Saturday, May 21, 2016

C3 Bubble Taillight Conversion

Finally made up my mind to replace the original OEM taillights with aftermarket "bubble" lenses. The brake light lenses were cracked and dull-looking, and replacement kits sell for around $185. Not excessive but not cheap either. Conversely, aftermarket bubble taillights cost around $85 for a set of four.

The conversion kit also allows you to go from two brake lights to four, which of course eliminates the backup lights, but those can be substituted with aftermarket LEDs or with a LED license plate frame. However, since I rarely drive my Vette at night, I am not overly concerned at not having those.




The taillight kit I got from Corvette Central is made by Eckler's Corvette, and although it is well made and of very nice quality, the extra taillight sockets provided with the kit are of very poor quality, which is usually the case with Made in China automotive parts.

Had I known that this was going to be the case, I would've gone to the local U-Pick yard and gotten OEM taillight sockets. But, since I got them to work, I will see how long they last and make a decision at that point.

One detail that I did not care for was the fact that the edge of the base is white, and it sticks out like a sore thumb with most paint colors, except maybe for white and silver. So I had to do something about that.

Another detail I did not like was how close the taillight bases were to the upper edge of the bumper so I decided to modify them so they would sit a touch deeper in the holes.

But before we get to those issues, we must start with removing the OEM taillights, which involves a couple of screws to loosen the lenses, followed by three 3/8" bolts that hold the assembly plates.





There also are backing plates that hold the plates and you have to reach behind the bumper in order to get them out.

Once you get them out, you also need to trim some of the bumper material behind the backup lights in order for the sockets to fit properly.




Above are Before & After photos that show the excess bumper material that needs to be removed. I used my Dremel tool with a router bit which allowed me to cut the rubber bumper material without much effort.

I then proceeded to splice the extra taillight sockets with the Scotchlok/tap connectors provided with the kit. I also tested the lights to make sure everything was working correctly, only to find out that the light socket was a cheap POS that required some "massaging" so the lights would work properly.

By the way, the Eckler's kit also includes a heavy-duty flasher since the load of the four lights, versus the original two, requires this. Replacing the original flasher with the heavy-duty one is a matter of unplugging one and plugging in the other.

After I ensured the parking/brake lights were working correctly, I proceeded to install the kit lens bases. I had to get a bit creative here and used 1/4" nylon nuts from Dorman—the kind used for fastening license plates—available online or at any auto parts store. And just to make sure they would stay in place, I used Crazy Glue.

As I mentioned earlier, I modified the lens bases a little so they would fit better. And in order for them to look right, I had to assign two of them as "outer" and the other two as "inner." I did this since the "outer" base spacers had to be trimmer two-tenths of an inch, while the "inner" base spacers had to be trimmed three-tenths of an inch.



Another modification I made was to remove part of the top lip of each base since it interfered with the bumper after making the studs shorter in order for the lights to sit deeper (see photos below). The Dremel with a cutting disc made quick work of that.




Once all the trimming was done, I secured the bases as described earlier. I was lucky that the nylon nuts I used to anchor the taillight bases fit very snugly in the original holes. Had the holes been too large, I would've had to find a different way to secure the bases, such as using nuts and washers, which makes removing the bases far more challenging.

Above: Using Epoxy to secure the nylon anchors to the bumper is a good idea.



I did not use the self-adhesive gaskets that came with the kit since they pushed the lenses out which sort of ruined the look I was after. If I drove my car in the rain often then I would've certainly used them, but since I avoid bad weather like the plague, this is not a concern.

And here's the finished product. I understand that this look may not be everyone's favorite, but I've come to really like how well they blend with the rubber bumper, and I am very pleased with the more modern look.




And here's a before and after view of the whole rear bumper.




I did run into a problem when I tested the turn signals. Both the OEM and heavy-duty aftermarket flashers made them blink extremely fast, to the point of rendering them useless. However, the hazard lights (all four lights flashing at the same time), as well as the brake lights, worked just fine.

I tried switching the wiring to see if that was the reason, but nothing helped. I even purchased a new, Made In The USA heavy-duty flasher at the local O'Reilly Auto Parts store. That one did not help either.

So, in order to keep whatever's left of my sanity, I decided to use the OEM flasher and only the outboard lights for turn signal and brake light duties. All four taillights illuminate when the driving lights are turned on. That was an acceptable compromise in my opinion and they look great.

Zip Corvette is another vendor that offers a complete bubble taillight conversion kit, including a new flasher, for around $89.95.

Thanks for reading!