How To: The door on '67 or '68 won't open!

There is a very common problem on '67 and '68 Cougars where the door just won’t open. The outside release button won’t work and the inside release lever won’t work. It doesn’t matter if it is locked or unlocked.

The good news is that by 1968, the engineers at Ford knew about the problem and published a fix in the service manual. Chances are if you are having this problem and looking for answers on the internet, you probably don’t have the manual. The first thing that I recommend to new Cougar owners is to buy a manual, as it is going to be the best money you ever spent, but you can do that AFTER we help you get the door open.

Since this is such a common problem, It has been discussed many times before. So many times that you end up posting things like this when the question gets asked:

You cannot remove the panel with the door closed without ruining the panel.

There is a procedure outlined in the factory service manual called the emergency unlock procedure. Get the manual. You will be instructed to bend a length of wire into a tool to unlock the door. This is a known problem.

Do exactly what it says in the manual. The door will unlock and you will save yourself the cost of the panel, and get a manual that you can really use.

Or you can destroy the panel. And then buy the manual, and make the tool and unlock the door.


I have copied much of this from a previous discussion. In that particular case a release spring was also out of position. This may or may not be apart of your problem but it is helpful to address that as well.

So here is the fix:

You need to make a tool from a piece of stiff wire to reach down inside the door to press the latching pawl down to release the latch. Here is a picture from the shop manual illustrating the use of the tool. The tool is about 20" long with a 1/2" right angle bend at the bottom and a 3" right angle at the top, to create a backwards S shape. I used an 1/8" diameter steel rod from Ace to make mine. The rod was stiff enough to require the use of a vice to help make the bends.

How this thing actually works.

The door locks on our cars do not actually lock the door. They disable our ability to unlock the door using the interior and exterior lever or button.

The door locks automatically as it is closed. There are two detents as the door closes, the second detent occurs when the door is fully closed.

The door is held in the locked position by a pawl, kind of like a tooth on a gear, that engages two recesses in latch. The pawl is held in position by the coil spring at the bottom of the latch. If this spring fails, the door will not stay closed.

The release mechanism acts to push down upon the pawl to push it out of engagement with the detent. The release mechanism is returned to position by the clock wound spring about its fulcrum. This is the spring that appears to be broken in the pictures.

When this spring fails, you will know it instantly because there will be very little resistance to the inside door handle or the outside push button. The lock knob will also be impossible to move more than a little bit up or down.

When the door is “locked” by the key or the inside lock knob, the release mechanism is actually rotated into a position where it cannot act to move the pawl. Unfortunately, there is a known design issue where the release mechanism can be driven up on top of the release pawl. When this happens, the door release and lock knobs will all appear to function more or less normally, but with no effect.

The problem is caused when the inside release lever is adjusted a little to tightly which leads to a pre load condition of the release mechanism. It is very common to have this problem after the door has been disassembled for glass replacement, or even an adjustment to eliminate rattles in the door, caused by the release rods.

In both cases, the door will not open from inside or out. The solution is to bend a long wire that can be used to push down on the release pawl. Once the door is opened the release rods can be adjusted accordingly.

In the original posting the spring was also out of place. In some cases this spring can rust through and fail. This spring can be in place and in perfect condition, and the door can still be impossible to open using the inner and outer release.

Here are few pictures to illustrate this problem:

And here is what the latch looks like removed from the car.

And this what an unbroken spring looks like…

Great information Bill. I’ve never had or heard of this problem. Thanks for the heads up for future reference.

Remind me to install a hidden killswitch on my cat. If it’s that easy to get the door open, and that easy to Hotwire, I’m not sure I’m comfortable parking anywhere ever again. :slight_smile:

Bill B, is that the same spring that holds the lock-knob up/unlocked? My drivers door lock knob has to be held up to open the door, and the “fix it” is FAR down the list…

Thanks so much for this information! Had the car painted and suddenly couldn’t open the driver door. After about an hour of messing with it, I found this post. Fabricated a tool from 1/8 threaded aluminum from Home Depot and it worked!! I cant believe I found the latch considering I couldn’t see a thing. Interesting thing is the spring was actually in place and fine. So I soaked the lock with WD40 and fingers crossed.

If the door handle release rod is tightened up it will cause the same problem. Usually it gets tightened up so it won’t rattle.

here’s what I use…

I had this problem w/my '68. It would eventually open if I repeatedly locked and unlocked, and then held the lock rod in the up position. First try would get it half open, and then second try would get it fully open. NOTHING would happen with the key lock.

I bought a door latch and striker from my neighbor. Problem solved. I also tried wd40, white lithium grease, etc. to no avail.

When I’m out, the ignition relay gets removed if I park it and the 9mm on my hip is to make sure some idiot doesn’t get brave when I’m pulling away.

A very helpful thread. I found the Latch Actuating Tool in the 70 Shop manual but had no idea where to aim to unlatch and was fishing around in the door with no success. The tread helped but I ended up taking other door’s card off to get a better idea of where the Latch Pawl Lever is. On the 70 you want to insert the tool tip down 14-1/4" below the chrome (XR7) door trim. The tool should be inserted initially aiming for the middle of the door, behind (to the rear of the car) the window glass, and with the tip pulled back a bit away from the lock assembly to clear the rest of the lock assembly. When inserted to the correct depth move the tool so that the tip moves back against the latch and a bit to the inside (interior of car). It takes a fairly firm push but will release. The 1/8" steel rod is sufficient with the vertical shaft straight. A coat hanger is not going to be stiff enough. 3/16" rod might work but might be a little to big for maneuverability or to insert in the space above the latch pawl. The lower screw on the latch assembly is a pretty good guide on Latch Pawl Lever depth in the door if the distance is different in the 67/68 door, you can see it in the pictures.

Another tip that worked for me :

The club is worthless. Go take a look at Youtube. These can be defeated in seconds. I have a hidden kill switch in the Shelby.


I agree those clubs are garbage. Kill switch is the best bet, won’t keep them from getting in the car and trying to start it but at least they can’t drive it off.

Well guys, glad I found this, I’m hoping it’s the same for a '69.
I just finished re-furbing the door cards, new beltline felts, fixing the remote mirror, etc. close the door for that nice resounding slam, no rattling window, solid firm close… can’t open the door inside, outside, cuss like a sailor for about 15 min, then pout.
Not my first rodeo, I’ve had worse, but this was a new one for me, most frustrating after all the work getting that door re-habbed then the getting sucker punched by the latch. must have been all that lithium grease i put on it.

UPDATE! checked out Gregar’s Link above, in it, Don Rush says:

jerk the crap outta the door lock knob shaft with visegrips after hosing the latch down with your favorite penetrating oil…yep, worked like a charm…