How To Repair Your Imperial's Door & Trunk Locks

Imperial Home Page -> Repair -> Body -> Doors -> Locks

Facts from Bill: 


1970 was the last year that you could not lock the front doors by pushing the lock button down and closing the door.


Follow-up question:


Is that lock thing Imperial only?  My '75 Newport you just lock & shut!


Reply from Bill:

As I said, 1970 was the last year you could not lock the front doors by pushing down the lock buttons and closing the doors. From 1971 on, the front doors could be locked by pushing the lock button down and closing the door.

The idea behind it was that you could not lock the keys in your car. Of course, there were people like me who would close the driver's door after getting out, open the back door, push down the lock button on both front and rear doors, then close the rear door. I locked my keys in the car twice, that I can recall, with that trick.

The idea, I suppose, worked best on 2-door models (no rear doors) and on Mopars where the front doors were locked from the inside by pushing the door handle forward. It was a rather long reach to the inside front door handle from the open rear door.

And Chrysler was not the only one with that idea. My 1984 Renault Fuego had to be locked with the key. Locking the open door with the inside lock and then closing the door did not lock the car. The lock popped back to the open position.

Question from Robb (1955):

The passenger door on my 55 Newport will not open. From the inside or the outside, the key turns in the lock, the handle moves, but no open. I am perplexed...

Reply from Robert:

Bad news I am afraid. It sounds like a piece of the linkage has come off in the door. About the only thing you can do is remove the door panel and replace the linkage. However, it might be possible to use a Slim-Jim type of devise to trip the door and open it. I am not sure that is an option on a '55. I have never had to do that on a car of that vintage.

Question from Remco (1957):

On my '57 Imperial the passenger door won't open any more.  I removed the door panel and tried to open it from the inside, but the door is still locked.  Must I use a crowbar now or is there a better way to get it open?


From Aubrey:

I had a similar situation on the rear passenger door of my '61 and asked the IML. The replies that worked best were, after removing the panel, to spray penetrating oil (WD40 finally seemed to work along with others) and then try placing a floor jack under the area and raising the car a bit. After working the pull on the lock several times the door did pop open and I was able to lubricate it all and keep it from sticking again.

From Steve:

Try jacking up the car with the jack at the center post of the doors, this some times works.

Question from Bob (1958):

purchased my 1958 LeBaron last summer and it came with the ignition key only. I would like to know if anyone can refer me to a locksmith familiar with old Mopars so that I may have a key made for the deck lid. I can simply remove the lock assy. and ship it to them for re-keying.


From Arran:

I would save yourself some shipping charges because it isn't necessary to send away for a key. All that you would have to do is remove the lock mechanism and take it to a local locksmith. Somewhere on the mechanism is a number and that number will tell them what kind of cut they will need for the key. In fact they can even re-pin the mechanism to fit your ignition key if you want. Fortunately most auto manufactures didn't make their own lock mechanisms so there is some standardization for the keys used.

From Loren:

A locksmith at Angle Lake Locksmith in Seatac, WA. looked at a worn out key for my '75 Dodge Van, recognized the pattern, although every point was completely rounded, cut the key from memory without looking up anything, handed me the key that has worked perfectly ever since.

Angle Lake Locksmith 

20810 International Boulevard 

Seatac, WA 



From John:

Take it to a local full service locksmith. I've had to do this a few times & they can usually make a key within an hour or so.

From Kenyon:

I locked my keys in my trunk once. The guy at the locksmith around the corner must have been 800 years old. He took a key blank, a metal file, and a crescent wrench out to the car. Inserted key into lock and worked it back and forth vigorously, actuating it with the wrench as the lever, imprinting the tumbler marks onto the key. He then filed the key down to the correct shape, with minor checks and corrections done by re-inserting as he went and filed by hand. 5 minutes and I had a key that worked.

This idea not liable for any broken tumblers due to over stressing them when you rock the wrench back and forth. Price was right for me, though.

Question from Bill (1959):

I took the advice of some of my fellow Imperialists today, to get my drivers side door to lock. I lubricated the whole door mechanism, and it now locks when I push the door lever forward. Problem is, now it won't unlock from the outside using the key, on either side. I could leave the window down, and lock it, but that doesn't do me too much good. I also lubricated the key hole assembly, but it still didn't work. Does anyone have any ideas on this one? Another quirk is my clock and gas gauge, which both work fine during the day, when it is warm out, but fail to work at night.

Reply from Roger:

Problem #1-- The inside door mechanism has to return to the neutral position for the outside key to work. More specifically, the mechanisms for both locking systems have to be in synch. Try moving your inner door handle back from the locked position incrementally while simultaneously trying the outside lock. What lubrication did you use? Hopefully white lithium on the governor and such and graphite on the locks.

I can't imagine how lubricating the driver's side mechanism could cause the passenger lock not to work.

Problem #2-- Perhaps too simplistic, but maybe you have a wiring insulation problem and when you turn your lights on at night it effects the gas gauge and clock. Or it may just be a coincidence, and the clock and gas gauge are only working intermittently. As I recall if you momentarily ground the lead to the tank sending unit with a helper watching the gauge it should read full. Clocks generally don't work reliably unless they've been recently serviced.

Question from Aubrey (1961):

When I recently went to close the front passenger door of my '61 hardtop the door lock did not catch. I've got the panels off being rebuilt so I had easy access to the lock assembly and star-wheel. I found that the star wheel inside just spins now and does not lock when the mechanism hits the door striker.

Has anybody had a similar problem and have recommendations? Is this something that can be fixed in place or is it something that I need to contact Bob Hoffmeister or Lowell Howe and see if they have a replacement unit off a wreck? I've seen door rotor kits but only for years in the '50s or earlier. 


From John:

This is a very common problem on the early 60's Imps. Usually, all it takes is using plenty of solvent & working the mechanism until it operates freely. Generally, removing the panels without damage is the biggest difficulty encountered trying to free the locks. Since you have them removed already, the rest should be easy. While your at it, you may want to clean all of them up. Its also a good time to clean & lube the window tracks as well.

Old grease & dirt build up & don't allow the latch to spring back into place, causing the star wheel to spin freely.

From Roger:

Doubt whether anything is broken and needing replacing. Have had a similar recurring problem with my '60. It has been in the family since new. Have always been able to correct the "dry lock" problem by freeing up with liberal application of WD-40 to the entire mechanism and then shooting in some spray lith-grease for longer lasting lube effect.  I remember the panic I felt the first time my door would not close, about twenty years ago, on the passenger side. Since then, all three of the seldom used doors have presented the problem at one time or another. Each responded well to the treatment recommended above and without having to remove a door panel. Just clean up any over-spray so it does not collect dirt.

From Paul:

My parents bought my '60 Custom 4 door Sedan when it was less than one year old. The rear door on the passenger's side will not stay closed. Back in the early '70's I had figured out how to remedy the problem without taking the door apart, and I was racking my brain trying to remember what I had done to fix it.

When we used the car for my parents 50th wedding anniversary, the same door wouldn't stay closed. Now that you mention it, the liberal spray was exactly what cured it, and the repair lasted until 2001.

Question from Mark (1963):

How do I go about replacing original door locks and ignition switch on a ’63. Is it as simple as heading down to the locksmith, or do I need to find replacement lock cylinders? The drivers side door lock doesn’t work with a key and pretty much anything stuck into the ignition key cylinder will let you start the car.

Reply from Kerry:

The door locks are held on with spring clips inside the door. You will have to pull the door panel, remove the lock knob linkage, and use a screwdriver to pry out the big clip.

Question from Bill (1964):

I have a dilemma, my friend is getting down to the removal of the door handles on my 1964 Imperial in preparation for receiving it's first paint job since the factory in 63. I have a problem though. The passenger side door will not open. The door pull knob seems to be up, but the door will not unlock with key, outside pull, or inside handle. Any suggestions? I want to remove the inner door panel so I can access and remove the outer door handle. 


From Don:

I had the same problem on a parts car I had. The latch mechanism had seized in place from lack of use and buildup of leaves and dirt in the latch. I opened the door as follows: laid down in the back seat and with a friend holding the inner door lever in the open position I applied repeated mechanical agitation on the inner door near the latch and finally got it open. When I opened it it took a lot of lubrication to the latch and innards to get the assembly to work properly.

From Jay:

I had this problem on one of the doors to my '66 when I owned it. Fairly simple to open the door. Takes two people.

1) Make sure that the door is unlocked. 

2) Have someone stand outside the car and hold the exterior door handle in the "up" position. (as if trying to open the door) Make sure that they are standing where they will not get hit by the door when you... 

3) sit between the two front seats (or center of the bench) and kick the door open with your right foot.

From John:

Blast the heck out of the lock mechanism with WD-40 or some other spray lube down through the glass area or where ever you can get it down to the guts of the latch. You may also want to try pushing in on the door while trying to operate the handle. I had a 66 that sometimes the door didn't want to open. Pushing in on the door & lifting the handle at the same time opened it right up.

Question from Mark (1968):

The lock on the trunk on my '68 convertible has always been a bit of a problem. When opening it, I have found I have to press down on it from above while turning the key, otherwise the latch won't release and the trunk won't open.

Well, I've gotten used to doing this, so no big deal. Except today I was getting ready to leave on a trip and I accidentally moved the plastic trim that covers the taillights (inside the trunk) so that it was partially covering the latch (the trim was loose-- another one of those things I was going to get around to one of these days). Anyway, as I shut the trunk I realized it was there and . . . dang it, it's jammed. I cannot get the trunk open.

Anybody got a solution for this? I am about to remove the back seat and try to crawl through, but doubt if I can make it . . .


From Mark:

Don't have a solution for you. But, as a member of the frequent "keys in the trunk" club. Get a long screwdriver with a thin blade. Pull the back seat. I can do it in about 5 minutes. Insert the screwdriver in the trunk slot and you should be able to pop the trunk.

From Allan:

In the past when I have done this, I've had good luck by pushing down on the lid while at the same time turning the key. Then while keeping the key turned lift up on the lid. It will be hard to lift but using your fingers you won't bend the lid and it should pop open.

From John:

Perhaps, if you press down harder then usual while trying the lock might do it. Be careful to press in the most solid spot so as not to "oil can" the lid. If there's as much room between the rear seat braces as some of the earlier Imps, you should be able to access that way.

This page last updated March 6, 2004.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club