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By popular demand - tail light rebuild/LED conversion

I've had a couple of people express interest in this, so here's my write-up on the rebuild of the tail-light assemblies and conversion of the stock incandescent bulbs therein to LED clusters. Hope someone finds this useful.

History:

My '74 911 came with a myriad of neglect-related issues, including cracked rear taillight lenses. They were also U.S. spec, which I thought looked a bit odd given that the car has Euro-style front fenders. As such, at a bare minimum I wanted to replace the lenses with Euro-style ones. Here's what I started with:


You can see the cracks on the left-hand lens assembly here. Also the badly deteriorated and dry-rotted gasket between the lens and the housing - this is a common problem. You can also see that the screw hole for the center screw was "oversized" (for whatever reason by the P.O.), which required a large fugly washer in order to install a screw in that location.


The R/H lens - looks a little better but still weathered.


This is a typical housing removed from the car - there's a metal plate held onto the back secured by two screws. The wiring passes through this plate through a rubber boot. Since there is nothing that sits between the rear wheel wells and the back side of these housings of significance, they take a beating. The screws (holding the back covers on) tend to get corroded and the rubber boot is likely to be dry-rotted (proximity to the muffler/heat probably doesn't help here either over time). Once the screws are removed, you should be able to slide the back metal cover off over the wiring (carefully) and access the back of the housing. There are a number of spade connectors onto which the wires attach. These will be discussed below.


Inside the back of the housing - you can see the backs of the bulb sockets for (from left-to-right) the tail-light/brake light bulb, the reverse light bulb, the turn signal bulb and the running light bulb. There are small brown "circuit boards" at the back of these sockets, into which are cast the brass contacts for the bulbs, and the spade connectors onto which the wiring attaches. They are held in place with (brittle) bent metal tabs. In this photo, the circuit boards for the tail light/brake light bulb and the reverse light bulb have been pulled out already


Inside the R/H lens - you can see that some water infiltration over the years has done a number on the metal. You can also see the different bulb "compartments" that the housing is divided into. From left-to-right these are the tail/brake light bulb, the reverse light bulb, the turn signal bulb and the running light bulb (small one, normally sits behind a refraction lens).


You can see the condition of the metal here. Pretty bad. Oxidized and pitted. A bit of surface rusting. This will have to be addressed.


Another view of the exterior. These housings take a beating over the years since there's nothing in front of them between the housing and the wheel wells (just open space). Rocks & debris getting kicked up in there probably doesn't help matters.


Oooooh, this is gonna' be a problem. . . Turns out there was more to the "cracked lens" on the driver's side. So I sought out and got a used pair of housing off a guy on Evilbay. Not bad for $100, given that new replacement housing would run north of $800 for the pair. The replacement housings were in comparable shape to mine (minus the busted corner). Pitted/corroded metal, badly faded on the inside, in need of some freshening up. . .
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Old 04-22-2008, 04:59 PM
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OK, so here's what I did:

(1) Removed all the bulbs, refractor lenses, "circuit boards", wiring and other stuff from the housings. Took them down to bare metal. I then wire-brushed the heck out of them and dunked them in POR-15 "metal ready" for several hours to get rid of all corrosion, pitting, scaling, foreign material, etc. Once this was done, I painted the exterior of the housings (including the back covers) with POR-15 paint and then treated the inside (where the bulbs go, behind the lenses) with four coats of special aluminized paint. It is worth noting that there are several varieties of the tail light housing assemblies - some have a white color on the "compartments", others have a silvered coating. The original ones (see above) off my car had the white, the housings I bought off of Ebay had the silver, but it was badly corroded and damaged in places that it wasn't worth saving. My aluminum paint obviously won't be as reflective as the metallic chrome coating that originally lined the housings, but it's fair. Also the LEDs I'm using are more directional than incandescent bulbs and will direct almost all the light back towards a following vehicle. As such, I don't see a problem with this. Here's the finished product exterior:


Another shot of the exterior - I left the inside of the rear part of the housing uncoated deliberately. For one, it will be sealed with a new rubber gasket once the back is installed, so no need. For another, there are a couple of ground points inside the back area of the housing that need virgin metal to contact against. Obviously any surface that will be in contact with the open elements gets treated.


Shot of the inside surface behind the lenses. This is the aluminzed paint. Works pretty well and seems pretty durable. Should last pretty much forever given that the LEDs going in will generate very little heat and they will be sealed from the outside by new rubber gaskets between the lenses and housing.


The inside showing the LEDs installed. I ordered them from superbrightleds.com (no affiliation). The part numbers/prices are as follows (subject to change, but this is what they are today 4/22/08):

Tail/Brake Light - Red/1157-RLX5 ($29.95 each)
Reverse Light - White/1156-WLX5 ($29.95 each)
Turn Signal Light - Amber/1157-ALX5 ($29.95 each)
Running Light - BA9s-x-x-12V, 120-degree wide-angle Amber ($0.98 each)*

* = see note below

Please note that the above also fit for EURO lenses. Obviously if you're using U.S. spec lenses, the colors would be different (no amber, I'd substitute red for all the other bulbs other than the reverse one).


Another view, showing the smaller "running light". Another thing worth noting is that there is supposed to be rubber or felt "pads" that sit between the metal compartment separators and the back of the plastic taillight lens. These got so deteriorated over time (both on my set and the replacement set I bought) they were worthless/crumbling. I had to scrape away what was left of them to paint the interior of the housings with the aluminized paint, so I got pieces of spare black purosil vacuum hose I had lying around (from my 944) and cut them to length, then made a lengthwise slit. They fit perfectly on the ends of the metal separators and do three things:

1. They seal light leakage from one compartment to the next
2. They cushion the back of the plastic lens from the metal separators (might crack otherwise)
3. They look nice.


And now to test. I installed the new rubber gasket and new Euro lenses (remember, I was replacing my U.S.-spec lights with Euro). Looks pretty good:


Red tail light (I tested these all with a 12V regulated power supply in sorta' dark conditions so you can hopefully see the color. They're all pretty bright with the exception of the amber running light - more on that below):
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Last edited by Porsche-O-Phile; 04-22-2008 at 05:06 PM..
Old 04-22-2008, 05:00 PM
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Red brake light:


White reverse light:


Amber turn signal light:


Amber running (corner) light - this is the one that sits behind the refaction lens and is the only one I'm a little bit disappointed with. I think the single LED, 120-degree spread bulb is too dim. I'm going to replace later with the 4-LED amber BA9 that's available on the Super Bright LED site. I'll post an update when I do. But for now, these work and are reasonably okay.


Another gratuitous shot showing the back housings (look nice with the POR-15):


I expect to mount these up to the car in the next couple of weeks, so I'll post a picture of the operational "installed" photos when I can. I'm also converting the rear license plate lights and front turn signal lights to 1156 white & amber LEDs, respectively. I also plan on doing the interior (dash instrument) lights, dome light, trunk and engine lights, etc. I'll have part #'s on those when I do, but you guys should be able to figure it out by this point. . .
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Old 04-22-2008, 05:00 PM
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Looks good. I'll be following this one, since I have already modded my license plate lights to run LEDs. I'll wait until you get everything back in a running.

Dave
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Old 04-22-2008, 05:06 PM
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nice job!
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Old 04-22-2008, 05:38 PM
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Very nice P-O-P. When the time comes...
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Old 04-22-2008, 06:18 PM
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Nice job refurbishing the housing.

However, it's a little difficult to compare the relative brightness between the LED replacement lamps and regular DOT-spec bulbs. Typically, the brightness level and the narrow light angle are a couple of reasons why LED automotive bulbs aren't DOT-approved.

Unless they've improved LED light output lately, the usual method to increase the light level is to group several LEDs in a cluster, some with as many as 60 LEDs mounted in a base as large as 2" in diameter, possibly small enough to fit inside the tail light housing. 60 might be overkill, but the brake light bulb in my housing uses 9 LED's and it's just okay. The current versions I've seen have a curved mount to increase the overall lighting angle of the LED cluster. I'm sure many have seen the OEM LED tail lights on many cars. Same strategy - use plenty of bulbs.

You're on the right track with more efficient lighting.

Sherwood
Old 04-22-2008, 06:27 PM
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>four coats of special aluminized paint

What brand and make/model of the paint?

Thanks . . .
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Old 04-22-2008, 06:46 PM
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and your blinkers will go fast with the less resistence from the LED turn signals.

I used the bigger cluster lights from the same place and I'm very happy with the results - my order:

Quantity: 4
Product: 1157-x30 LED bulb $ 8.99 (each)
Options: Red 1157-R30

Quantity: 2
Product: 1156-x30 LED bulb $ 8.99 (each)
Options: Amber 1156-A30

Quantity: 2
Product: 1156-x30 LED bulb $ 8.99 (each)
Options: White 1156-W30 6.00
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Old 04-22-2008, 07:20 PM
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Thanks for this... I tried to email you before about it but got confused about who to email... Need to make this another project on the list for sure...
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Old 04-22-2008, 07:29 PM
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Phile,

Why did you use colored LEDs when the lenses are colored? Wouldn't all white lights work as well? Great job and thanks for sharing.
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Old 04-22-2008, 07:58 PM
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True on the LED lumens output. On that web site they do have "cluster" LEDs with I think up to 30 per cluster, which I considered, but I was concerned they might not fit. The 5 watt deals (the ones I used) are SUPPOSEDLY brighter than stock incandescent bulbs, but I haven't verified this. I sort of think they are, but not 100%. Just my un-quantified opinion looking at 'em. Of course new, unscratched, clean lenses probably help some too. . .

The aluminized paint is another POR product - POR-20. You can spray it or brush it (I brushed it) and then bake for about a half hour in an oven to cure it. Pretty nice. I actually shot a little clear over it afterwards too.

Forgot to mention the circuit board thingys - the metal tabs holding those in are VERY brittle (the alloy they used to cast the housings isn't particularly malleable, so it breaks easily). I broke off a few tabs but I think you can see in a couple of those photos that I just installed the circuit boards, bent the remaining tab(s) or what was left of them back over them to hold them tight, then used a little JB Weld (I know, I know. . . stop laughing) to hold them in place. It's actually rock-solid and those circuit boards ain't going anywhere now. I dare say they're probably bulletproof.

I ordered an LED turn signal relay from the same site (forgot to mention that) - I think it's P/N CF13GL-02 (here's the page: http://www.superbrightleds.com/flashers.htm) but don't quote me on that - I'd have to run downstairs and look at it again, unless someone can confirm the correct one.

Little by little. . .

Nice to know the 30-LED cluster ones fit too. And they're a little less $$$.

To answer Phil's question, I COULD HAVE used the white LEDs but the colored ones are the same price, so what the hey. The color is nice. Plus if anyone shoots out my tail light lenses, I'll still have the right color. Ya' got to worry about that stuff living here in the hood you know!
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Old 04-22-2008, 08:04 PM
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I just scanned the superbrightleds.com website and they recommend the same colored lights (as the lenses) because the colored lenses block out all but the red, e.g., light. Since white led light has very little red light in it, white light behind a red lense is less bright than a red led.
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Last edited by Phil Y; 04-22-2008 at 08:21 PM..
Old 04-22-2008, 08:17 PM
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Actually that makes sense. The spectral loss would result in a net dimmer source. Good find. I'll buy that.
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Old 04-22-2008, 08:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil Y View Post
I just scanned the superbrightleds.com website and they recommend the same colored lights (as the lenses) because the colored lenses block out all but the red, e.g., light. Since white led light has very little red light in it, white light behind a red lense is less bright than a red led.
I have read the same thing. And experienced it with white LEDs in a red lens. Way dimmer.


Modern LEDs have come a long way. As an example, I have a small two lithium cel flash light that is about the same size as a small Mag light but shorter, with only one 3 or 5 watt LED. It is a LOT brighter than my big three D cel Mag light but it fits in your pocket. I got it from Surefire lights

-kevin
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Old 04-22-2008, 09:26 PM
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Hey P.O.P.

I bought the 30 Cluster Red Brake LEDs and I went back to the DOT lights because I noticed that the LED lights will glow dimly with the lights turned off. Apparently our P-cars bleed a low level of current to the lights which will cause the low cuurent draw of the LEDs to glow.

Have you experienced this with those 5 Watt LEDs without installing a Load Equalizer which would defeat the purpose of low efficiency of the LEDs?
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Old 04-22-2008, 11:48 PM
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Another nice project with great attention to detail.

Thanks
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Old 04-23-2008, 12:53 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DRACO A5OG View Post
Hey P.O.P.

I bought the 30 Cluster Red Brake LEDs and I went back to the DOT lights because I noticed that the LED lights will glow dimly with the lights turned off. Apparently our P-cars bleed a low level of current to the lights which will cause the low cuurent draw of the LEDs to glow.

Have you experienced this with those 5 Watt LEDs without installing a Load Equalizer which would defeat the purpose of low efficiency of the LEDs?
Nope, haven't observed that yet. I'll keep an eye open for it though. I have a couple more issues to address electrically elsewhere before I reinstall the battery and I have to replace some other stuff on the back end of the car (exhaust, reflector housing, etc.) before I reinstall everything.

How would you get current leakage with the switch being off? Sounds like a bad switch maybe? Interesting, but I'd suspect any issue like that would be indicative of other problems.
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Old 04-23-2008, 06:18 AM
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Nice job Jeff, thanks for posting. I for one will be interested to hear how you like them on the car, how bright they are compared to stock, etc. Just got my own redone taillight (no led but new socket) back together and it is 25% brighter than the other side.
Two questions: all your wiring is stock...that is, you didn't have to add any resistance or make any other changes?
Second, I've been thinking of fabricating a third brake unit using LED's. Would you take a guess at how many of the 1156/1157 size red lights such a unit might use? Many thanks
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Last edited by moneymanager; 04-23-2008 at 08:06 AM.. Reason: Edited to add two questions
Old 04-23-2008, 07:35 AM
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No, didn't add any resistors. One of the reasons I did this was to cut the running load on the electrical system to "as little as possible". I want to avoid using resistors, otherwise you're really not saving much by going to the LEDs (well, they run cooler, are more directional, last longer, etc. but the low-load is a primary benefit).

As someone correctly pointed out above, this will cause problems with the turn signal flasher relay if you don't change it to one intended for LEDs - the stock one will think there's a short and give you the "rapid flash" like you get when a bulb burns out.

I have a tea-tray on the car that I added with the 3rd brake light (cyclops-eye). I'll pull the bulb out and see what will fit. I just hadn't gotten to it yet, but it's on my list. I figure anything I can do to make it less likely that someone will rear-end me is worth doing. . . SoCal drivers tend to be frightfully inattentive. . .
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Old 04-23-2008, 08:45 AM
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