In a hobby full of aural delights, it's often the small noises that bring the most satisfaction. There's nothing like bellowing pipes for an automotive adrenaline rush, but it's hard to match the satisfaction of a solid "clunk" as a perfectly restored and adjusted door latches into place. Unfortunately, many third-gen Camaro aficionados don't know what we're talking about. The newest of these cars are nearly 15 years old, and the oldest more than 20. So unless you were lucky enough to own a fresh-off-the-line Camaro or a low-mile used specimen, chances are your friend's long, heavy doors are sagging on worn hinges. Restoring that factory-fresh clunk would be reason enough to give this area some TLC, but as we learned, there's a lot more at stake, namely the very integrity of your Camaro's body.
We got the low-down on just how critical this area is from Andy Sherrer, president of Automotive Hinge Solutions and creator of the Door Hinge Repair Kit for '82-92 Camaros we picked up from Classic Industries. Sherrer made time to rehab the hinges on our '84 Z28 while on a West Coast trip, and explained how this process is about much more than doors that shut nicely. We'll paraphrase what this Camaro guru told us, and you can also read a more extensive explanation at Andy's Web site, www.andyz28.com. First of all, Sherrer reminded us the third-gen F-body is a unibody car, so it doesn't have an actual frame. Rather, it has front and rear subframes, a floorpan, two doors, and a roof. This setup is much lighter and less expensive than a body-on-frame layout, but isn't anywhere near as strong.
Recognizing the need for body reinforcement, GM utilized the doors. Ever wonder why third-gen doors are so heavy? It's because they've been heavily reinforced, and as Andy told us, "These reinforcements to the door are critical to body integrity and strength. Once the doors are closed, it becomes a strong, solid connection between the door striker and the upper door hinge." Of course, all this weight puts a great strain on the hinges, especially the top assembly. Doors that sag and hit the ground effects are the least of your worries. If the critical juncture is worn out, the body, especially the cowl, is free to move about. Eventually, it will move enough to cause cracks. Subframe connectors are the best way to reinforce a unibody car, but installing a set on a third-gen Camaro won't entirely eliminate the problems caused by worn hinges.
So what's the solution? Sherrer showed us the "official" procedure, which is a bit draconian, to say the least. We'll give you the abridged version: After removing the door, those with the temerity to try this method must scribe the location of the hinge where it attaches to the door with several welds, which must be found and drilled out. Then the new hinge must be properly located on the door so that four new bolt holes can be drilled to attach the hinge to a reinforcing plate placed inside the door. The procedure is similar for the new lower hinge, which only has two bolt holes and must be attached to the body, which takes three bolts. (One hole location must be transferred to the hinge.) What do you think the odds are of having a door that lines up?
Sherrer decided the answer was to replace the hinge pins and bushings rather than the entire hinge assembly, so he had new pieces made for his '86 IROC, and eventually made the pieces available to the public as a kit. We'll show you the process, but suffice it to say it's much less painful than the ordeal described above. Sherrer says he's installed a repair kit (each one fixes one door) in as little as 47 minutes, though he advises most folks to plan on two hours. We'd say this is right on. But what's even more impressive than the short time commitment is the result. The repair components were easy enough to install, but we were amazed when the repaired and reattached driver's door swung shut-without any alignment or adjustment-and latched with a solid clunk. For a day's worth of work, we ended up with doors that shut like they're supposed to and a Z28 that's functionally more solid than it was. Count us satisfied.