Shaved door handles have been a popular modification on customs almost as long as customs have been popular. Removing the outer handles and welding up the holes always adds a lot of impact, even on a mild custom. The simplicity of shaving the handles is also an attractive feature; most anybody can accomplish the basics with a few common shop tools.
If you have a more modern ride, mid-fifties and later, shaving the handles is pretty simple. The latches are mostly rod actuated, with remote outer handles. This means the outer handle is not directly tied to the latch. The solenoid can then be tied to the outer handle actuator, on the latch, and the job is done. Older cars however, are a little different. Most early-50’s and older cars used door handles that are tied directly to the latch via a square rod, that when turned, twisted the rod and opened the latch. An effective design, but using this style of latch when shaving the outer handles can create a problem; where does the solenoid cable go?
While it is possible to attach the cable to the latch at the same point the interior handle rod mounts, this often leads to binding and excessive wear on the solenoid, eventually causing a failure. There is however a better solution. Using a section of the original outer handle square rod and a bit of scrap sheet metal, the latch can be modified to accept the solenoid cable, leaving the inner handle as is.
To demonstrate the process, we modified a set of latches on our 1947 Plymouth business coupe project. Using a set of solenoids from Autoloc, there is plenty of power on tap to operate the latches and the inner handles don’t bind up.
1. The stock door handles and latches were unbolted from the door.
2. The inner handles were removed so the latch can come out of the door.
3. The latches, although dirty, are still in good working order, they just need a little modification for the shaved handles.
4. We put the stock door handle in a vise and cut off the end. If the stock handles are not available or in the “to be sold on EBay” pile, square stock can be purchased at your local metal shop.
5. We only needed a short section of stock. We cannibalized one handle for both sides. If the piece is too long, it will put more stress on the latch and solenoid.
6. The square stock fits right in the hole.
7. Using a die-grinder, we cleaned and added a bevel to the square peg, on each edge, for the weld.
8. We created a short lever using some scrap 16-ga steel. The longer this piece is the better leverage it will have, but for our application, it had to be short. Thankfully, the AutoLoc solenoids are quite powerful. The small screw in the end of the peg was used to hold the 2 pieces together for welding, it is not necessary.
9. Clamped in a pair of vise grips, the lever was welded to the peg. It is very important that these welds hold, so use a good welder.
10. We smoothed the welds and test fit the new lever in the latch. Notice the shape of the lever goes around the mounting hole, which was on purpose.
11. We welded the peg to the latch from the backside. You must be careful not to weld the rotating assembly to the outer latch bracket; that would be bad.
12. Before the latch can be used, the lock must be removed. The small cover next to the spring contains the locking mechanism.
13. The three tabs shown here and one on the side hold the cover on. We were able to bend two, but had to grind off the other 2.
14. The cover was removed exposing the mechanism. The cover is still needed, so don’t toss it.
15. These parts make up the locking mechanism. They can be tossed out.
16. The cover was reinstalled and welded on where the tabs were cut.
17. The coil spring shown here is important, it puts tension on the latch, which keeps the door closed.
18. The cable was looped through the lever and locked down with a ferrule. Some people only crimp these in the middle, but the correct way is to crimp both sides.
19. The latch was reinstalled using the stock hardware. The latch will require adjustment to get everything opening and shutting smoothly.
20. The placement of the solenoid dictated the need for this piece. To keep the cable from rubbing the steel, breaking, or binding, we used a piece of backstrap and the metal-lined sleeve (came with the kit) to change the direction of the cable.
21. The solenoid was mounted low on the door. While it is shown on the outside of the door, it will eventually move to the inside once all the adjustments are made.
A life-long gearhead, Street Tech Magazine founder and editor Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 5 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced. You can follow Jefferson on Facebook (Jefferson Bryant), Twitter (71Buickfreak), and YouTube (RedDirtRodz).
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