A Little Help From Hooniverse: Leaky Van Window Fixed With Long-Distance Junkyard Parts

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

The A100 Hell Project really isn’t very hellish, since the van is rust-free and still has most of its tough-to-find trim parts. However, the list of really irritating minor problems that must be solved to bring a project vehicle up to real-world-enjoyable status is always long. One of the most maddening was the busted window latch on one of the right-side windows. Chrysler changed the design on this latch— which probably cost about 14 cents per unit new— in the late 1960s, which means they’re very rare in junkyards, and nobody seems to be selling them on eBay. Snow and rain were getting in, the window clattered while driving, and anyone who wanted to rummage in the van for crack-exchangeable valuables could reach right in and pop the side door lock. What to do?

Ford Econolines of the 80s and 90s used a fairly similar window-latch design, and I could have modified one to work on the A100 without too much hassle. I’m trying to keep the correct trim components in the A100, as part of my 1973-style custom-van project, so the Econoline hack remained a last resort.

The super-low-budget pot-metal construction of the old latch failed at the bracket that mounts to the door frame. No way I could fix that and have it come out looking right.

But then Hooniverse writer Alex Kierstein dropped me an email, saying that he’d found an A100 in a Seattle wrecking yard. It was fairly well picked over, but still had a little meat clinging to its gnawed bones. Did I want anything? I sure did! In addition to the window latch, Alex grabbed me another item on my list: a non-trashed factory radio antenna. The stuff was on the way to Denver right away. Thanks, Alex!

Chrysler’s penny-pinching with sub-low-bidder parts suppliers, coupled with damp Pacific Northwest conditions, meant that the channel that mounts the latch to the window glass was hopelessly rusted and got pretty well mangled during removal. Fortunately, I only needed to replace part of my latch.

Some quick work with the drill on the rivet holding the lower bracket…

…and I’ve got the part that I need to fix my latch.

I had to be careful not to break the latch off the window, but this part of the job wasn’t difficult.

But a job like this always has at least one unexpected headache. All I need to do to remove the rest of the broken mounting bracket is remove three screws. What could go wrong?

Ka-tink! Wait, why did something fall inside the door when the last screw came out? Yes, Chrysler saved 0.4 cents per van by using an unsecured backing plate with three threaded holes, so that the bracket could be adjusted to compensate for flaky tolerances, rather than just eliminating the flakiness and screwing the bracket right into the door. The line worker simply set down his half-pint of Granddad, reached inside the door to hold the backing plate in place, and screwed the bracket down. Then the next line worker set down his flask of peach schnapps and kicked the door panel into place with his steel-toed boot. Meanwhile, Chrysler hired several new layers of management to find new ways to cut corners on parts quality, another layer of management to write reports on parts-quality corner cutting, and yet another layer to find ways to lower the quality of life for line workers, which jacked up their booze consumption to even more disastrous levels in the 1970s. The upshot of all this was that I had to remove the inside door handle, pry off the door panel, reach through a sharp-edged access hole, and root around in a bunch of 45-year-old schmutz to find the backing plate, which had fallen into a totally unreachable crevice. This was the most time-consuming part of the latch replacement process.

A quick trip to the hardware store and the rivet replacement goes on.

All fixed! Next on the list: do something about the disintegrating seat vinyl.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • 67dodgeman 67dodgeman on Apr 04, 2011

    Ka-tink! That one sound has driven me to tears many times in the past. One day I envision putting my car on a rotisserie and spinning it over, to have all the various screws, plates, hangers, brackets, etc. that I've lost over the past twenty plus years magically fall out on the ground.

  • Cool Cadillac Cat Cool Cadillac Cat on Jun 10, 2011

    Murilee...just wait until you need to find a ball-and-trunion joint. This is the U-joint-esque connector at the front of the driveshaft. Let me help...just have a new shaft built. I couldn't find replacement parts 25 years ago, you ain't gonna find 'em, now. What's funny is, the window latches on my '67 looked different than this. They had finger depressions in each side and were longer handles. Speaking of windows...dontcha love how the front windows roll down in like 2.5 turns? We need more of that, today. I want fast window movement, damnit! This almost makes me want to find one of these and start over with it.

  • Kosmo Love it. Can I get one with something other than Subaru's flat four?
  • M B When the NorthStar happened, it was a part of GM's "rebuilding" of the Cadillac brand. Money to finance it was shuffled from Oldsmobile, which resulted in Olds having to only facelift its products, which BEGAN its slide down the mountain. Olds stagnated in product and appearances.First time I looked at the GM Parts illustration of a NorthStar V-8, I was impressed AND immediately saw the many things that were expensive, costly to produce, and could have been done less expensively. I saw it as an expensive disaster getting ready to happen. Way too much over-kill for the typical Cadillac owner of the time.Even so, there were a few areas where cost-cutting seemed to exist. The production gasket/seal between the main bearing plate and the block was not substantial enough to prevent seeps. At the time, about $1500.00 to fix.In many ways, the NS engine was designed to make far more power than it did. I ran across an article on a man who was building kits to put the NS in Chevy S-10 pickups. With his home-built 4bbl intake and a 600cfm Holley 4bbl, suddenly . . . 400 horsepower resulted. Seems the low hood line resulted in manifolding compromises which decreased the production power levels.GM was seeking to out-do its foreign competitors with the NS design and execution. In many ways they did, just that FEW people noticed.
  • Redapple2 Do Hybrids and be done with it.
  • Redapple2 Panamera = road porn.
  • Akear What an absurd strategy. They are basically giving up after all these years. When a company drinks the EV hemlock failure is just around the corner.