The Studeblogger

Friday, December 18, 2009

Don't forget the headlight wires.

Now that Barney's home, I've got a few loose ends to clean up. I decided to begin yesterday by replacing some of the only remaining original wiring in the car - the cables that lead to the headlamp and front parking lamp assemblies.

I've mentioned before that one of the joys of owning a Studebaker is
the availability of factory-fresh original parts. In this case, I was able to order NOS parking lamp and headlamp cable assemblies (still in their factory parts envelopes!) from Studebaker International. This is cool! The headlamp cables have all the correct molded plugs and such that aftermarket pieces (if they were available) would never include.

Nobody ever thinks of headlight cables as needing replacement, but they are some of the most exposed wiring on the car. They're right out in front, where the rushing air and moisture is rammed at them; they corrode, they vibrate, and generally deteriorate until, one night in the dark, you find yourself with a circuit-breaker tripping and no light to drive home by. Not a great situation to be in.

Since my car is a '63, this will be a rather specific tutorial, but generally you'll find things similar on any car. The first thing I did was to remove the aluminum trim that surrounds the headlamp and turn signals; these are held on with 4 #8 screws; two at the very top and two adjacent to the parking lights. You might find these screws to be pretty rusty (I did), so have some spares on hand to replace them with.

Once the trim is off, you'll be able to remove the parking light lens and headlamps. The lamps are held into their buckets with chrome-plated steel rings that are attached to the buckets with 3 small machine screws. The rings are spot-welded together, and often over time these welds come loose (mine had). You can still use them; just be careful not to bend them out of shape while you're removing them.

With the retaining rings off, the headlights just fall out into your hand! You can unplug them and, assuming they're still good, set them aside.

At this point you can see the old wiring - 46 years old, in my case. And there's no doubt they needed to be replaced: as you can see in the shot to the left, several of the wires' insulation had cracked and was pulling apart to expose the wiring. This is a short or fire in the making! Not to mention the corrosion on the old sockets which can make for dim lighting and more stress on the wiring system and alternator.

The headlight wires are fed into a hole between the buckets, with a conical molded rubber plug that fits in the hole to keep them from rubbing against the metal. This means that the cable must be fed up from the front of the car, not from the engine compartment down. Also, the headlamp harness's ground wire was riveted to the headlight support at the factory; I bent the connector back and forth to break off the wire, figuring I would use this hole for a screw that would hold the new ground wire.

Interestingly, there is no provision for the wires to get into the headlamp buckets except by running between the inner and outer buckets, pinching them in place. So I had to remove the outer buckets. These are the adjustable, backless cones that the headlight bulbs sit in. They are held on by two adjuster screws and 1 spring, located at the bottom of the assembly. Loosen the screws and the buckets slide out; disconnect them from the spring and set them aside.

Now you can take out the inner bucket from the inboard headlight - they just sit in their holes - and reach through to feed the new cable's harness connector up through the hole in the radiator brace. The cable's new plug fit neatly in the hole provided; a wide flat-bladed screwdriver is useful in coaxing it into its new home.

I knew I'd need to feed the wire for the new turn signal up to the engine compartment too, so while the inner bucket was out I removed the very rusty screws that held in the very rusty parking lamp assembly and pulled it out.

The new parking lamp holder has the weatherstripping for the lens pre-installed, so the only things to do are to pull the wire through and put the two screws back in. All done!

After that, installation (as they say) is the reverse of removal. Put the inner and outer buckets back in. Take care when routing the new cables behind the outer buckets, so as not to pinch the insulation - space is limited here. Remember to squeeze some dielectric grease into the connectors before attaching the headlamp bulbs - this will seal the connections against water and prevent corrosion. Screw the headlamp rings back in, taking care to locate the molded bar on the bulbs into the notch in the bucket - this ensures that the bulbs are pointing in the correct direction.

Finally, I used a sheet-metal screw with a shouldered head to hold the headlight harness' ground wire to the headlamp support. I found a good-sized one in my bin - looks like a #14 thread. You can see the fruits of my labors above, with one headlight re-installed. You can see how the cables are routed behind the outer buckets, and can also see the ground wire held to the support with its new sheet-metal screw.

Put on the trim and screw in the turn-signal lens and you're done, baby! Time to go cruise :)

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  • nice post. thanks.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:27 PM  

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