Technology is addictive. Take a look at the electronic options on any new car, and you will see that significant technological advances within the last several years have become commonplace. With this in mind, it is only natural that we all desire many of these features in our classic cars, as well. While many of these options may seem a bit extreme (traction control, ABS, and so on), there are some options that are more than gadgets. This is certainly true in the case of enhancements in vehicle lighting where we gain the benefits of improvements in performance, safety, and aesthetics.
We had heard at SEMA that American Autowire was working on LED sequential taillight assemblies for '67-'69 Camaros. With the popularity of these First-Gen cars as both a desirable original restoration and a modified streetcar, we contacted them to set up an installation in our '69 Camaro. However, we felt it necessary to provide some real technical background on the LED technology in conjunction with the installation. So let's discuss the technology first.
Based off of standard light bulbs, sequential turn signals were nothing new. Many of you remember the old Thunderbirds and Cougars that used them. At that time, they were really cool, but not easily adaptable to other cars. Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology has changed all that with improved (lower) current draw, longer life and safety.
LED lighting draws far less current than conventional bulbs. A typical turn signal and lighting circuit for the taillights runs 10-15 amps with the bulbs generating substantial heat. An equivalent LED circuit requires 1 to 3 amps and is virtually heat free. This reduced current flow allows you to use smaller gauge wiring, which contributes to weight reduction, and a lower fuse rating for the lighting circuit. LED lamps also have a rated life many times more than an incandescent bulb. LED lamps don't have a filament (the strand inside the bulb that gives light and generates heat) and have a life of 25,000-100,000 hours. This is many times the life of an incandescent bulb. Simply put, LED's provide a significant maintenance cost reduction.
The safety benefits alone are worth it with LED bulbs. When you step on the brakes, an incandescent bulb may take up to 0.25 seconds to light up. The LED bulb is an electronic device that emits light instantaneously (0.05 seconds). There are studies demonstrate that this time differential can result in a difference of as much as 25 feet at speeds of 75 mph. This can make the difference in avoiding that rear end crash.
One of the most important specifications of an LED bulb is its dispersion angle. Basically, it is how many degrees off center the light is visible. The dispersion angle, combined with a diffuser, determines how well the light fills the lens. Wide-dispersion angle bulbs (on the order of 120 degrees) really fill the lens. Low-dispersion angle LED bulbs (30 degrees or less) tend to look as distinct misplaced circles of color. Dispersion angle and lens diffusers aid in the design of the final product.
Now that we've given you some insight into the technology, follow along as we show you the installation. The entire assembly is plug-and-play, so the upgrade is pretty straightforward. Plus, the kit comes with a complete set of easy-to-understand instructions, so you should be able to complete the install in no time. Additionally, you can go to American Autowire's Web site (www.americanautowire.com) and view a video clip of the operation of the '69 taillights.
By the time you read this, kits will be available for '67-'68 Camaros (standard and RS body styles) as well as the popular '68-'72 Novas, too. Any way you look at it, installing this trick set of lights can only help, whether it be in preventing an accident or adding to the cool factor of your ride.
Separate the lens from its housing. Slots in the housing and corresponding extensions tabs on the lens retain the lens. Now the housing is ready for modification to accept the LED circuit boards. Here the right hand assembly is (the left side is similar). The lens in this photo is a Rally Sport lens. The standard body lens contains a backup light in the center and the housing contains the extra light socket hole. However, extension tabs on the lens and corresponding retention slots in the housing are identical. This makes the lens removal procedure the same for either the standard or Rally Sport lens.
There are four templates, which must be cut out of the supplied template sheet. These templates are for the LED circuit board mounting holes that must be drilled into the top and bottom sides of both the left-hand (driver side) and right hand (passenger side) taillight housings. Tape these templates to the housings as shown in this photograph. Each template is specifically marked as to its position (top or bottom) of the housing. The physical molding configuration of the housing will match the template to insure correct indexing to the housing. This procedure is the same for either the Standard or Rally Sport housing.