Door Alignment for a Closed Car

The primary adjustment when shimming the body is at the cowl. Closed cars shift like a parallelogram as illustrated by the red line. Tilting the cowl by changing the shims below it raises or lowers the doors and changes the square of the body.

Our primary objective here is the final adjustment of the vertical door alignment by means of shims between the body and frame as done by the Ford Motor Company when the cars were produced.  I will however touch on the basic problem of mismatched door and body contours at the pillars.

Assembly must be done on a straight frame for proper results.  Most frames require straightening, at least to remove a sag at the rear motor mounts.  While shimming of the body can overcome this, it requires raising the body excessively to obtain a reasonable hood fit and you may have difficulty latching the hood.  If the frame was previously straightened, check it again with the chassis assembled.  You may be surprised!

Straighten door hinges.  Door hinges are often bent. Straighten and adjust to obtain an even gap at each hinge pillar measuring 1/16″ to 3/32″.  No other course of action will resolve this problem.

Door fitting should be done without the door alignment dovetails in place.  These will give a false reading.

The first thing to determine is whether the problem is primarily the body or the doors. The first indication comes from viewing the side of the body from the belt line to the top of the doors or door openings.  There should be no twist in the door in this area and consequently the corresponding body pillars must be on the same plane in this area.  Any twist in this area of the door will cause binding of the window glass when raising or lowering the window.

The 1931 slant windshield models have an all steel structure.  Any more than a subtle mismatch of the contours is due to physical damage.  A visual inspection should locate the problem area and the necessary correction should be evident.

1928 to early 1931 Fordors have a wooden substructure with a sheet metal skin.  There are many variables since the wood controls the stability and shape of the body and doors.  The first step is to be sure the doors are perfectly flat above the belt line as described above.  If the wood has loosened at the joints, or improperly fitted new wood is installed, the door may twist but the curvature of the door from top to bottom will not change.  Tightening of all the original joints SHOULD stabilize the door and remove undesired twist.  If some twist remains, check for warpage in the large wooden kick plate near the bottom of the door.  The strength and fit of this kick plate can have considerable impact on the twist and stability of the door.

After the doors are corrected there shouldn’t be any remaining gap at the lower door corners.  If there is, either the upper body wood is weakened and spreading outward, or the rear hinge pillar has shifted outward just above the rear wheel well.  Either correction is beyond the scope of this article.


The final adjustment is the body shimming to level the doors and align the body belt around the car.

Originally the starting point for shimming the body was two layers of fabric reinforced rubber with a total uncompressed thickness of 5/16″-3/8″.  This was used at all body bolts except the front bolt on each side.  These used a layered rubber disk near the same thickness, but thinner layers were removed or added to adjust the tilt of the cowl.

Your goal is to level all the doors and center pillar and have shims totaling no less than 3/16″, and no more than 3/8″, at any of the body bolts.

1. Begin by placing rubber shims between the frame and body at each bolt as described above.  Snug each body bolt beginning at the front of the body and continuing rearward until all bolts are snug.

2. Carefully attempt to close each of the doors.  Be cautious as one or more doors may hit or bind somewhere and damage paint in the door openings.

3. The first or primary adjustment is done at the cowl.  Using the first illustration as a guide, determine if the cowl needs to be tilted either forward or back.  Tilting the cowl will affect both front and rear doors as shown.  If the front and rear doors are within 3/16″ of level on one side of the car, that side of the cowl should not be tilted.  The correction should be obtained with the second stage of shimming.

Keep in mind that both sides of the body can be adjusted somewhat independently. However the cowl assembly will twist only slightly with the fuel tank bolted in firmly. Tilting one side of the cowl with the addition or reduction of shims will slightly tilt the other side as well.

4. The next stage is simply raising or lowering either the front section (cowl), or rear section behind the rear doors.  This process works completely independent from one side of the body to the other.

Using the second illustration as a guide, determine whether to raise or lower either the front or rear of the body.  The change in door height will be the same as the change in shims.  For example, adding 5/32″ (compressed) shim under the left rear section of the body will raise the left rear door 5/32″. 

This illustration shows the secondary adjustment. After the front and rear doors are within 3/16″ of level, the remaining adjustments are made by either raising or lowering each quarter of the body and its corresponding door.

5. Finally, with all doors level, check the height of the center pillar.  If it appears to be either too high or low as indicated by the spacing above the doors or the dovetail alignment, adjust the shims under the pillar.


1. For fine tuning use thick roofing felt (paper) cut slightly smaller than the rubber shim between the wood and shim.  It will not be visible.

2. 1928-29 models used a continuous shim from front to rear of the cowl.  This method did not provide the option of tilting the cowl.  It will likely be necessary to “cheat” in this area.

3. As with most aspects of restoration, patience is the key to success.  The shimming process is “trial and error” and may require several efforts over a day or two to obtain the desired results.

Installation of Leather Hood Corners

The earliest hoods had no hood corners.  From December 1927 through the end of production, Ford used a black leather hood corner on the rear corners of the hood only.  They were triangular in shape with a sewn seam at the back and installed with a tubular enamel rivet.  Rubber corners are not correct.  When installing the leather hood corners, the front view should have no seams shown.  The back view will have the sewn seam running at a slightly off 45 degree angle in the middle of the back side, so that the rivet hole does not penetrate the seam.

This tech tip was originally provided by the MAFCA-MARC judging rules and printed in the Nov/Dec. 2000 “A” Quail Call.

Rain Gutters

If you are fortunate enough to at some point in your life to restore as “A” Sedan with rain gutters, you may have to rely on replacement or reproduction rain gutters. Sadly, the later was my dilemma as I be­gan work on my recently acquired 1929 Murray Town Sedan. A quick trip to Snyder’s and I had alumi­num repro two-piece rain gutters. The backing piece is secured by hundreds of nails into the roof (with the repro, you get to drill all the holes), and the actual gutter piece should snap in place.

The immediate problem was how to bend the rain gutter assembly (you need to bend both pieces at the same time) to fit the downward curve above the rear quarter windows. After much manual effort, I stumbled (literally) across the solution. In the bowels of my tool shed was a 1/2” electrical conduit bender (some call a “hickey”). This little jewel made the job so easy, I had to share it with the world! The accompanying photograph shows the before and after. The gutters come in 10’ lengths. The fin­ished gutter is approximately 6’ long, so you have some material to “test bend” and get up your nerve. GOOD LUCK!

HINT: I could not get the two halves to go together at all. I had to draw file the length of the backing material to get it to mate with the gutter.

This tech tip was supplied by Von Wolfe and printed in the September 1999 “A” Quail Call.