A Look Back at Vintage Auto Locks

Tips for servicing vintage Chrysler, Ford, GM and Studebaker vehicle locks

In 1967 GM changed their lock system, adding one more depth and began using various lettered keyways. Key codes were stamped on lock cylinders until the early 1970s. After that time only the ignition lock contained a key code.


Model A cars were made from 1927-1931. One of the most popular keys for Model A vehicles is the Ilco C1098A. For some reason Ilco shows this in the General Motors section, but it is definitely only for Ford Model A vehicles.

Ford began using Hurd locks in 1932 and carried the same Ilco 1125H keyway through 1951. Various Dodge trucks also used the same keyway for many years. Several different code series were used such as FX, FW &FY. Fortunately Ford printed the code numbers on every lock, so Ford key fitting is not too difficult. Door locks were held by a set screw accessible on the edge of the door. Unfortunately these screws often rust in place, so removing a Ford door lock is always an adventure.

Ford was one of the first car manufacturers to use locking steering wheels. Vehicles from 1932-1948 used this system. The ignition lock is retained by a serrated pin located on the bottom of the steering wheel lock unit. Removal can be done by drilling a hole into the serrated pin and tapping the hole for 6-32 threads. Insert a long screw into the tapped hole, then attach a vise grip to the screw at a right angle. Hold onto the vise grip handle and hit the vise grip near the screw with a hammer, A few swift hits should dislodge the serrated pin. The ignition cylinder can then be removed for key fitting.

Many Ford locks had no shoulder on the front of the plug. A shim can often be inserted in the front of the cylinder and tumblers can be lifted with a pick as the shim is moved towards the rear. This system can also be used on Hurd padlocks.

The small pin size of Ford locks sometimes lead to quick wear and failure. To solve this problem Ford changed to a sturdier key system for 1952-1956 (Ilco 1127D). Ford again changed keyways for 1957-1966 and added various grooves. An Ilco 1127DU blank will operate any ignition/door lock and the 1127ES will operate any glove/trunk lock made from 1952 to 1966. Key codes continued to be stamped on most lock housings through 1966. Many truck models continued to use the Ford single-sided lock system into the 1970s, but most other Ford models changed to the double-sided Ilco 1167FD key system in 1967.


Early Studebakers from the 1931-1940 used wafer keys and keyway O1122A. 1941-1949 models used an X1199AR blank for the door and ignition with the O1122A keyway continuing for trunk locks. 1949-1952 models often used Hurd locks with the same Ilco 1125H keyway as 1932-1951 Ford. Studebaker went back to the X1199AR blank from 1952-1965. Ilco O1122A blanks were used during 1952-1965 for trunk locks.

Compared to all other cars on the road, Studebakers of the 1950s caused the most headaches for locksmiths. Door cylinders are held by an internal retainer. The door skin is so narrow that a human hand cannot get inside to reach the retainer. A special tool is needed to access the retainer from above after removing the outer door handle. Another problem is the door/ignition depth and space system. An unusual .018 depth increment is used with depth #1 starting at .222.

Miscellaneous Vehicles

Most of the other popular cars of the day such as Hudson, Nash, AMC and Packard all used Briggs & Stratton five wafer keys exactly the same as big trucks are using today. If you have 1098X, 1098L and 1098DB key blanks on your board, those will cover almost every one of the lesser car manufacturer models. Although a thin blank such as an Ilco 1098M will enter all of these keyways, individual blanks are a much better choice against possible breakage.


Most of the door locks used during the 1930s were called pillar locks. These locks had long square shafts connected to the cylinder. The shafts had flexible couplings. A guide hole was drilled into the rear of the shaft.

Locksmiths would poke a small hole into the upholstery in line with the locking hub and insert a thin wire through the hole and into the guide hole in the lock shaft. The cylinder could then be easily inserted into the door while the shaft was guided into the lock hub. Since the upholstery was made of thick cloth or mohair, the small hole was never visible.

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