Replacing a C3 Corvette Exterior Door Handle

I was very fortunate to find a replacement exterior door handle in excellent condition at the 2020 NCRS Winter Regional swap meet.

I had purchased a cheap China-made repop a few years ago which looked worse than my original door handle. Not cosmetically, of course, since it was brand new, but aesthetically since the door flap was down like in the case of a broken door handle spring.

The one I found, however, is—according to many—one of the best reproductions available, and they usually retail for around $75. They are made by Trim Parts.

The original door handle on my '76 Stingray is scratched and pitted beyond repair, which ironically, you cannot do as you would have to literally break the assembly in order to take it apart.

The only solution in these cases is to replace the original door handle.

I was lucky the seller was willing to negotiate a little and I paid only $15 for mine, so it was a score considering it was never used.

Yes, it had some light scratches which I buffed out prior to installation, and here's a side-by-side comparison between the original and the replacement door handle. Quite the difference.

If you've ever removed the door panel in order to work in the door, you know that there's hardly any room in there. And the best example of how tight things are inside the C3 Corvette door is the cut-out view of an actual door by Corvette parts vendor Bair's Corvette.

Door Panel Removal

Since I replaced the original door panels on my car with aftermarket parts, I had to use a few sheet metal screws so the panel would sit properly on the inside door skin. They are hardly visible when the door is closed so it was a compromise I was willing to make.

In addition to those screws, I also had to remove the two that secure the door mirror remote control cable to the panel.

I then removed the clip that secures the inside door lock to the shaft that operates the mechanism.

Do yourself a big favor and buy, borrow, or make the right tool to free the locking knob. I've used thin screwdrivers in the past and you can get the job done, and you also get to scratch the panel.

Plastic clip tools help prevent scratches, but they tend to be thicker than their metal counterparts. I do not remember where I got mine, but you can also make one out of a piece of sheet aluminum.

By the way, as the photo below shows, I prefer to push the metal clip just far enough in order to remove the knob. As you probably know, it is not uncommon for these spring clips to fly out and land on the floor where they are instantly transported into another dimension, never to be found again.

You do not need to remove the inside door handle since you can easily slide the panel from under it in order to remove it.

The red arrow below shows how the interior door handle is secured. My advice, again, is to leave it in place.

Next, remove the door pull handle. These are secured by two Phillips-head machine screws.

At this point, the door panel can be removed, and again, slide it forward a bit for it to clear the interior door handle, then lift it for the top edge to clear the door tabs by the door glass. Also, roll down the window.

With the door panel out of the way and the window rolled all the way down, remove the two screws that secure the anti-theft plastic shield (I believe that is its purpose) near the top of the door at the back. Once the screws are out, you can take it out and set it aside.

Next, remove the three screws that secure the door latch mechanism. Don't worry, the assembly will stay connected to the rods but removing the screws will allow it to slide down about a half-an-inch which gives you additional room to remove and then reinstall the exterior door handle.

The picture below shows the tiny area—approximately 5 inches wide by 4 inches tall—in which you will have to work one-handed in order to remove the nuts that secure the exterior door handle to the door in addition to the actuator rod that connects it to the mechanism.

By the way, expect small cuts and bruises so be prepared for that eventuality.

The red arrows below show the two 7/16" nuts that secure the exterior door handle to the door assembly. The one on the right is fairly easy to remove. The one on the left is another story.

Just be patient. You will cuss a lot during this process and you probably will drop at least one of the nuts inside the door, so have a telescoping magnetic pick-up tool to fish stuff out.

Oh, and a good flashlight is mandatory.

With the two nuts successfully removed, you can now turn your attention to the door handle actuating rod (photos below), which is attached to the mechanism's lever by a clip that keeps it secured in place.

By the way, if you need to adjust the throw of your door handle (how much you have to push for the door to pop open), you can do so by turning the clevis pin shown below once it is disconnected from the lever.

The red arrow below shows the clip that secures the clevis pin to the lever. In order to remove the clip, slide it out of the lever. And the clip must be in place before you can secure the rod and clevis pin to the lever.

With the doorhandle nuts out and actuating rod disconnected, you can remove the door handle.

There will be a rubber gasket and the actuating or latch rod will be still connected to it. Notice how it fits within the door as you take it out. This helps during reassembly.

I took advantage of this rare opportunity to clean the door edges and also touch up a few tiny chips and scratches. I also cleaned the rubber gasket and sprayed WD-40 on the studs and other moving parts to make installation easier.

With the old and new door handles side-by-side, I removed the actuator rod and clip off of the old handle and installed it in the new one.

With the rod in place, I installed the locking clip as shown below. Just make sure it snaps around the rod so it stays securely in place.

I then installed the new outside door handle making sure the rod was routed correctly.

As a side note, I used a couple of dabs of weatherstripping adhesive to keep the rubber gasket attached to the door handle and in place during reassembly.

Reassembly is the reverse of the steps I just outlined.

I also took this opportunity to address a couple of issues that needed attention.

The red arrow below shows a "repair" that a licensed shop did a few years ago on my car in order to eliminate unwanted rattling inside the door. I had no idea they had used bubble wrap and cable ties to accomplish this. How very "Bubba" of them.

Yeah, it worked, but it also looked like crap so there was no way I was going to keep it like that.

My solution was a lot cleaner and just as effective.

I used a couple of pieces of 3/8" hose, which I sliced longways, and wrapped around a couple of the rods that were causing all that racket. I secured them in place with cable ties.

I also drilled a small hole and looped a cable tie to limit the amount of movement the long door lock rod had, and this definitely took care of that issue. Before I reinstalled the door panel, I applied some lithium grease to the rod in that area just for good measure.

One gremlin that rose its ugly head after the door panel was reinstalled was a horrible rattling noise that was caused by the power window motor every time I closed the door. This was annoying and unacceptable.

My car, for reasons unknown, is missing the cover plate that may prevent the rattling noises from happening, so I fabricated a very simple aluminum bracket that puts enough pressure behind the power window motor to eliminate the rattling noise.

I was going to use bubble wrap but I'd run out. Just kidding.

My original plan was to make a detailed video of the process of replacing the door handle, but there's no room to film anything that would make sense or be remotely helpful, and the only footage I was able to obtain was a few minutes of video of my hands, arms, head, and body blocking the take, plus me saying bad words.
A lot of them.

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