July 12th (2015), I attended a large Texas VW Show-n-Swap called DubSplash. This was a show well-organized by der luftkuhlers and well sponsored by an area Volkswagen Dealership and several other businesses. The show was held in Carrollton, TX, at the much-loved Sandy Lake Amusement Park. This was the 4th year for the show. der luftkuhlers not only are fine people but know how to work with the other area VW Clubs to bring out the best in everyone!
I wanted to enjoy the cars but, most of all, to meet people. One of my VW friends and I hooked up at the show. There was not a cloud in the sky and the Texas heat was fierce. Bob suggested that we go for a snow cone. Enroute, I glimpsed a vendor’s enclosed trailer-shop. It was none other than Steve Sandlin’s Locksmith Shop on wheels!
I knew of Steve and had referred people to him over the years but—-never had met him. Here was my chance.
While we talked, I asked Steve to cut a pair of keys for one of my VWs. I had been hating those generic keys for some time. When we parted, I had a pair of VW Logo-ed keys in my pocket.
Steve agreed to an interview so that the Readers of 1967Beetle.com can benefit from answers to some of the common questions we have about the keys and locks and door handles for our ’67 Beetles. Let’s hear from Steve:
Q. How many years have you been involved in locksmithing and how did you get your start?
Steve: Jay, I’ve been doing this about 15 years. A member of the North Houston (Texas) VW club (of which I’m a long time member) was a locksmith and I went to him to get some work done on my ‘84 Westfalia. I’m actually a broadcast engineer and, through that, am pretty mechanical and technical. He showed me what he was doing, and I commented that there might be a market at some of the VW shows. He didn’t think so, but offered to teach me a few things. About that time, a friend was selling his Western Auto store, and had an old key machine and a few keys, and I bought those. I joined several trade organizations and made friends with other locksmiths who took me under their wing.
Q. It was quite a distance from your home in Huntsville, TX to this show. I measure it at about 195 miles—over a 3 hour drive. This shows a dedication to the VW Hobby! How many shows do you do a year?
Steve: I generally do around 20 shows a year. I’ve branched into just about anything automotive, and work quite a lot of swap meets in addition to VW, British and Italian car shows. Our mail order business is an important part of what we do also.
Q. Most people think of keys when they hear the word “locksmith”. But you do so much more. Tell our Readers some of the types of locksmith work you do for Volkswagen vehicles.
Steve: I never know what I’ll see! I get so many jobs where a person has tried to do his own work and fouled things up, and I even see a lot of really bad work done by other locksmiths. There are a few little things that are unique to VW, and if you don’t know those, you can mess up some of the locks pretty badly. With the cars getting older, parts are becoming harder to find and I end up having to make parts or modify other parts in some cases. With the newer cars, we are getting into the laser cut keys and computer programming, which is a big expense to be able to service.
Q. Steve, you and I discussed licensing of locksmiths. Please tell the Readers of 1967Beetle.com how important that is.
Steve: Most states require licensing for locksmiths. There are quite a few people who call themselves locksmiths who have not been able to become licensed. Avoid these individuals; if they can’t pass the licensing exams, do you really want them working on your car? In Texas, we are licensed by the Department of Public Safety through the division that regulates armed guards and private investigators. We must maintain insurance and attend continuing education classes to maintain our licenses. We maintain membership in the Associated Locksmiths of America, which is a trade organization. They also have certification for locksmiths. That certification is another way to insure that the individual working on your car knows what he is doing.
Q. I recently referred a person to you. She had just one key and needed additional copies. Her key was a generic with no indications of a key code. In such a case, what should an individual do in order to obtain correct keys from you?
Steve: We prefer to have the code if at all possible. It’s easy on a Beetle. On the ‘67, there are 2 screws under the door weather strip that obviously go into the handle. Remove these and work the handle free from the door (push handle forward until it disengages, then pull outward). The code is stamped into the postage-stamp-sized metal piece near the lock cylinder. All the ‘67 Beetles originally used the K code series, so the code is 2 numerals, the letter K, then 3 numerals. We also like to see a photo of the key, because in many cases the handles have been re-keyed and no changes made to the embossed code. We will compare the photo to the code and go from there. In most cases, we can also generate a key directly from the photo, but if the key is extremely worn, we may have some difficulty.
Q. I often run into individuals who have no key at all—just a car with unknown door locks and ignition switch. How would you direct a person in this situation?
Steve: We’d start just as in the above scenario, with discovery of the door key code on a handle. Originally the car came with the same key for ignition and doors. In the case of a Cabrio, there was a separate key for the top lock. The code is generally on that lock. Most of the time we are successful, but the worst case would require sending the ignition and handles to us to see what we have.
Q. People also ask about having a decklid locking latch or a glove box locking latch keyed. Is there a way to key these locks to match the door and ignition keys?
Steve: That’s a loaded question. If the deck lock or glove box uses the same code series, then, yes. We can change the tumbler position of the 9 tumblers used in the K series lock, but we cannot change the mechanical fit of the key into the lock. As a general rule, if the key will go into the lock, we can re-key it to match. Generally the glove box is not the K code series, however.
Q. What about after-market or replacement ignition switches? Can they also be keyed to the original key code?
Steve: The original and replacement ignition switches are not designed to be re-keyed. The old dealer book on keying and locks specifically says that if an ignition is replaced, the other locks are to be re-keyed to match the new ignition. The current crop of after-market ignitions do not even use a key that VW has ever used….it is a key for Volvo and Mack heavy trucks and is totally different from the K series key.
Q. Collectors value original equipment on their vintage vehicles. I know that the ’67 Crowd really does. When a ’67 Beetle ignition switch goes bad, can anything be done to repair it?
Steve: They are not designed to be serviced. That’s not to say they can’t be taken apart, but I do it only with the understanding that it may work again, or may not, and absolutely with no warranty. Most of the failures seem to be in the electrical portion with the contacts wearing or burning. No parts are available and the casting has to be pretty well mangled even to get it apart. If you can locate another switch, generally you are better off.
Q. Do you have a supply of tumblers and locks and switches which you sell to car owners?
Steve: We get a few parts we find at swap meets, but for the most part we stick to repairs and keys. We’d rather let the normal parts suppliers work with supplying those items. Just a quick note on terminology…most people refer to the inner part of the lock as a tumbler. It is correctly called a plug. The tumblers are the brass wafers that are spring- loaded and contact the key and are housed in the plug.
Q. You mentioned to me that you can help hobbyists to service their locks. Is this something that the ordinary person can do himself with ordinary tools at hand?
Steve: Absolutely. The door handles are simple….remove them from the door. Use some spray carb cleaner through the keyway and then work it with the key. Flush it several times and allow to dry before re-lubricating. In the old days, graphite was used but there are much better lubricants now. We find that graphite combines with the metal particles and moisture to allow the locks to corrode. While WD-40 is an excellent product, it is primarily designed to be a water displacement product. We prefer synthetic lubricants. Tri-Flow also works well. In our shop, we typically use Lok-Shot which is a synthetic made by Strattec, which was formerly the lock division of Briggs and Stratton. They have made almost all GM locks since the 20’s and know what they are doing.
Q. Do you have other pointers for keeping our locks in good working order?
Steve: Just keep them cleaned and lubed. Use a correctly cut key that is not terribly worn. Most times a new code-cut key will solve a lock problem. When you have a key that is a copy of a copy of a copy, the anomalies of the key machine, key blank, and especially the person duplicating the key can start to quickly get a key that is terribly out of spec. Just making a copy of a worn key will only result in another worn out key, but just on new metal. Many people feel that if the key is badly worn, the lock must be also. In reality, the keys wear considerably faster than the locks. That is due to the keys rubbing around other keys, coins, and other items in a purse or pocket.
Q. Steve, from your many key stories, tell our Readers an outstanding one or your most interesting key story.
Steve: I think the most interesting doesn’t involve a VW, but a client in Maine. He had a Rolls-Royce, and his house staff was furnished a Bentley. The gentleman wanted his key to work both cars. That would be simple rekeying of the locks, except that he did not want the Bentley key to operate the Rolls. He had checked with Rolls in the US and in England and they said it couldn’t be done. He contacted Yale in the UK, the manufacturer of the locks, with the same result. We put our thinking cap on and decided it was really just simple master keying like we do all the time in commercial applications. The only problem was the non-existence of the master pins to go into the locks. We acquired brass rod and machined our own pins, some as thin as .015″ and had the solution. All the locks had to removed from the Bentley, but we did it.
Steve, on behalf of the Readers of 1967Beetle.com I want to thank you for taking time from your schedule to talk with us!