Ask just about any street rodder what's so special about the early cars and more than likely the reply will be that vintage vehicles have more style, more character, and more appeal than contemporary offerings. While we agree that's all true, other things they have more of aren't quite as cool—like wear and tear and outdated mechanical components.
In some cases the car or truck in question could be almost 90 years old, and there are parts that have far outlived their usefulness, like the door latches on the '28 Model A pickup shown here. Who knows how many times those doors have been opened and closed. Of course in other cases there are parts that were of questionable design to begin with, like the door lock assemblies on our '50 Plymouth.
A common safety enhancement to early cars is the installation of modern rotary, or bear jaw door latches. Not a particularly difficult installation and certainly worthwhile from a safety standpoint, there can be some obstacles to overcome inside the door. While the two examples shown here would seem to be vastly different they share a problem that is common with many such updates—how to connect door handles to the new latch. When electric actuators of some sort are used the problem of tripping the door latch is generally eliminated, but for those wanting to maintain stock-looking interior or exterior handles it's not uncommon for the door glass to be the aforementioned obstacle between them. But then whoever said the best way to get from one place to another is a straight line? Certainly not Steve Demarco.
Demarco runs Carolina Custom, a supplier of a wide variety of street rod parts, including hidden hinges, suicide door safety locks, rotary door latches and installation kits, and now inside and outside door handle kits for rotary latches.
The outside handle kit is perfect for Model As, '32s, and other cars (even our '50 Plymouth) and trucks where the window channel or the glass interferes with installing the handle. A link runs from the external handle down to a bellcrank mounted below the window or channel, another link connects the bellcrank to the latch (PN EZH3 includes a bellcrank, EZH2 is the outside kit sans bellcrank). All kits equip two doors.
Another problem solver is Carolina Customs' inside handle kit (PN EZ1) that mounts an inside handle and connects to the latch with another rod. Kits are available to accommodate square shafts for Fords and Mopars and splined shafts for GM cars.
Follow along to see how easy it is to finally get a handle on bear jaws.
1. This is a single-jaw rotary latch installed in a '28-29 Model A pickup door. Do not mistake these for the smaller mini or trunk latches as they are not substantial enough for passenger compartment doors.
2. Carolina Customs' EZH3 handle kit includes the release assembly that is operated by an outside handle, two links, and a bellcrank.
3. This is the EZH2 door handle installation kit. Both kits are extremely well made and have built-in return springs.
4. This is a stock '28-29 Model A door latch, note the vertical inside release handle.
5. Carolina Customs offers this latch installation kit. It includes floating nut plates and stamped recesses for the stainless screws that are included.