ELEMENTARY AND ALIMENTARY KEY STORIES
by bill orth
I had three uncommon occurrences with keys over the past two weeks, and thought the curious phenomenon merited some prose. Two Sundays ago when we left home to go to Jim Hilton’s mystery road tour, I thought something about the ignition key felt funny when I started the 328. But I blew it off because I had another stop to make at a vintage motorcycle swap meet and was in a hurry to make both. I found a shady place in a No Parking zone at the swap meet and shut the car off with no further difficulty. When it was time to scoot over to the tour’s meeting place, however, when I turned the key in the switch the head came off in my hand when it hit the spring pressure of the starting position. Well, crap; how could that happen? 328s, 348s & Testarossas have that goofy key with a hinged pivot in it that is supposed to prevent puncturing your kneecap during a collision. When broken, this fine idea leaves a little stub of the key shank sticking out of the switch, but I thought I knew just what to do. I got the pliers out of the tool kit, grabbed the stump and twisted it to engage the starter. Instead, the switch didn’t move, but the little stump twisted under the leverage of the big pliers, threatening to break off again, deeper in the hole. Double crap. Further attempts with a screwdriver and swearing did little good, but I then realized I had parked on a hill, and since it truly was a No Parking zone, there was no one behind me!
Since the key had broken after it had turned the ignition on, all I had to do was put the car in gear, coast down the hill a few feet and bump the clutch to start the car. No problem! Well, actually, there was a problem in that now I couldn’t shut the car off, and if I did, it had better be on another hill in order to restart it. So we went on over to do the tour, simply leaving the car running whenever we stopped and hoping I wouldn’t get clumsy and stall it at a light somewhere. The tour was great, but at the end, rather than leaving the car running outside the restaurant for an hour or so, we headed on home to deal with The Problem. Fortunately, a slender little model-builder’s screwdriver could be slipped down next to the shank and twisted to shut the car off, once home in the garage. There is little resistance to twisting left, unlike when you’re up against the start-position spring trying to go to the right. And, since I have a spare key for the car, it will be very easy to get a replacement cut. But when I bought that car only one key came with it, so I had a duplicate cut soon afterward, because I know how much more difficult and expensive it is to do once your sample is gone. The message here is that if you are one of the many people who only have one key for something, get a duplicate made this week! Little known fact: Most European keys have a steel shank that is much stronger than the brass ones commonly used in domestic and Asian cars, plus their starter switches tend to have stiffer springs. A hardware-store duplicate is always brass, and if used in a Euro-car’s switch, will soon twist off and break, leaving you right where I was. Always buy a factory steel-shank key blank to have cut to fit your car.
OK, second key-thing was an article in the Denver Post this morning. Some joker was pictured holding an x-ray of his belly that clearly showed the General Motors ignition key he had swallowed while teasing a philandering friend. (Don’t even ask) Problem was, the friend only had that one key for his eighteen-year-old car. He also didn’t want to wait a couple of days to papertrain his buddy, either. So, not knowing what else to do and since his insurance would pay for an x-ray, they had one done. Fortunately, the x-ray showed the key in profile and a cooperative locksmith was able to use the image to make a good enough duplicate that turned the lock! Actually, the only reason that worked was the old lock was so worn that anything close would have turned it anyway. So, if you’ve got a one-key car, unless you want to run those odds of a favorable x-ray picture and finding an adventurous locksmith, or relish (poor word choice, but I couldn’t resist it) the idea of waiting for nature to take its course, get a duplicate made soon!
So what was the third odd key-thing? A hard-bargaining, aggressive-driving Chinese grandmother named “Ki” came in and bought a new Lotus Elise from me this week—a car that many far-younger, but less-fit folks find difficult to get in or out of and altogether too ‘racy’ for their tastes!
-- Bill Orth --