How To Run LED Headlights and Taillights on Your Classic

Photography by Tim Suddard

LED bulbs aren’t just the future, they’re the present–and Little British Car Co. carries the lighting hardware needed to update older machines. The company’s catalog includes LED conversions for everything from gauge lights to turn signals. We installed its 7-inch LED headlights and LED taillight bulbs in our Sunbeam Tiger.

Step 1:

The Little British Car Co. LED conversion for 7-inch headlights includes new lenses and LED bulbs that fit through the backs of the housings. 

Step 2:

The base of the LED headlight bulb protrudes a bit, so be careful when fitting the updated units into the headlight buckets. 

Step 3:

Despite the modern tech, the LED headlights look traditional–at least at first. 

Step 4:

Once energized, however, the LED bulbs look whiter than those conventional halogen lamps. 

Step 5:

After installing the other LED unit, we aimed the headlights. In low-beam mode, the left-side beam should sit a tad lower than the right-side one. Our lights needed just a touch of adjustment.

Step 6, 7:

On the road, the difference is dramatic. The LED lamps cast a whiter light that, at least by our eyes, seems to illuminate more of the road. 

Step 8:

We also installed LED bulbs at the tail end of the car. The LED bulb (on top) fits the standard receptacle. 

Step 9:

Before buttoning up the new taillights, we tested them. The result: again, brighter lights.

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wrenchklutz
wrenchklutz New Reader
1/27/21 8:58 p.m.

I looked at doing this with my Alfa but after doing some research, I decided to go with halogens and relays.  The buckets and lenses for our incandescent or halogen lights weren't designed for the way LED's are made.  It's like trying to wear somebody else's eyeglasses.  The only way to get proper throw of light down the road is to replace the entire light with a unit that was designed to work together.  There's a thread on Jalopnik that was basically written by Daniel Stern, an expert on car lighting, that goes into great detail about all this: https://jalopnik.com/why-most-led-headlight-upgrades-dont-really-work-an-ex-1843070472

One upgrade that does work is installing relays to supply the power to the headlights.  On lots of older cars, all the power for the lights goes through the headlight switch.  By changing that so that the headlight power goes through relays, the output will be better and you might save yourself from having to buy a new headlight switch ($400 from Centerline). 

malibuguy
malibuguy HalfDork
1/27/21 9:40 p.m.

Yeah aftermarket PnP LEDs in halogen housings almost never work as well as they should, usually kinda pokey beam pattern, often increased glare and alot of foreground, which is amplified by the bluer light.  Which makes it harder to see down the road.

Some of the higher-end PnP LEDs work pretty well, such as the Morimoto 2stroke 3.0, Diode Dynamics (which are American made) and GTR lighting.

Usually a reputable full LED replacement housing ( like JW speaker) is your best bet for a substantial light output upgrade in terms of pattern and lumally just do not look right in a classic car.

I built a set of HID projector retrofits for my old Malibu Im not a fan of the look as I rather have fluted lenses but not much you can do with 4x6 aftermarket or not, let alone have classic looks.

paddygarcia
paddygarcia New Reader
3/22/21 3:05 p.m.

Even if the performance were good, I think most inspection stations here in Virginia will fail these since the bulb won't match the lens.

On the other hand, the LED tail and signal lamps are a great thing - brighter than incandescent and noticably quicker to light which might help keep the guy behind you from ending up in your trunk.

Turn signal relays may need changing.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
3/22/21 3:37 p.m.

There's a company that does stock-looking 7" LED retrofits for those who don't want weird bug eyes on their classic but want modern lighting.

https://www.dapperlighting.com/products/oe7

They don't have a set of 5.75" lights in that style yet, but when they do my Cadillac is ready.

stafford1500
stafford1500 Dork
3/22/21 3:43 p.m.
paddygarcia said:

Even if the performance were good, I think most inspection stations here in Virginia will fail these since the bulb won't match the lens.

On the other hand, the LED tail and signal lamps are a great thing - brighter than incandescent and noticably quicker to light which might help keep the guy behind you from ending up in your trunk.

Turn signal relays may need changing.

Virginia has some non-typical regulations about headlights. They were a particular challenge to deal with when I worked for Saleen. All of the headlight changes had to be adjusted to pass the VA rules. Several cars were effectively impounded before sale/delivery due to headlight issues...

7aull
7aull New Reader
8/20/21 4:28 p.m.

I dropped a set of BEAMTECH LEDs into my H-4 Hella 7" lenses in my 1980 RX7 and the results were transformative! Clean, bright, white (not blue!) illumination that makes night driving a pleasure. Again.

Its like my eyes just instantly became 40yrs younger! All this and NOT baking my 40yr old tiny headlight swithc wires. Oh, and under $40 on Amazon. INsane. Best lighting upgrade you can do...

Stu A

80 Mazda RX7, Sedona, AZ

wlkelley3
wlkelley3 UberDork
8/20/21 8:50 p.m.

How well do LEDs take... oh something like headlight rollover? Like on an Opel GT. Been considering lighting updates on mine. Concerned about the jarring of opening and closing the headlight buckets. They do take a little force to click into the lock position, both opening and closing.

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