First-Gen Camaro LED Taillights - Light 'Em Up!

Full Sequential LED Taillights For First-Gen Camaros

Jim Rizzo Jun 29, 2006 0 Comment(s)
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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.

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To begin, remove the existing light sockets from the original taillight assembly housing. Light sockets are removed by turning them counterclockwise. Unbolt the five taillight housing bolts that retain each housing to the rear body panel and remove the housings from the rear body panel. This photo shows the five retention bolts of the passenger side housing.

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.

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Next, disconnect the existing rear body panel light harness from the intermediate body harness. The disconnect is in the driver-side trunk just behind the rear side marker. This photo shows both harnesses on the bench to give a clear indication of the disconnect. Unplug the four harness retention pin clips that hold the body harness along the rear body panel.

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.

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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.

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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.

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The taillight bucket assemblies are reproduced today. These production housings have slight differences in the location of the mounting legs. The kit is supplied with a second set of templates that define the circuit board mounting holes based on these differences. Be sure to select the correct set of templates based upon whether you are using original or reproduction housings. It is important to select the correct template before drilling the circuit board mounting pilot holes as defined in the next step. Because of this difference in housings, we recommend that you drill small pilot holes and test the fit of the circuit boards before drilling the final 0.32 (5/16)-inch mounting hole.

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Center punch the eight holes to be drilled in the housings and drill a small pilot hole to test the alignment of the boards. Once the alignment of the boards is correct, drill the pilot hole out to 0.32-inch (5/16-inch) in the corresponding places in each housing. Be sure to remove any remaining burrs from all holes after drilling to ensure a proper fit of the retaining rivets.

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Each circuit board has a DIP switch located on the rear of the board. This switch determines the operation of the LED lights on the board as either sequential or standard. The board is shipped with the DIP switch in the up position indicating sequential operation. It is recommended that all DIP switches on all the circuit boards be set to the same setting.

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Route the wires from each circuit board through the existing light socket holes in the taillight housing. The metal mounting brackets on each circuit board should line up with the mounting holes drilled in the housings in Step 5.

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The circuit board retention brackets are secured to the housing, using the two-piece plastic rivets supplied in the kit. The rivet has a male and female end. The male end must be installed from the outside of the housing and the orientation of the female end must be as shown in the photo. Before installing the rivets, the brackets can be slightly bent to rest flush with the housing.

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This is how the housing should look after the circuit boards are installed.

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Notice that the DIP switch is accessible through the original light socket hole if the LED circuit operation needs to be changed.

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Each of the four grommets must be split before final assembly around the wires and plugging into the taillight housing. If your grommets are not already slit, use a new sharp razor blade and cut them at this time.

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This is how the completed circuit board installation into the taillight housing should look before the lens is installed. The grommet on the left was not plugged into the housing to show how the wire will sit inside the grommet before plugging into the taillight housing. The housing shown in this picture is a standard body taillight housing that has the additional center hole for a backup light. If you are installing the kit in a standard body housing, you can use one of the supplied backup light sockets to retain your backup lights. This will be explained during the harness hookup instructions.

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Identify the diffusers and position them on the back of the lens before removing the adhesive protection backing. This photo identifies the outer diffuser on the driver side. As shown in the photo, be careful to align the material before removing the protective backing. The adhesive will be difficult to remove so take your time in the process of positioning the diffuser before attempting to glue it in place.

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Trim the diffuser material to match the contour of the outer lens. This contour will be different for Rally Sport and standard body lenses. Notice that the outer diffuser wraps up the edge of the inner reflector. Do not trim off the material that runs up the inner edge of the reflector. Only trim the material that wraps onto the flat surface of the inner reflector, as shown by the trim line in the photo. It is strongly suggested that you use a new sharp razor blade for this process.

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Repeat the procedure for the inner diffuser.

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Trim the diffuser material to match the contour of the inner lens. The inner diffuser follows the edge contour of the inner reflector. Again, this contour will be different for Rally Sport and standard body lenses. Again, It is strongly suggested that you use a new sharp razor blade for this process.

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This is how the taillight housing should look after the diffuser is installed.

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The completed lens can now be reinstalled in the taillight housing. Be sure to lock the locating tabs on the lens into the corresponding slots in the taillight housing. This is how the taillight housing should look after the circuit boards, diffusers, and lenses are installed.

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Position the new Rear Body Panel light harness across the trunk. Notice that each taillight assembly will have two taillight housing connections. The inner panel housing trunk lock mechanism will be the focal point for the fuel tank extension plug-in, license plate plug-in, and main harness grounds. Side marker lights will retain the same original connector and lamp and will be a direct plug-in.

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As previously stated, the trunk latch mounting plate locates the main connector for the license plate and fuel tank sender connections. The ground terminal shown in the photo of the rear body panel harness is the system ground for all the rear lighting. It is extremely important that this ground connection be made securely. The star pattern on the ring terminal is made to establish a good bite into the steel trunk latch mounting plate when tightened correctly. Good grounding is essential to the operation of the LED circuitry.

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The taillight housings can now be installed and the LED circuit board lead wire connections made to the new rear body panel harness. Notice the plug in connection to the existing rear body intermediate harness next to the side marker light. The new harness also contains the original harness retention pin clips that are used to locate the harness across the rear body panel.

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For standard body (non Rally Sport) applications a new backup light socket is included and can be plugged into the new rear body panel harness as shown in the photo. The light socket can then be installed in the center light socket hole of a standard body light housing. Light sockets are installed by positioning the light socket in the appropriate opening and twisting the socket in a clockwise direction until the socket locks in the housing.

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For Rally Sport applications a jumper is supplied to mate the new harness with the backup light assembly mounted in the lower rear body panel. The backup light assembly is shown here in the trunk for clarity in the connection. In actuality, the backup light assembly mounts to the rear body panel and the connection wire is routed thru the rear panel and sealed with the grommet attached to the assembly lead wire. The connection is the only thing made in the trunk area.

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For all coupes, a jumper is supplied to plug into the existing dome light lead wires in the intermediate rear body harness located above the driver- side wheel arch. This jumper extends a long orange wire to the existing Intermediate Rear Body connector that the new rear body panel harness is plugged into. A constant 12-volt battery supply is required for the LED circuitry to operate properly. The dome light circuit will be the source of this power.

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At the other end of this wire is a male terminal that must be plugged into the existing Intermediate rear body harness connector in the cavity opposite the mating cavity in the new rear body panel harness. The final connection in the left rear trunk area is shown below.

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For all convertibles, there is no dome light jumper in the Intermediate rear body harness. The power circuit needed to power the LED circuitry must come from the fuse box. Therefore, for convertibles, a long orange wire is included that must be routed over the wheel arch and through the threshold plate alongside the existing intermediate rear body harness and plugged into a battery connection at the fuse box. Follow the instructions in step 25 for connection of the other end of this wire into the existing Intermediate Rear Body harness.

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(Original '68-'69 Camaro only) As previously mentioned, convertibles require a direct power connection at the fuse box. This photo shows the fuse box connection to the original '69 Camaro fuse box. This connection is the same for the '68 Camaro.

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('67-'69 Camaro Classic Update) If you are using an American Autowire Classic Update Series kit for the '69 Camaro (PN#500686) or '67-'68 Camaro (PN#500661), the power connection for the convertible is shown in this photo. The Classic Update Series kit uses an ATO fuse panel that requires a different connector interface to the fuse panel. This connector is supplied on the orange wire in the kit.

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OK, you are now finished. Just be aware of the following: The LED taillight kit is designed for best performance when using an electronic no-load flasher. Shown here is an optional electronic no-load flasher (PN#500832) available from American Autowire.When using a stock bi-metal flasher, it is recommended that a standard duty flasher be used instead of a heavy duty flasher. Slight variations can exist in the LED sequential timing when using a stock style bi-metal flasher. If your turn signal circuit includes LED turn signals in the front as well as in the rear, the turn signal circuit will not have enough resistance load to operate an original style bi-metal flasher and this no-load flasher will be required.

Sources

American Autowire
Bellmawr, NJ 08031
856-933-0801
www.americanautowire.com
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