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Thread: Cleaning tail light lens

  1. #1
    Deftly daft Alfadog's Avatar
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    Default Cleaning tail light lens

    My left tail light is dirty from 30 odd years of exhaust fumes and it annoys me. So this afternoon I took it all apart (who would have thought gettnig a tail light out could be so difficult?) but now I'm left with tthe whole assembly on the kitchen table. I can't work out how to take it apart!

    How do you separate the lenses from the rest of the tail light assembly? Also, does anyone have any suggestions for how to clean them?

    Thanks !!

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    beandip beandip's Avatar
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    Default tail lights

    Contact escanlon he is a pro at taking them apart. as far as the lenses Mcguires has a 3 step polish that works wonders.

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    Forever Cleaning Alan Pugh's Avatar
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    If you have washed the whole assembly, which i'm sure you have you will notice a yellowish or white line of hard adhesive like stuff ( for want of a better word ) where the lens joins the plastic. You have to remove this with a very thin sharp tool, I use a small screwdriver sharpened on the bench grinder. There is a small step on the bottom of the lens which you will see when you get started on this very tedious job. Patience is the key to success here.Once you have removed all this hopefully after thirty years the remaining glue will give up it's hold on the bottom of the lens. Mine took me all day one Saturday to do but it is well worth the effort. As for cleaning the plastic I have found Brasso does the best job of everything. Remember PATIENCE is the key.
    Good luck, Hope this helps.

    Al.

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    Supporting Member EScanlon's Avatar
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    Post Cleaning Lenses

    Cleaning the tail light lenses in plenty of warm water and a dishwashing soap will do an excellent job of removing the bulk of the dirt. Use as warm a water as you can comfortably put your hands in without getting into HOT water, use dishwashing soap liberally and let the stream of water remove and loosen as much of the dirt as possible. I like to let them sit in the soapy solution for a good hour or longer.

    Once you've done that, if the water needs warming up, add hot water, but don't put the lenses directly under the hot water. Don't know that it would hurt them, but why take chances?

    Next, with a soft sponge and liberal amounts of dishwashing liquid, go over the whole lens and housing. I have a very soft old toothbrush that I use to get into the nooks and crannies. I also have a mixing brush with soft stiff bristles to get into deep recesses. Using these, I will then wash the whole unit again to remove the last of the dirt that I can get to.

    Dry them off, enough that you won't be dripping on yourself as you start to disassemble them.

    From the back of the mounting frame, the part of the housing that is actually inside the car, and where the light bulbs go through, you will note that there is one sheet metal blind nut in the center. This needs to be removed before you can go on and remove the lens from the housing. Be careful as this holds the lens AND the chrome strip in place, AND it is notoriously very VERY fragile. In fact, since the sheet metal blind nut is easily obtained, I would recommend that you bend the tabs on the sheet metal nut out and away from the plastic pin. If the tabs break off even better.

    Once the blind nut is out of the way, then you can address removing the lens from the bracket.

    Alan has it right in that there is a small rectangular opening on the bottom of the lens. There is supposed to be a felt rectangle in there which at one time was supposed to allow condensation to escape the lens. With a screwdriver, start prying the lens from the mounting bracket, but be very very careful as you don't want to stress the lens and crack it. Once you can get it to lift a bit, insert something in the tab, and move down the edge that has lifted and work your way around the lens. The yellow / white taffy like adhesive will give up it's hold, but you must be patient.

    Once you've removed the lens from the housing, you can remove the final two sheet metal clips that hold the chrome strip to the lens. Again, even though the clips look like they're difficult to find, it is much easier to replace them than the chrome strip. Trust me on this, if you try to "unscrew" the clips, or rock them off the plastic tips in any way, manner, or fashion, you will either break, bend, or otherwise mar the chrome strip plastic tips, which will give you tons more trouble than just finding sheet metal nuts to hold the strip to the lens. (Voice of Experience) Reach under the metal tangs that bite into the plastic tip and pull / bend / cut them away from the tip. The intent is to leave the plastic tip as undamaged as possible.

    After removing the chrome strip, I like to clean off the adhesive off the lens before proceeding, as it likes to retain clumps of dirt / dust. You can use lacquer thinner for this, but you must work QUICKLY and not let the rag or thinner sit on the lens for an excessive period of time. The key note here is to moisten the rag, use it to clean the edge, but keep moving it and don't put it on to "soak" or "soften" any primer, glue, paint etc.. You might have to redo this fifteen times, instead of soaking it for 5 minutes, but in those 5 minutes the lacquer thinner will melt and distort the lens, so be very careful and watch what is happening.

    Meguiar's 3 step Clear Plastic Polishing / Cleaning Products are absolutely excellent. Yes Brasso is good, for those of you outside the US that might have a hard time finding the Meguiar's line, but be aware that it is, in my opinion, a slightly harsher and stronger abrasive than most lenses require. The trick with Brasso is to be careful and not overwork an area.

    Meguiar's products are: (In order of use)

    Clear Plastic Cleaner No. 17
    Clear Plastic Polish No. 10
    Clear Plastic Maintenance No. 18

    They are all labeled Mirror Glaze, don't ask me why the numbers don't go in sequence.

    Use these in the sequence above, with clean soft terry cloths or if possible, old sweat socks or diapers. For really scratched lenses you can even apply them with a buffing pad like you would do a wax job. If you have access to a D/A, they even sell small pads (about 3" Diameter) which work very nicely. The trick to the Cleaner and the Polish is to work a large area and concentrate on small areas only for a short while. Change the piece of cloth you are using often, and don't hesitate to use more of the cleaner or polish as needed. The Maintenance spray is an excellent detailer for just before you go to a show.

    I've been able to restore lenses that some considered junk, but haven't yet found a way to fill those little stress cracks that occur on the clear portion of the lens. So if anyone has any suggestions there.....

    Hope this helps.

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    Hey Escanlon, you recommend using old diapers for cleaning and polishing? Is that your secret??

    Thanks for the detailed post! Makes me wanna go clean!
    Michael

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    Registered User hmsports's Avatar
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    Default bad luck...

    >Michael

    I tried using them after someone recommended them to me but the results always came out crappy...

    >Escanlon

    Thanks for the great and detailed information!
    Rick Hanson
    HANSON Motorsports
    www.hmsports.com
    rickh@dmrassociates.com

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    Wink

    That was bad Rick.........
    Stop drinking that rocket fuel, it won't help your car go any faster

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    Senior Z Car Enthusiast billcapp's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Reassembly

    EScanlon;
    You never mentioned the reassembly of the lens to the frame. A couple of years ago I disassembled mine (almost exactly as you described) along with the cleaning. When I was ready to put them back together, I decided to use a bead of clear silicone. It worked really great and the slight exhaust smell I had is gone. I imagine there is some standard two-sided adhesive foam that can be purchased, but at the time I didn't know if anything was available. Anyway, that was an excellent well written post. I am sure the "club" and others will benefit from this.
    Late '71 240Z - It ain't done til it's done!

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    Deftly daft Alfadog's Avatar
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    Thank you immensely!

    I'm not sure if I want to go cleaning the whole assembly though as I dont want to remove that rubber that goes around teh whole thing. It looks VERY brittle

    I will attempt to remove it though

    Makes it seem fun - but expensive too with all those products I have to buy!

    Now, my little chrome thing in the middle is slightly crackled and could do with a refresh. Has anyone been successful in making these look newer with some obscure product or would I have to go to a professional to get it done (not going to happen)?

    Thank you so much for you input!!! I just wish Datsun had made their lenses a bit easier to get at!

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    Deftly daft Alfadog's Avatar
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    OK I'm up to the "sheet metal blind nut" part.

    These things are so small and awkward - the tabs are about a millimetre wide! Fragile you say? The darn thing wont move!!!

    What do I do?

  11. #11
    Supporting Member EScanlon's Avatar
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    Exclamation Secrets and other techniques

    Alfa; first of all, see if you can access the SIDES of the tangs that are biting into the plastic pin. It may take a small bent nail, or if you have an old dental pick, or some other SMALL prying tool, but the intent is to move those tangs UP and AWAY from the pin.

    I'm awful on ASCII art, but here goes. In a bit I'll try a .BMP image from Paint.


    ........./ ||| \........

    The dots and the diagonals are what the sheet metal blind nut are, the vertical lines are the plastic pin. The diagonals represent the angled up portion of the sheet nut (also called a speed nut) pressing onto and biting into the pin. The plastic pin extends up and below the speed nut, but this is where ascii art can be deceptive due to the spacing between lines.

    What you want to do is insert a "hook" or some method of pulling the diagonals up and away from the plastic pin. The reason the speed nut isn't moving is because it is being pushed down by the angled pieces of metal, and because of that pressure will literally squeeze the pin until it breaks if you try to pull the speed nut straight up.



    Secrets:

    Regarding old diapers. Never had access to diapers personally, and all my friends who are parents have opted for the disposable kind. However, you CAN find them at garage sales, or Goodwill, or second hand stores both Baby and General.

    I was given this tip by an old friend of mine and "mentor" who did a lot of airbrush painting.

    The specific reason old cotton cloth diapers are "best" is that they are typically made with few extraneous threads (i.e. non-cotton), and also have very few "knots". They can literally be bleached, and washed in very hot water and come back time after time ready for use. They are typically the most absorbent, and scratch proof cloths you can buy. I use mine for polishing, cleaning, and other jobs where both absorbency and scratch free clean up is important. (Try doing a wax job with one of these!)


    Lights:

    Once you have disassembled your lenses, and before you put them back together again here's another tip: Paint the area around the lightbulbs with as bright and shiny a WHITE paint as you can find. I use a fuel proof paint from my R/C hobby. It is Pactra Formula U Polyurethane. It will take a day or two to dry, so be careful in handling them to avoid finger smudges. Don't paint the reflector, just the gray / white plastic above and below the reflectors and bulbs.

    With clean and polished lenses, the result is dramatic. The red area looks brighter and the clear looks clearer! This is without the lights being on.

    I've also done this to the somewhat white of the front turn signals, as well as the inside of my instrument panel gauges and also the License Plate and Interior Light. All of these show a remarkable increase in their illumination and non light appearance. In fact, the "dome" light is now bright enough that you can actually SEE inside the car at night.


    Courtesy Lights:

    There is wiring in the 240 wire harness that will allow you to mount a pair of courtesy lights to either the door panel or the kick panel. Datsun originally intended for the light to be mounted on the door and illuminate the entry area to the doors, but few if any cars (to my knowledge) ever arrived in the US with that option.

    I found some "marker" lights at the local auto parts store. These have a chrome top with a white lens and the light bulb housing. I mounted mine on the kick panels just between the fresh air vents and the pull mechanism, way up and nearly invisible as you are seated. They are turned on when the door opens or the dome light is activated. The inside of my car is very brightly lit now.

    The wiring for these is usually wrapped up and taped to the wiring harness at the point where the wires for the door open switches come out of the harness.


    Rustproofing Side Markers:

    The 73 and later Z's had a rubber boot that housed the whole back portion of the metal reflector for the side markers. Earlier cars did NOT have this feature, and as a result are usually rusted from behind, and within a short measure of time, will allow water to seep into the light and rust the reflector inside. A lot of people have replaced their 72 and earlier markers with the 73's and now it is almost impossible to find a 73 side marker light with the rubber boot.

    To rust proof the new 71 side marker lights I bought, I first removed the metal portion from the new boot. Then I used some heatshrink tubing around the external portion of the socket all the way from the base to the wiring protector. Then I brushed on a product called Plasti-Dip. This is a rubber coating that when dry resembles rubber. It is the same kind of stuff in use to dip your tool handles in to get a slip proof grip. You can usually get this at Home Depot or other hardware stores. Let it sit for a couple days to dry and shrink to the metal then reassemble carefully and you will have a rubber boot on the back side of the metal. One other note, a small bead of Plasti-Dip in the groove of the original side marker rubber boot where the metal is inserted into the boot will do wonders for sealing the lens assembly. You could also use weatherstrip adhesive or silicone.

    While I'm on the subject of side marker lenses, if you recently bought new, or if yours are in good clean condition, take a close look at the lens. You will note that the front of the lens is glued to the back of the lens. That's because the lens uses both a prismatic refractor and a circular pattern refractor to light the whole unit up. The problem here is that the manufacturer used the LEAST amount of glue necessary to hold the two halves together. The ensuing problem is that there is a space for both water and DIRT to creep into that channel. The end result is that over time, you will note a dark band develop on the outside edge of your new lens.

    Go to your favorite Hobby Store, and buy a small bottle of Gap Filling Cyanoacrylate glue. Also known as Super Glue. There are several types there, from slow setting to fast setting. You want the SLOW and GAP filling type.

    Instead of trimming the nozzle of the bottle to open the nozzle to allow product to come out, use as fine a pin as you can find to open a hole. This will allow you better control over the glue.

    Next, the short height side will usually have the seam hidden beneath the stainless trim, this is where you want to slowly and patiently apply the super glue and let it fill the gap. If you are careful and using a pin, you could even walk around the whole perimeter of the gap and fill this seam. The intent is to fill that seam such that dirt can't creep into it, and show up later. Be careful getting this on any other part of the lens as it will mar the finish and look unsightly.

    I think you could probably also use clear nail polish or paint but I haven't tried it. I opted for the super glue because I had it on hand and I know it won't crack or yellow with age.


    That's all for now, I have other secrets up my sleeve which I'll share later.

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    Deftly daft Alfadog's Avatar
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    Ya. I shall attempt it again but there is absolutely no room between the pin and the washer/nut...

    Painting the inside white is a good idea, perhaps I could paint them black to give a tinted effect! maybe

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    Supporting Member EScanlon's Avatar
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    I'm probably misreading your reply, you meant the plastic housing and NOT the lenses themselves, right?

    Don't paint the inside of the lenses with any kind of opaque paint as you will not only block the light, you will heat up the inside of the lens and housing and melt the sucker.

    If you do want that "tinted" effect, check into the transparent paint you can get for making "stained" glass. You can get it in different colors for a different look.

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    Nah, I decided white is the go. Maybe my next Z can have black? hehe

    Finally got them apart - those little nuts were impossible to get and in the process I snapped the plastic pin but I've glued the pin back on with some really tough stuff so it should hold.

    I cleaned up both lenses as much as I could, and used some ordinary car polish which worked well.

    I've also painted the inside of the backing white - it's still drying.

    Now I've got to find some glue which will stick, but not too much that next time I want to take the tail lights apart (God forbid) I can do it without too much trouble.

    I take it some silicon based stuff is the best?

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    Supporting Member EScanlon's Avatar
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    Default Adhesives...

    Silicone will work, but do keep an eye on it over time to make sure it doesn't peel off.

    You could also use strip caulking, which is what Wick Humble refers to as "dum-dum". It generally never hardens and provides an excellent seal and adhesion.

    Just don't use any kind of adhesive / epoxy / glue that gets HARD, as it will literally be impossible to remove from the lens if you do have to remove it.

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    Deftly daft Alfadog's Avatar
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    Yea, point noted!

    I couldn't restrain myself earlier this morning... I just HAD to go for a small drive around the back streets... Z's are addictive!!!

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    AAhhhh, I had to dust the cobwebs off of this one. I followed Escanlon's directions on the taillight restoration and I must say, THANK YOU ENRIQUE! My taillights look like new (except for the chrome strip, still working on a solution for them). I did the passenger light first and left the drivers as it was removed from the car. WoW! what a difference.
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    Last edited by Ed; 05-31-2005 at 10:51 AM.
    The 1973 240Z 165540 Slightly modified. L28, 5sp, cam, headers, MSD 6AL, power windows, power door locks, leather seats, custom this and custom that.

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    plase add a pic of the driver side tail light when you get it cleaned.

    It'll be interesting to see how much of the dingy-ness comes off since the tail lights on the driver side are typically soaked in exhaust fumes for years. (more so than the passenger side)

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    Supporting Member EScanlon's Avatar
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    Excellent Job, Ed!

    The only problem I've found with the lights looking so bright, is that at times they can fool me and make me think I've left the lights on (no kidding!).

    Alfa, how did yours turn out?

    E

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    Quote Originally Posted by EScanlon
    Courtesy Lights:

    There is wiring in the 240 wire harness that will allow you to mount a pair of courtesy lights to either the door panel or the kick panel. Datsun originally intended for the light to be mounted on the door and illuminate the entry area to the doors, but few if any cars (to my knowledge) ever arrived in the US with that option.
    Had to reply to this part. One summer while fiddling with the wiring up under the glove box I noticed this wiring. When I determined what it was I mounted some custom LED units on the kick panels that aim the bright white light down into the footwell. I must say it was a nice surprise and it sure makes an improvement to a black interior on a dark night. Thanks E!!

    Chris
    1973 240Z HLS30-156693

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    This is the good side ncz's Avatar
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    Default Thanks Ed

    Ed I appreciate you bringing this one back. I'm filling in time with bunch of cleaning and polishing and didn't want to buy new lenses!!! I thnk the new ones are made of gold. Your lights look great and thanks Enrique for the original info
    Tom Moore
    73 240Z mfg 12/72
    DGV's, ZX dist 5spd

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    Alfa to Zed Ricklandia's Avatar
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    Default overspray?

    Any tips on paint removal from the plastic lenses? I'm gonna take a drive to the hobby shop and see if anyone there has a recommendation for restoring the "chrome" strip. If I find out anything I'll be sure to post it STAT.
    1973 240Z - Red/4 Spd w A/C - HLS30-134739
    1990 Alfa Romeo Spider - Black

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    Plasti-Master www.graffitimaster.com

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    Default Lens

    Nice info and well written! I have done several pairs so far and have found that a hairdryer or heat gun is a great tool to soften the old adhesive holding the lens onto the backing plate. Don't forget the little felt pad(s) that allow the water to run out. I use either caulk to put them back together. One lens had over 2 inches of fine Arizona road dust (28 yrs and 368,000 miles of southwest driving) in it.

    As to the chrome bands I have given up and after lightly sanding them paint them.

    Once I have the lens completely cleaned I paint them with clear. Mine are still new looking after 2 yrs. I wish I had painted the backing plate as was suggested. Next pair...
    if a little knowledge can make you dangerous, I'm a little dangerous

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    Alfa to Zed Ricklandia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gnosez
    (snip)As to the chrome bands I have given up and after lightly sanding them paint them...
    Have you ever tried the "chrome" paint? I got all the way to the hobby shop but totally forgot to ask the modellers there about that.
    1973 240Z - Red/4 Spd w A/C - HLS30-134739
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    Senior Z Car Enthusiast billcapp's Avatar
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    The "Chrome" paint isn't anything like chrome..it's just a brighter silver. I wouldn't use it if you want anything close to original. JMO
    Late '71 240Z - It ain't done til it's done!

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    Wow, brings back memories!

    Quote Originally Posted by EScanlon
    Alfa, how did yours turn out?
    Very well thankyou Enrique! Here is a recent picture taken by the new owner. They really came out very nice, and for anyone not doing a concourse restoration I'd recommend painting the grey plastic backing pieces white!
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    I just went through the same drill. I cleaned up the driver's side taillight and it looks like new. I did find some chrome paint and painted the inside of the lights. I also painted the marker lights which were also dirty and rusty. I covered the chrome paint with clear. Looks pretty good if I have to say so myself!
    Z Saint, the vintage racer! I've traveled a long way and some of the roads weren't paved.

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    Go back to my post # 17 to see the finished lenses. Pic # 1 is just the passenger side clean and the drivers original. Pic #2 is both rebuilt and ready for installation. Pic # 3 is right before assembly. I painted the inside of the housing next to the reflectors white, what a difference.
    The 1973 240Z 165540 Slightly modified. L28, 5sp, cam, headers, MSD 6AL, power windows, power door locks, leather seats, custom this and custom that.

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    beandip beandip's Avatar
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    ED , I did the same thing after seeing escanlons . I did the inside of the gages , and all the exterior and interior lights white . Major difference . All are as brite as on a new car. Now the gages just the inside in back of the face is what was painted white , from the front they look stock , it' the light reflecting around that makes the difference . Silver doesn't reflect as much I tried that also . The head light wire up grade , with the relays is a must for all 240 cars in my openion . I cant rember the members name that makes and sells them ,but Scanlon and I each bought the set up from him and this alone make a total difference in the dash and tail lights as well , with the load off the stock wireing to the head lights , every thing else is 40% brighter. In fact you can use the dash light dimmer switch now . Gary
    Last edited by beandip; 05-31-2005 at 06:08 PM.
    I'd rather die while I am living than live while I am dieing. CZC 1887 IZCC 12602 Member of NorthWest Z Car Club

  31. #31
    Frogsquisher Zup's Avatar
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    CZCC-8151
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    Ed---
    What did you do to the chrome strips to improve them?
    They look significantly better!

    Beandip----
    Did you get you lighting upgrades from "E4"?


    Inquiring minds want to know---

  32. #32
    HLS30165540
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zup
    Ed---
    What did you do to the chrome strips to improve them?
    They look significantly better!
    Inquiring minds want to know---
    The chrome strips were in decent shape. I polished them up a bit with some "never-dull" and repainted the black strip.

    Ed
    The 1973 240Z 165540 Slightly modified. L28, 5sp, cam, headers, MSD 6AL, power windows, power door locks, leather seats, custom this and custom that.

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