Tailgate Tricks: Installing LMC’s Hidden Latches

Back in 2011 we kicked off a project called the Hot Rod Hauler. The premise was simple enough. We needed a truck capable of pulling heavy trailers, hauling parts, and surviving the kinds of abuse a working truck has to cope with. We also wanted something that looked reasonably cool. What we didn’t want was the monthly payment that comes with a new truck, so we built what we needed.

We started with 1973 Ford F-350, added a fuel-injected 545 big-block and a Gearstar E4OD. We installed dropped axles up front and airbags at both ends and updated the interior with leather bucket seats and a Vintage Air climate-control system. Over the years we continued to make minor improvements but there were other truck projects to concern ourselves with so the 1-ton didn’t get much love, but then again it didn’t need much, until someone bashed in the tailgate.

While sitting in a parking lot our faithful Ford was hit hard enough to virtually destroy the tailgate. We put up with the mangled mess for a while, but when we slammed the tailgate shut hard enough to latch and the trim fell off we decided it was time to make the need repairs.  Fortunately, our good buddy Jake Brazille had a replacement tailgate at his body shop that was free for the taking. It came with a ding or two that will need attention, but the worst part was the latches were frozen, so once we got it closed it took some force to get it open. But the price was right, even though the color wasn’t.

Since the stock latches were junk we decided to do something cool and replace them with a hidden latch kit from LMC. These universal kits (PN 38-3010-F) include a pair of rotary latches, latch pins, a pair of support cables, and all the hardware necessary. Although these kits are intended for stepside beds, we found that with a little creativity they would work on our Styleside box as well.

The biggest obstacle in using the LMC latches for our application was the location of the latch assembly. The latch bracket comes with reinforcements that fit inside the rear stake pockets—in our case that placed the latches too far away from the tailgate to use the supplied mounting brackets for the latch pins. We could have simply welded the latch brackets to the bed closer to the tailgate, but we liked the way the LMC latch brackets attached to the bed, so we elected to make new mounting brackets for the latch pins instead and weld them in place.

With the tailgate equipped with hidden latches something had to be done about the hole for the original release handle. To cover the now-unused opening and add a custom touch at the same time a sheetmetal panel that fit over the recess between the upper and lower trim strips was added. Just to add a custom touch we punched 60 louvers in the panel before welding it in place.

To give our transformed tailgate a finished look we ordered tailgate moldings from LMC  (we used two lower strips, PN 492894, and you’ll see why) and replaced the taillight bezels (PNs 49-3188 left, and 49-3189 right).

Like we said, our F-350 hasn’t had much TLC over the last few years, but now that we’ve revamped the tailgate perhaps the time has come to make a list and fix a few things. Of course we’ve got to paint the tailgate, in fact it may be time to respray the whole truck, and we’ve been meaning to add a tonneau cover for quite some time … maybe this list thing isn’t such a hot idea.

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