After decades of service, the typical classic Mustang door hinge has no doubt seen better days. Sloppy clearances, worn hinge pins, broken or missing door check springs, and more can all lead to unsightly door gap changes, and in extreme cases, even sheetmetal damage. If you’re in the middle of bodywork or sheetmetal repairs, it is imperative that you are working with solid door hinges, or all of your bodywork and panel alignment will be for naught.
While we’ve covered rebuilding the actual hinge in the past (you can brush up on the steps at: mustang-360.com/how-to/paint-body/127-0402-door-hinges-rebuild), you of course have the option of purchasing reproduction hinges. Repro hinges are a good option if your hinges show signs of accident damage or are so far worn that they’re not rebuildable. What we’ll be focusing on for this project is using solid hinges to perform door to quarter-panel and door to rocker alignment. So follow along with your rebuilt or repro hinges, and we’ll have your doors aligned and ready to finish your bodywork in no time.
Here’s what we started with—a 1965 hardtop that was in the middle of paint and body along with some metal repairs such as quarter-panels, lower door patches, and more. You can see that in just bolting up the doors with the hinges we had all manner of fitment issues.
While our original hinges are in exceptional shape with no slop or missing door check/spring hardware, you also need to consider the condition of the door hinge nut plates that are found in the cowl side panels. While reproduced, generally speaking a good cleaning with a tap is all that should be required (unless you broke a hinge bolt off in one or a serious cowl leak rusted them beyond use). Take each one out, chase the threads, and reinstall.
The same goes for the striker nut plate at the rear of the door opening. Be sure the threads are chased and clean. You’ll be moving the hinges and striker plate a lot for proper door alignment, and you don’t want to be fighting stubborn/stuck fasteners.
Just as important as the hinges and nut plates at the front of the door are the door striker and latch at the rear of the door. In the case of this ’65, the door latches were in good shape and just needed cleaning and lubrication. The strikers, on the other hand, had some noticeable wear that could affect rear door gap adjustment, and the owner opted to replace them with these Ringbrothers stainless pieces.
Install both upper and lower hinges loosely to the body, and with the help of a friend or a floor jack (with the saddle properly covered to protect the door sheetmetal), raise the door into position and install the hinge bolts into the door shell. We’re using standard fasteners for the initial fit-up and will replace them—one at a time—with new reproduction fasteners.
We prefer to start with the door to rocker gap. A standard paint stir stick is a good gauge for the original gap, and the soft wood won’t damage painted surfaces if your doors are already painted. Using the stir sticks gives us the right bottom gap to start with and we don’t have to hold the door up and muscle it around, possibly changing the bottom gap. Now it’s only fore/aft and in/out that is left to adjust. Tighten the bolts just enough to hold the door’s position.
With the hinge bolts snug, the first thought that usually comes into one’s mind is to loosen the bolts to make an adjustment. Don’t do that. You’ll constantly be fighting various adjustments that change on you when you loosen the hinges. Instead, use a large block of wood and a hammer to tap the hinge fore or aft to get the door to quarter-panel gap where you want it and consistent from top to bottom.
You can see our door gap coming together now. Some striker adjustment may be necessary, but remember, you want the door latch to slide right over the striker to latch the door. You don’t want to use the striker to “pick up” the door for alignment purposes. This puts stress on the hinges and wears the striker out prematurely.
At the rear of the door you will use the striker itself to align the doorskin with the quarter skin. When loosening the striker remember you only need to bring it in or out. Again, the wood block and hammer trick works well so you don’t have to have the striker so loose it drops on you, changing your door gaps. Another trick is to use a slide hammer with a hook end to pull the striker outwards towards you in small amounts.
To fit the front of the doorskin to the fender, of course the fenders will need to be temporarily installed. Using the hinge bolts that secure the hinges to the door shell, loosen and move the door shell in or out at the front to match the fender to doorskin. The actual gap between the doorskin and fender will be controlled by the fender fore/aft location during final assembly. Remember, you have to work from the fixed point (quarter-panel) forward, adjusting the door and then the fender to get all your gaps right.
Once you have the hinge adjustments complete and you’re happy with the door position to the quarter-panel and rocker (and the fender as well), then you can tighten down all hinge bolts securely. Don’t forget to tighten the striker assembly if you haven’t done so previously. Once everything is tight, double-check the gaps to ensure nothing moved. If you are using non-stock fasteners, now is the time to carefully install correct-style hinge bolts one at a time before final paint. Our final result, after adjustment and final paint, is what you see in our lead image.
Photography by Mark Houlahan