The problem with two-door cars is the designers have to provide larger doors to make it easy to get into and out of the car—especially if you have a back seat. Simple physics dictates the longer door acts like a lever, using the weight of the door to pull against and stress the hinges.
Things only get worse when you consider that the construction methods from the ’60s and ’70s used thicker sheetmetal and heavier materials. Over time, the hinges start to wear out and eventually you’ll notice the traditional saggy doors so prevalent with older cars.
Fortunately, there is a fix so you don’t have to go through the annoying ritual of lifting the door of your hot rod every time you try to shut it. We’ve seen stories before about simply buying new hinges and bolting them up—and that’s certainly an option—but if you are willing to put in a little elbow grease, there’s another solution that will cost you $10 instead of laying out $100 or more.
The subject for this story is a ’78 Camaro that’s been through the wringer and is slowly being put back into daily driver condition. Even though we’ll get into specifics for second-generation Camaros, these tips will work for most Chevys from the ’70s and ’80s.
Instead of shelling out for all-new, application-specific hinges, you can purchase a hinge-pin kit for any Chevy square-body pickup and use those to rehab your worn hinges. Second-gen Camaros use a similar hinge pin to the one in the pickup, but with smaller bushings. Simply putting new Camaro hinge pins into an old door usually won’t fix the problem because over time the bushings will spin in the steel hinges and open up the hole. That’s what causes the doors to sag, and just putting in new pins and bushings of the same size won’t solve the issue. Instead, you can ream out the holes in the hinges to accept the larger bushings and square everything back up.
Another issue we’re dealing with on our Camaro is worn window regulators. Once again, time and wear were at the core of the issue. Over time, the regulator mechanisms lacked for a little maintenance, and the window became more difficult to roll up. Instead of fixing it, the users simply put more torque to the window cranks until the pot-metal cranks stripped out and damaged the splined shaft on both regulators.
So we’re replacing the regulators with new units from National Parts Depot. We know this is a common issue because we looked for used regulators on eBay, and there was practically nothing for the driver-side door to be had on the used market. The NPD units, however, are a perfect fit and even have a significant upgrade that we definitely appreciated during the install.
And then to keep it all from happing again we ditched the original equipment window cranks for a sweet pair of machined aluminum cranks from Clayton Machine Works, a division of Lokar. Besides looking fantastic, the cranks feature a splined steel hub that locks into the regulator much more securely so that they won’t strip out.
Check out our worn-out door rehab in the accompanying photos. Even if you aren’t working on a second-gen Camaro, these tips will apply to practically any Chevrolet of similar vintage. CHP
1. It’s not hard to spot the problem here. After spending a lot of time updating the interior of our 1978 Camaro, we still have poorly functioning windows and vise grips filling in as manual window cranks. It’s time to fix that.
2. Original equipment Camaro door panels are backed by cardboard, and by now they’ve all gotten pretty weak. To minimize wear and tear, make sure to use body clip tools to pull the panel from the door instead of simply just pulling it loose.
3. Once all the clips are loose, along with the latch trim, door pull handle, and other trim pieces, the door panel lifts straight up and off to reveal the inner door structure.
4. Many of the bolts holding the window sashes and guides to the door are adjustable. There’s no guarantee that the new regulator will require the same adjustments (or even that the current adjustments are correct) but marking the bolt placements with a Sharpie before removing everything will at least help you start out reasonably close to the right spot during the reassembly process.
5. If you roll the window to about a quarter of the way up, the two lower sash bolts (which hold the window glass to the regulator assembly) will be revealed in two strategically punched holes in the door structure. Use a ratchet and extension to remove them.
6. These two bolts practically in the center of the door are for the regulator slider. Some people will tell you to pull the window glass before removing the bolts that secure the slider to the inside of the door, but I think removing them first helps you manipulate the glass to make it easier to get it out of the doorframe.
7. Remove the three felt guides from the top of the door. (You can see one of them to the left in this photo.) On the right is the rear window guide track. Loosen the two bolts holding it in place. This way you can slide the track inward to make more room for yourself to pull the window out.
8. Pull the window glass up and out of the door. It can be a bit of a puzzle to get the window out because the rollers bolted to the glass can be tough to get out of the narrow slot at the top of the door. Generally, your best bet is to pull the front or rear roller out of the guide first, then drop it back down into the door cavity and work the other roller out of the track. Lean the glass inward and gently work the rollers out of the door structure as you pull the glass free.
9. The regulator is held to the structure of the door using four rivets. Conventional wisdom when removing rivets says to simply drill out the shank letting the ends drop away. But on these the shank stuck out, and my drill bit kept slipping off the steel shank and biting into the aluminum head of the rivet. So instead, I ground off the top of the head of the rivet and then used a punch to knock out the shank. You can see that in the rivet on the left side of this photo. Then all you have to do is finish drilling it out using a 7/32-inch bit or a chisel to knock the rivet apart, and then pull the regulator out.
10. Of course, if you are just rehabbing the door hinges and not replacing the window regulators, all this isn’t necessary. But we figured since we were going to be pulling the doors, lightening them up first by removing the window glass and regulator would only make things easier. Begin by using a spring compressor tool to remove the door spring.
11. At this point, the door is already unbolted from the hinge and removed from the car. Even without the glass, Camaro doors are heavy. We didn’t get a photo of pulling the doors off because it was all hands on deck to make sure we didn’t ding anything. From the factory, the hinge pins are swedged in place. There is no easy way to get the pins out without damaging them, and replacements are cheap, so don’t even bother trying to save them.
12. I used a cutoff wheel to slice the hinge pins right through the center and then knocked them out from the top and the bottom using a hammer and punch. Once the pins are out, remove the thin, bronze-colored bushings as well.
13. Here’s a look at the car-side of the hinge. On the left is the stock-style bushing that came in the Camaro. On the right is the beefier bushing Chevrolet used in their square-body pickups that we’ll be using. You can get a replacement pin and bushing kit from practically any auto parts store for $5 and change. Just ask for a hinge pin kit for a 1973-’87 Chevrolet or GMC pickup. Ours was made by Dorman, and the part number was 38400.
14. The new bushings have a larger OD than the old ones, so ream out the hinge pin holes using a 31/64-inch bit.
15. Even though you’ve reamed out the hole in the hinge, there should still be a slight press fit for the new bushing. Resist the urge to simply bang it in with a hammer. Instead, you can make a homemade press with a few items right out of your shop. Use a 3/8 or even a 5/16 nut and bolt with a few flat washers to pull the bushing into the hole as you see here. I used a socket as a spacer, as you can see. Make sure to use washers on any surface that touches the bushing to keep it from twisting in the hole from the rotation of the nut and/or bolt.
Take it slow and you can feel when the bushing is fully seated in the hinge. Then reassemble the door-side of the hinge and drive the hinge pins back in. The shaft near the head is splined to hold the pin in place once it is fully seated. Finally, reinstall the doors.
Here’s a look at the complete window mechanism as it will be oriented inside the door. The new regulators are available from National Parts Depot. The vertical strips are the window guides. The glass has rollers attached to it that run inside these guides. Since you are going this far, it’s a good idea to go ahead and remove the guides to give them a good cleaning before reinstallation to ensure that the window moves up and down smoothly and easily.
18. Here’s a shot of one old splined shaft for the window crank. After being damaged by the stripped OEM crank, more damage was done thanks to a pair of vise grips used to raise and lower the window. It’s definitely time for a replacement.
19. Before reinstallation, take a moment to lubricate the mechanism (white lithium grease in this instance) for easy movement and good longevity. On the regulator, lube the window spring (shown here) and the gear teeth on the cranking mechanism. Also lubricate the slides on the guides and the sashes.
20. After bolting the newly cleaned guides into place, the new window regulator will go next. The good news about these window regulators from National Parts Depot is they fit perfectly and are threaded to accept 1/4-20 bolts, which is a great upgrade. This means you can simply bolt them in place instead of trying to rivet them like the OEM units.
21. When putting the glass back into the door, make sure the window guides are pulled toward the inside of the door and tightened down. This will give you extra room to get the rollers back into the guides. After they are in, you can readjust. It’s also a good idea to install at least the rearmost felt window guide. This can help keep you from scratching the glass on the stamped metal door. Once the glass is in place, attach a window crank to the regulator and position the regulator near the bottom of the door so that you can reattach the glass to the sash with two nuts.
22. Here’s the cherry on top of the whole project. Up top is an OEM replacement window crank we picked up from a local parts store. Like the original, it is made from cheap pot metal, and even if we are careful, it’s only going to be a matter of time before it strips. Below is a gorgeous machined aluminum window crank from Clayton Machine Works by Lokar. Besides looking worlds better than the original equipment piece, the machining also serves a practical purpose. It has a machined steel insert that is splined just like the regulator shaft and will never strip as long as it is installed correctly and not abused.
23. Slide the splined insert over the regulator’s splined shaft and set the depth so that it won’t rub and wear the door panel. Then snug it down with the two set screws in the insert. The set screws are just to keep the insert from sliding off, so you don’t have to run them down so hard that they damage the splines on the regulator’s shaft.
24. Once the insert is in place, the window crank slides over it and keys into place on the four pins machined into the steel insert so it cannot slip.
25. The rubber beauty cover fits over the top to finish the look. The Camaro’s windows are now ready for service and, thanks to the new window cranks, are even better than new.
Photos by Jeff Huneycutt