PH Origins: Remote central locking

In 1922, Romanian inventor Abram Neiman moved to Germany. There, he established himself as an engineer and worked in small machine shops, fabricating and modifying tools and parts - including those used on motorbikes. Neiman, who had been born into a Jewish family in 1893, took an avid interest in motorcycling. Before long, he was designing and developing high-performance parts for his own racing bikes; these finely tuned machines, however, were then stolen.

Understandably, Neiman began thinking about ways to better secure the bikes - and penned a system that would lock the forks, rendering the bike unrideable and hard to move. Improving the security of his motorcycles quickly became a secondary concern, however, as Nazi rule established itself in Germany. Before long, Neiman was forced to flee to France in order to avoid persecution. Unfortunately, his parents were not so lucky - and disappeared during the Holocaust.

When the war concluded, Neiman returned to his designs and set about putting his ideas into production. He acquired several going concerns in France, including the motorcycle horn company Klaxon, and soon established a company bearing his own name. By 1965, the Neiman plant was producing 25,000 locks a week - alongside many other parts. By 1970, the facilities were reputedly capable of producing five million locks per year. 

Working alongside Neiman was engineer Paul Lipschutz, who was director of the Neiman factory at the time. Since the mid-1950s, he had collaborated with Neiman himself - who, by that point, was an established industrialist. Together, they had launched the 'Neiman' anti-theft steering lock. This device, patented in 1959, was used by many a manufacturer and afforded an extra degree of security alongside conventional, more easily defeated door locks.

Lipschutz, though, was always looking for the next best thing. He developed stronger locking mechanisms, latching systems, inertia-reel belts, starter motor cut-outs and push-button locks; existing designs were also revised and improved upon - for example, a conventional lock was reworked by Lipschutz to feature a keyhole shutter, helping keep out moisture and debris.

'In many cases, particularly when the lock may be exposed to atmospheric agents as is the case - for example, of motor vehicle door locks - it is necessary to close the inlet slot of the vehicle approximately hermetically,' wrote Lipschutz in 1974. 'When the key is not inserted, this will prevent the penetration of dust and rain inside the lock mechanism. This closure means must be easily retracted by the action of the key itself during its introduction.'

The conventional key and lock set-up was still not without its flaws, though. The security of the locking system was solely dependent on the quality of the cylinder lock itself, which could be forced, while water ingress and freezing could also be problematic. Making the lock mechanism more secure meant introducing more components, too, increasing the complexity and cost of the set-up. 

In order to circumvent some of these problems, Lipschutz began studying alternative methods of operating the locks. Drawing on numerous sources, ranging from building security systems that could simultaneously lock several doors through to security coding systems for garage door operators, he conceived a set-up that could remotely operate the door locks electromechanically.

The result was an elegant and compact remote door locking system. The owner would get a small handheld transmitter, which would emit a specific infrared signal. This signal, when aimed in the right direction, would be picked up by a small receiver mounted just above the car's rear-view mirror. If the signal matched the coded signal stored in the receiver's memory, the door locks would be electronically triggered. 

'On application by the user of the correct transmitter in close proximity to the receiver, the coded pulses from the emitter pass to the detector means,' wrote Lipschutz in his 1979 patent application. 'The output signals the refrom are compared with the output of the memory to provide an output signal from the comparator for actuating the locking member.' 

The infrared system had a range of about five feet but, if you were loaded down with bags and it was pouring with rain, the ability to unlock the doors before you reached them was still of considerable benefit. Neiman, which seemingly had production-ready systems on hand in 1980, then set about marketing it to manufacturers. The fob, which actuated the locks, became known as the 'plip' - a contracted version of the inventor Paul Lipschutz's name. Later, 'plipper' would also be used when referring to the invention.

The system was promptly picked up by the Renault-AMC partnership, as such a convenience-boosting feature would serve to grab the attention of customers who were increasingly seeking modern luxuries. The advanced feature would also serve to boost the image of the brand's products and grant it an advantage over its numerous rivals. 

By October 1982 the Renault Fuego was being offered in the US with the 'Infrawave' system - and the system was also available as an option on the Renault Alliance; in some marketing materials even Renault dubbed the feature 'Le Plip'.

'So simple, so neat and so useful,' sang Motor Sport Magazine's review of the system in 1984. It wasn't an overly expensive option, either, with one January 1983 listing quoting a price of $72 for the AMC offering - equivalent to around £150 today. This comparatively low cost, in part, helped remote central locking quickly become a popular and widespread offering. 

Unsurprisingly, a plethora of manufacturers were soon using Lipschutz's concept in their own patents and products - including BMW, Honda, Donnelly, Magna, Siemens and Toyota. The limited-range, directional infrared set-up soon gave way to more forgiving radio-based systems - and more advanced, secure methods of remote-to-car communication were quickly developed. 

Today, central locking system can even communicate over data networks, allowing owners to unlock and lock their car remotely via mobile apps. Despite the advances, though, the core concept remains unchanged from Lipschutz's invention. 

'Dashing to your new Fuego on a rainy day, you press a button on the tiny gadget attached to your key ring,' said Renault's adverts. 'Instantly, there's a reassuring click as both doors unlock - allowing both you and your passenger to dive straight in without fumbling for the keys.

'The fastest two-door car in the world,' boldly added the advert, with the text below subtly noting: 'For $16,795, you get a car that opens up faster than anything else on the road.'



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Comments (8) Join the discussion on the forum

  • paulyv 17 Sep 2018

    Anybody here retrofitted a modern system onto a classic? I see alarm-fitting companies offering it.

    I was considering it for my 1979 Mercedes SLC but wasn't sure what the downsides might be.


  • nismo48 17 Sep 2018

    I remember my first experience of the Renault Plip system on my Renault 11 Turbo..
    At the time in the mid 80's it was quite an innovative thing.. 😋

  • Turbobanana 17 Sep 2018

    A novel system at the time and, as ever, interesting to know where, how (and how long ago) it came about.

    The Neiman systems used by Renault and PSA had one major drawback: owners kept them in their pockets which meant the transmitter beam was often obscured by fluff, preventing the system from working. I became a dab-hand at cracking open the cases, cleaning out the fluff and handing them back to bewildered owners...

  • Evilex 17 Sep 2018

    We had one of the infra red ones on a 1984 Renault 11 TXE electronic.
    It was quite reliable, but the remote ate batteries compared to modern RF units.

  • Howard- 17 Sep 2018

    paulyv said:
    Anybody here retrofitted a modern system onto a classic? I see alarm-fitting companies offering it.

    I was considering it for my 1979 Mercedes SLC but wasn't sure what the downsides might be.

    I was going to retrofit it to my 1990 MX5, but I couldn't be bothered in the end. It was usually only me getting in it, and usually only on nice days. i don't see any downsides are, if you buy a good quality kit.

    My 1998 Renault Megane had infrared remote locking. It was better than putting a key in a lock, but there are obvious downsides to IR versus RF.

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