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Keys to Opening the Hot Rod Hobby

Keys to Opening the Hot Rod Hobby


Car keys.

Hot rodders take them for granted, until the day they break one, lose one, lock one in the car or buy a car without keys. Then, they have a crisis. You can’t just stroll into your corner hardware store and get a key made for your ’32 Ford. During an automotive flea market, we caught up with Mike Granlund who runs Vintage Lock in Cambridge, Minn. From his key-blank-loaded show trailer, Granlund makes hundreds of keys for car collectors and also provides lockout services for owners of classic cars and newer vehicles alike.

Mike is among a small group of suppliers of hard-to-find key blanks for hot rods. Another such company, Key Men, of Monroe, New York also stocks keys for antique buses, motorcycles and a few old airplanes. Some of the key blanks these companies offer are no longer manufactured. Vintage Lock has thousands of keys in inventory. Key Men offers keys to fit cars back to 1920s models.

OEM (original equipment manufacturer) key blanks are the best to use. These are key blanks made by the company that made the OEM keys. Sometimes it's not easy to determine if a part is OEM. According to Key Mens’ website, Briggs & Stratton (now called Strattec) is still manufacturing key blanks that fit 75-year-old cars, but they aren’t labeled the same as the originals.

There are three types of blanks. Replacements are shaped like originals, but not labeled the same. Look-alikes are shaped and labeled to look identical to originals. Crest key blanks have a car logo or some other promotional design.

There are a number of ways to go about identifying the right key blank for your car. You may see code as Y-152 on a Chrysler key or 8-50 over C on a GM key made by Curtis. These are called key codes. They tell locksmiths how to cut a key, without seeing the original key. The code may be stamped on the key or the lock cylinder or written in the original owner’s manual if you have it.

There are three types of key codes: Direct Code has numbers corresponding to cuts on the key and tells the locksmith how deep to make each cut. Some keys for old cars use direct code. Interpreted Code requires a locksmith to do simple math and subtract something from the stamped number to get to the real code. Reference books tell locksmiths how to interpret codes. With a Book Code the number stamped on the key must be looked up in a code book. The code book index lists the numbers for the cuts that need to be made.

Once a key code is “broken” the locksmith refers to a guide that identifies the depth and spacing of the cuts to be made in the key blade. Key cutting machines are then set for a certain key. There are so many types of car keys that a setup for every key is not possible. A depth and space guide can be used. Each key code has a depth and space guide. Many codes share the same guide.

For peace of mind, you should have at least two sets of keys for every hot rod you own. Take one set with you when you’re driving the car and bring the other set along in case you lock the first set in the vehicle. Keys are inexpensive and it is not a bad idea to have a third set to keep at home.


Vintage Lock

144 S. Main St.

Cambridge, MN 5508

(763) 689-0877 or 1-(888)-889-0877


Key Men

Monroe, NY USA 10950