At first it was an occasional problem, then it was an every day occurrence. I’d close the passenger door on my daily driven 68 Mustang coupe and the door latch wouldn’t catch, popping the door back open. Most of the time if I slammed the door a bit harder the latch would catch and I’d be on my way. Annoying, but not necessarily alarming. Then, one day as I was commuting home from work I hit a pothole and the passenger door opened. At 65 mph. In traffic. Alarming.
After pulling over to get the door latched and locked I hit the next exit and carefully drove home on the side streets. Then I got online and ordered a new reproduction door latch.
The actual process of replacing a classic Mustang door latch is pretty straightforward. There are just three easily accessed phillips head screws holding the latch in the door. However, as is often the case with a 48-year-old vehicle, I hit a few snags. Let me tell you what I ran into, so you can save some time and money.
After removing the interior door handle, door pull, arm rest, window crank, door panel, and moisture barrier, you can easily access the door handle and door lock rods connected to the latch inside the door. That said, you really can’t SEE much in there, which leaves you blindly disconnecting the rods from the latch. The first bit of information I found online explaining how to do this job said to pop the rod ends out of the latch with a screwdriver or pry bar. DON’T DO THAT! Here’s why. When you pop those ends out forcibly you will break the retaining clips, which are only available online and cost about five bucks a piece to replace. If you can, rotate the retaining clip up off of the rod which will allow the rod end to easily slide out. The clips are reusable if you don’t mangle the plastic inserts.
Once you’ve disconnected the rods you can unscrew the latch from the outside of the door and fish it out the access hole in the door. Installation is simply the reverse of removal. I found it easiest to install the clips in the new latch prior to installing it. As you’ll see in a moment, I ended up doing it a few times.
Here’s where I ran into more trouble. After installing the new latch and hooking all of the rods and clips back up, the door would close and latch fine, and opened up from inside or outside the car with no issues. But, if I locked the door I couldn’t unlock it with the key or by pulling the lock button up. It felt like it was binding on something and I’d have to reach inside the access hole and work the lock back up from inside the door. I uninstalled and reinstalled it several times and spent an hour trying to tweak and adjust it. I eventually got the lock to work, but not well. No amount of adjustment brought it to a consistently acceptable level of operation.
That night I hit the Vintage Mustang forums to see if anybody else had experienced similar issues and the consensus was that pretty much all of the reproduction door latch stampings were hit or miss. Clearly mine had missed. I pulled the new latch back out, borrowed a spring from it, and installed the new spring in the original latch (one of the original springs had broken, which is what caused the latch to fail). The original latch is now back in the car and everything works perfectly.
In retrospect, if I had taken the original latch out for inspection prior to ordering a new one I would have noted the broken spring and ordered only the spring. And had the car not been my daily (and only) driver, I may have done just that. In any case, I hope my experience will help somebody else out there. If it does, drop us a line in the comments below. Good luck!