the good door, and drew out a diagram of the pieces that needed to be made.  He started first with the door framing (on which the door skin is attached).  This piece has an arch in the middle and tapers in at each end.  It also if folded with a 90-degree angle over which the door skin folds at the bottom.  We bought a "shrinker-stretcher" tool from Eastwood (part no. 28053/2807, phone number 1-800-345-1178), and it really helped to professionally form the metal just as the ad states.  Using 18- gauge steel, Charles cut a 42 1/2" long piece, 2 3/8" wide, tapering to 2" on each end, then put the piece in a metal brake and bent a 1/2" lip from one end to the other for the door skin to fit over.  Using Eastwood's shrinker (outside curve) tool, he went to work stretching the metal, a 12" section at a time, by placing the piece into the tool's jaws and just pulling down the handle, continuing across until the desired curve was achieved.  He test-fitted the new piece to the door, checking passenger door with driver door, which showed that they were within 1/32" of each other.  The piece, held with welding vice grips, was spot-welded in place, skipping around from section to section to prevent overheating and warping the metal, which a continuous weld would do.  The random spot welding continues until all areas are filled in, resulting in a uniform weld which can now be ground down and finished.  With the door's framework now complete, it is now ready for a new door skin.  We'll have this project, along with others, for you next month.  Enjoy your cars and -Keep 'em driving!