Chuck the Truck's 52 Chevy - Installing Bear Claws

Installing Bear Claw latches with outside pushbutton handles

The missus and kids must've been tired of my door slamming - I got a set of Bear Claw latches for Christmas. Funny - I was awful tired of slamming those doors myself. I'd adjust the stock latches and they'd be fine for a while, but I always had to roll the window down to get them to latch on the first slam. I'd tighten the screws to the point of breaking, but in a month or so, I'd be slamming repeatedly. When the weather got cold, it would take three or four hard slams to get the blankety-blank things to close. At 4:30 AM, I'm guessing the neighbors were getting tired of it too. I was blaming the cheap aftermarket latches, since the cup kept loosening, but I dug out my original GM latch and saw that its cup had been brazed to prevent loosening. Poor design, I reckon. I could have adjusted them yet again but since I had the Bear Claws I was going to install them.

The biggest obstacle I foresaw was getting them to work with the stock outside handles. Typical installs use shaved handles and electric solenoids, with a hidden pushbutton or remote to operate them. I searched the web and found no info on how-to, so I'm posting this page for others that might want to try it. Solenoids were going to be a last resort, so I ciphered a few designs up ahead of time. It wouldn't be until I opened it up and measured the clearance that I would know which way to go. If you are a professional rod builder or fabricator, please don't laugh. I had to cipher this all out on my own and this is intended to help others in my shoes. This was all done with my Sawzall, grinder, drill, and hammer "machine shop".


The culprits. I even put spacers behind the strike plate since the screw boss was floating. I figured that the plate flexing may have caused the constant readjustment, but it was no cure. Removing the latch is a bit of a pain without pulling the glass and channel completely, but it's doable.

As an aside, the weather got damp and the new (< 1 year old) ChevyDuty door panels started peeling. I was going to recommend clear coating them (I did paint the backside), but in looking for new ones I see they are now advertised as varnished.

The coated ones are holding up fine. I did paint the backsides though.

The Kit from Custom Auto Creations in MO, an Ebay seller. I didn't use the aluminum knobs and plates, but it was still a good deal.

Just guessing where to start, since a 3/8" hole existed in the jamb in about the right place, I tapped it to 7/16" and threaded in the strike. I wanted to check alignment before I started cutting anything.

I really made use of the duct tape on this job. Way before wanting to tack weld anything, I taped the plate in place and checked where I needed to cut the door. I wanted the strike post as far recessed as possible, otherwise it jumps put, grabs my back pocket, and tears the seat out of my britches. Ask me how I know this. The window channel dictates the latch position, both fore and aft and in and out. I could not mount the plate flush with the existing skin or it would interfere. I determined that it needed to be spaced out a 1/4". Any further out, and the plate would hit the jam.

I cut about 1/2" off the top and the bottom of the plates for clearance to the existing recess in the post.

Point of no return - I took the Sawzall and made a hole. Note that I'm attempting this job without disturbing weatherstrip and outside paint. It would have been smarter to do this while the doors were bare. If you do it while the doors are stripped, test fit with the window channel and regulator in place. Clearance is tight. For In and Out positioning, I slipped the plate lip in between the inner skin and its reinforcement. All the mechanisms clear the skin and window at any point in the motion.

I welded 1/4" keystock to the latch plate for spacing. Since the plate didn't completely cover the original latch opening, I put the long spacer so that it extended the plate by a 1/4" as well, minimizing the amount of fill needed. I had already made up my mind that if the stupid welder acted up, I was going to junk it and buy a Miller. Naturally, it behaved and I still don't have that Miller.

I determined that the pivot axis needed to be perpendicular to planes of motion of the latch and pushbutton. I tried to use one of the mounting bolts, but I couldn't get enough travel to trip the latch. The button travels about 1/2", the latch 1/4" so my arm length ratio had to be 2:1 or less. All the bends and twists are irrelevant in this calculation, it is just the straight line from pivot to point of action. The plate in the middle is my pivot plate, the pivot a cut down long 1/4" bolt positioned just behind the latch and slightly above the center mounting bolt. I used the long bolt so the lever could pivot on the shoulder not the threads. The latch is sandwiched between the latch plate and pivot plate, the pivot bolt extending through a hole I drilled in the latch plate to give it stability. I doubt the 1/8" plate will flex much, but this is cheap insurance. At the right you can see the piece of cardboard I used as a template to make the lever - cardboard being much easier to cut and fit when ciphering links than steel. A simple "L", the toe is bent up to put the rod hole below the hole in the latch lever. I welded a 3/4" square pad to the end where the pushbutton strikes. The rod is 1/8" cold-rolled from the hardware store.

Mocked up bits. Prior to welding the pivot bolt, I assembled the lever with flat washers on either side and ran the nut down tight to the shoulder. Clamped with just the right feel of play, I welded the bolt to the pivot plate, then cut the head off on the outside of the latch plate. The loops in the rod are fairly large since the links swing in perpendicular arcs and the lever swings away from the latch arm.

With the latch positioned during trial fitting, you can see the button/lever relationship. I bent the toe of the lever slightly to get the most positive action and least slop.

The existing hole was too far outboard, and the recess too deep, so I trimmed the strike plates so the caged nut is butted against the inner wall of the post and top and bottom are even with the recess. A little hammer work was necessary to get clearance for the cage and the washer on the strike. I had to put a 3/4" hole in the post for clearance for the threads on the strike. Here the plate is bolted from the backside for fitting and welding. I tacked and checked all the fits before final welding. What a change! On the passenger side, I placed a large water-soked towel over the filler neck and gas tank while welding on the jam. I'm still here.

To minimize heat build up, all my welds were short beads and spots. OK - grapes, but it worked. That's why I have a grinder. I kept dousing it with a wet rag to avoid burning paint and weatherstrip.

Assembled latch with mounting bolts just slid in for positioning. I drilled a pair of 1/16" holes to mount a return spring to keep the lever from rattling. The nut is Loctited and staked, the excess threads cut off. The window channel kisses this nut and the mounting nuts. For the passenger side, I even ground this nut to half-height for a bit extra clearance. I installed it as you see here, using Duct tape to hold the mounting nuts and lever in the approximate position (after retreiving them all from the bottom of the door several times.) I could have removed the glass and channel but the Duct tape worked well. Use a big piece with plenty of tail, so it's easy to remove once the nuts are started.
I used an awl to line up the holes and nuts then slid the bolts in and started them. I used an open end wrench to hold the nuts, but a crow's foot would have been better (I don't own a set).

The inside link needed to be lengthened about 1" and an offset bend added to bring it inside. With the actuator centered on its mounting bolts, I adjusted the link length so the end slot in the link was all the way forward. This way, when the outside button is pushed, the inside link doesn't move, reducing the effort needed. I could have lengthened the slot even but found it unneeded. On the driver's side I used a nut and shoulder bolt to join the link to latch, but on the passenger side I used a cut down bolt as a clevis pin, and installed a cotter pin through the 1/8" hole I cross-drilled. It worked better than the nut and bolt. I had to open an access hole to make the attachment. I made no attempt to preserve the inside locking feature, but thinking about it, it is possible. The white stuff is spray Lithium grease.

Passenger side went a lot easier, and if I was to do it again, I would expect it easier still. On this plate I cut the front flange down, then bent the ends over rather than using the 1/4" key stock. Once bent I cut them to the right height. The bend looks more finished. I did use the long piece of keystock for the back edge spacer. Here you can see the extra hole I used for the pivot bolt.

A lot neater cutting once I knew how it all fit.

Duct tape to the rescue again! Getting the open end wrench on the bottom nut was tricky. Holding the top end with my finger tips I couldn't position it and pull it up into place. A long tail of duct tape gave me the handle I needed and kept the wrench from falling to the bottom when I did drop it.

In the 40's for several days, Saturday at lunch I heard falling temps and 6-9" of snow predicted. No way could I stretch my finishing work out in that kind of weather cause I can't heat the garage enough. This is a 4 hour, one coat of Duraglass lightly sanded, a quick shot of primer dried with a hair dryer, and a fast rattle-can top coat finishing job. When the weather warms, I can do it right. Heck it's hidden and it is just an old truck.

Was it worth it? Heck yes! These doors close great with no more slamming, even at zero F this AM. I should have done this from the start, but was scared off by my own inexperience. Hope this helps you with your project. For those that have been following along, I just passed a year on the road and 12,000 miles. It's been fun.

06/06 And still no regrets or complaints. The Bear Claws are working great, the doors close easily, and I still haven't gotten around to prettying up the finishing job. I never even notice it.