The Evolution of Car Keys: More Interesting Than You Think | Feature | Car and Driver

From the December 2017 issue

You’ve lost them and you’ve found them. The once humble key has grown up, gained utility, and may soon become obsolete. Here are some highlights of the key’s evolution:

1949 Chrysler: While the first key that turned on a car’s ignition arrived in the early 20th century, it required the push of a button to engage the starter. In 1949, Chrysler introduces the modern key that starts the car with a turn of the ignition tumbler.

1965 Ford: Ford brings out its double-sided key still used today in many modern cars. Unlike the single-sided keys preceding it, this one has cuts on both sides, allowing it to be inserted into the tumbler in either orientation.

1986 Chevrolet Corvette: To make the Vette harder to steal, Chevy adds a coded resistor to the key that is needed to start the car. This Vehicle Anti-Theft System trickles down to most GM cars by the ’90s.

1987 Cadillac Allanté: The ’83 AMC/Renault Alliance has the earliest example of factory-installed remote entry capable of locking and unlocking the doors that we could find. But we couldn’t actually find one of these fobs, so we settled for that of another early adopter, the ’87 Cadillac Allanté. By the early ’90s, keyless-entry fobs are going mainstream, forever changing the lives of parking valets.

1990 Jaguar: Dubbed the Tibbe key, this odd shaft with an oval-shaped tip makes its first appearance in the 1989 Merkur Scorpio before being widely used by Jaguar in the 1990s; it also makes its way into many Ford products. The Tibbe key reappears for the 2010–13 Ford Transit Connect before disappearing for good.

1990 Lexus LS400: One of the first uses of the laser-cut key. This design provides an additional layer of security, mainly because it’s difficult to replicate.

1990 Mercedes-Benz SL: New for 1990, the Mercedes SL introduces a “switchblade” key that flips out of an integrated remote-locking fob. The design would be widely…

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