Installing suicide door hinges

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by: Clarkoh, Jon
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Although the 1961 Lincoln was not the first car to have suicide doors, it marked the beginning of a trend. Mercury employed the suicide rear doors on the convertible and hard top Lincoln models to eliminate excessive weight hanging on the B post. ON the HBO show Entourage, the beginning has an overhead shot of the four lead characters exiting a vintage convertible Lincoln and then closing all four doors simultaneously. This really shows off the openness of the opposing doors.

Since the Lincoln, many hot rodders, low riders and custom car builders have employed the suicide door hinge on their projects. Most of the early deployment meant plenty of work and planning on the customizer’s part. A few years ago, Autoloc began to produce a kit allowing even the novice car craftsman to trick out his car door operation.

Although the kit simplifies much of the designing and planning, this is not a project for someone with at least above average metal working skills. A good body man should have no problem installing a set. Warning: this involves cutting holes and welding pieces into the holes in both the door jamb and door edges of your ride. If you feel brave enough, fire up the torch and get started.

Step 1- Before cutting, remove any and all interior, the windows, latches and handles from the doors and anything that you even think might catch on fire. Scraping away undercoating is a good move as well. If you insist on leaving the seats or carpets in the vehicle, cover them to prevent damage from sparks. It’s just better to move them to a safe place. Leave the doors on with their original hinges. This will make alignment easier, later.

Step 2- Mark out the location for the hinges on the door jamb. Square holes will have to be cut, and these should be located as far apart as the contours of the body and doors will allow. The location should have the hinge pins close but not touching the inside of the body panels. If you use the single piece hinge assembly kit, the spacing has been determined for the suicide hinge mounting and the alignment of the hinge pins is guaranteed to work. Using the separate hinges, necessary if the hinges have to be placed close together, it will be critical and more difficult to keep the pins in the same plane.

Step 3- Insert the hinge assembly into the holes from the back side. Trim the openings as needed and tack the assembly in place. The hinge pins should be vertically plumb with the door jamb. If you cannot get a level inside the body work of the car, use one of the hinges butts, installed with its pin and check for squareness to the door jamb. It should also swing in a flat plane, parallel with the ground.

Step 4- Install both of the hinge butts into their hinges. Close the door on them and mark where they hit.

Step 5- Cut out the slots for the channel shaped door pieces to be welded into the doors. These pieces should be too long on the channel legs. They will be recessed into the slots cut into the inner door panel. Once aligned and bolted to the hinge butts with at least one shim under each, these should be tack welded to the inner door.

Step 6- Unbolt the new hinges from the inner door and open the door on the old hinges. Remove the old hinges. At this point the operation of the door should be verified. Make any adjustments and weld in the hinges and the channel pieces. There will be some patches needed where the old latches used to reside. If the decision was made to reuse those latches, a larger section of the door jamb or edge of the door may have been removed. The patch material should be of sufficient thickness to reinforce this area. Some bracing may need to be welded in, to reinforce this critical area.

Step 7- Establish and mark a location for the relocated or new latches and strikers. They should be centered along the front of the door. This area may have been filled in to cover the old hinge holes.

Step 8- Weld in the sheet metal to which the latch will be bolted. It may be the piece cut from the back of the door or the new piece supplied with the bear claw latch kit. The bear claw latches are simple to use and provide a strong latch for the door.

Step 9- Install the striker pin in the door jamb to align with the latch. Autoloc has a nice weld in piece, with a captive nut attached. The piece retaining the nut has room for the nut to be adjusted up and down or side to side. This allows the fine tuning of the door closing.

Step 10- Reusing the stock door handles could be a challenge. If you want to go for that Lincoln style, the best bet would be to install the left handle on the right and vice versa. This would put the front and rear handles facing away from each other. Or buttons pointed towards each other. A simpler approach would be to use the solenoid kit and shave the door handles completely. With a set Autoloc spring loaded door poppers, and the remote control, the doors should pop open at the touch of a button.

Step 11- Align the doors. Use the shims under the door hinges to adjust the depth of the door in the opening. Moving the hinge butts in the slotted holes in the channel pieces will raise or lower the door in relation to the opening. The striker pin gets moved to control the depth at the latch end of the door.

Step 12- Finish welding, reinforcing and patching any remaining holes. Prep the area with grinder and get after it with the Bondo and the sander. Get the painter to freshen up the body and enjoy the new open look.

The same hinge kit can be used to eliminate the exposed hinges on older model cars as well. The installation is simplified because the latch and handles do not require any work, unless you want to shave the doors.

These kits are not recommended for the inexperienced. If you have some metal working skills or have a friend who is talented, this modification could make your ride special.

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