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Lighting Upgrades and Modifications

By Ryan Ballou

This month I'm straying from my normal performance minded article and, for a change, I'm going to focus on some things that tend to be more cosmetic. After all, why not try to look good while you're going fast? More specifically I'm talking about the lighting system, namely the headlights, turn signal assemblies and taillights. So my thanks again go out to Mid America Motorworks for providing the necessary products.

We'll start with the one part that truly is an upgrade, the headlights. The headlights I'm currently running are your traditional 7" round halogens that are available from nearly every automotive store in existence. The upgrade I'm speaking of is a switch to a pair of Hella brand H4s. MA Motorworks carries two flavors of this light, the Euro spec H4 and the US DOT legal HB2, though they are often called H4s too. The H4 has a better focusing pattern, but it's not street legal in the USA. Therefore if this is for your daily driver, you should probably go with the HB2. These consist of an non-sealed headlight housing and a separate bulb. The lens of the headlight is where most of the magic takes place as it has a special fluted design molded into the glass that focuses the headlight beams for a much brighter lighting effect. The bulbs themselves are purpose built halogen bulbs that are replaceable independently of the headlight body.

The two primary benefits of H4s are a more focused light pattern, and a sort of lateral boundary line above which little to no light is projected. The focused light pattern is self-explanatory, more light where you need it, less where you don't. But keeping the light from projecting up into the eyes of oncoming drivers has two benefits, again less light is wasted in areas it's not needed, but more importantly if you're not blinding drivers with your brighter lights, there's less risk of accidents from night blindness.

Installation is very straightforward. The bulbs are labeled so you know to install them right side up. Then you snap a wire retaining device over the bulb and you're done. The headlight bodies themselves install just like any other headlight you've ever had to replace. Remove the retaining ring, unplug the old light, plug in the new light and re-install.

You will need to spend some time adjusting them for an optimal focal pattern. Point your car at a wall or garage door at night and make the needed adjustments to point them where needed. You may find it'll take a few tries before you're happy with the pattern. Make sure to check the hi-beams as well. If you aim your low-beams up too much, the hi-beams will be shooting up so high that they won't do any good at all.
Next are the turn signal assemblies. These have been an eyesore on my car for as long as I can remember. The plastic is faded, cracked and not nearly as clear as it was when new. The kit that MA Motorworks carries includes new base rubber gaskets & grommets, a new metal housing, new plastic lens and plastic chromed cap.

Again, installation is very easy. Remove the chromed caps and then unscrew the two small nuts under the fender in the wheel well. The whole assembly should then be free. Run the wires through the new rubber base gasket, plug them into the new housing and screw it all back together.

One piece of advice here. Authentic Hella brand assemblies are NLA and if you're lucky enough to find them, they won't be cheap. These are aftermarket assemblies and not quite up to par with the original Hella assemblies. But with the OE parts being out of production, there are no other options. The only part of these new lights that I really wasn't happy with was the plastic chrome caps that finish off the assembly. Luckily, my original ALL METAL caps only needed a little chrome polish to shine like new again. So my advice to you is simple, save what you can. Vendors like MA Motorworks are doing us a great service by offering us alternatives to our original parts, but the old saying holds true here, they just don't make them like they used to. This is not a jab at anyone, it's just the sad truth we face with our cars getting older everyday and OE parts being harder to come by.

Finally we come to the taillight assemblies. Mine were actually in very good shape, but I wanted to try something a little different, smoked lenses. Ma Motorworks offers a complete taillight assembly with a smoked turn signal and reverse lens while retaining the dark red brake light area. The colors of the lights are augmented to be street legal with smaller plastic caps that are held inside the assembly.
These are some nice pieces of work considering the very affordable price tag. The lenses, while not as heavy as the Hella lenses I'm replacing, are still much heavier plastic than many I've seen before. The body of the light is also made of plastic and you'll have to keep this in mind when installing them, a ground wire MUST be used as these will not ground through the mounting hardware like the originals. This is of no consequence to most since a ground wire is in the harness, but due to the location, many cars have had these wires broken free or removed completely.

To install these, just remove the four retaining nuts from under the fenders and unplug the wires. You'll want to pick up a rubber grommet at your local hardware store to pass the wires into the assembly and probably top it off with a bead of silicone. If you don't then your lights will likely fill up with water whenever you drive in wet conditions. You may find that the mounting bolts are cast into the backing plate of your existing lights. If this is the case then you will to purchase some new bolts from your local hardware store. The thread size is m6x1.0 and the length I used was about 20mm.

Over all I was very pleased with this latest upgrade. The smoked taillights look really nice compared to the brighter colors of the originals. The turn signals look 100% better and are even more visible at night, another plus for safety. Finally the headlights have a made such a big improvement in night driving that it feels almost as if I'm driving a newer car.

1-Before picture. Nothing special here. Old faded turn signals and run of the mill headlights.
2-Notice the dome in the lens here. The H4s use a flat glass lens and then add fluting to create the focal pattern.
3-Side by side you can see that with the exception of a separate bulb, the two styles of headlights are quite similar.
Click 4-Included with the heads lights are a rubber dust/moisture boot. Don't forget this when installing the lights. Click 5-Up close you can see just how badly my original turn signals look. Surprisingly even though the plastic is riddled with cracks, it's still very solid, it just doesn't look that nice Click
6-With the covers removed you can see the chrome coating starting to peel off the reflectors inside the assemblies.
Click 7-You can now see how much better a new assembly looks once installed. Click
8-And here is the after picture with the new headlights and new turn signals installed.
Click 9-This is your typical OE taillight assembly. It's not in bad shape, it's just that I want to try something new.
10-Here you can see the grommet I installed in the taillight housing to help seal it up.
Click 11-The hole in the backing plate was so large that the grommet I used would not fit tightly on the insulation of the taillight harness. An easy fix was to wrap some electrical tape around it and then install a little shrink-wrap tubing for a clean finish. Click
12-Side by side you can see the contrast of the two different lights.
13-Finally we have the completed installation.

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