1984 Trans Am tail light mod

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battmann
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1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by battmann » Mon Jan 05, 2015 11:09 pm

this thread will document my attempt to install the 2011-2014 dodge charger "racetrack" LED tail lights into my 1984 Trans Am tail lights. the dimensions of the two designs are very similar with the dodge lights being slightly wider overall. comparison pictures:

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just finding cheap lights to work with was pretty difficult. i knew i didn't need the lenses so i was trying to find working charger tail lights that had scratches or broken lenses figuring those would be cheaper. i did find a scratched center section on ebay for $108 shipped. good condition ones are $200-$300. the side tail lights i found on thirdgen.org. a guy was attempting to do a similar mod, but was planning to just graft the whole dodge tail light assembly into the back of his camaro / firebird. he lost interest and i got these two pieces for $165 shipped. these pieces go for about $100 a side.
the first thing i needed to do was take one charger light and one firebird light apart to see what i had to work with. i started with a cheaper side charger light first. after careful evaluation, it looked like the lens is a complete plastic assembly. there was a seam around the top lens though. i used a heat gun and then tried to pry the lens off.

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i carefully heated and gently pried the lens with a small screw driver. all the pieces are plastic welded together so it was kind of difficult. you have to go very slow. the lens itself is tinted red. underneath are the reflectors for the LED lights. everything inside is clear or chrome colored.

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the clear reflectors seemed loose so i tired removing them but couldn't. it seemed like maybe i could remove them from the backside. i tried heating the back of the tail light assembly to pull it apart, but no go. i ended up having to Dremel cut the base of the housing off. once apart, I could see the circuit boards for the LEDs.

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here is the back of the housing. there are a whole bunch of cones - one for each brake LED.

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i was able to use a small screwdriver to push and pry the clear reflectors out of the housing.

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so far so good. after all this, i plugged the circuit board into my 2013 charger tail light plug to make sure everything still worked. success! i was surprised to find out that the LED lights illuminate red. i thought they would have been white behind the red lens.

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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by battmann » Mon Jan 05, 2015 11:23 pm

next the trans am tail light. there was some information on how to take apart this assembly on thirdgen.org, but none were super clear to me and none had pictures. luckily i had a spare tail light set to mess with. these light assemblies are made up of two pieces held together with two metal clips (on the bottom), two plastic rivets (on the top) and some strong glue around the whole perimeter. first you just gently pry off the metal clips on the bottom.

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next i used a heat gun on low setting for the plastic rivets. everything i read online said these most likely break.

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i slowly worked the rivet out using a small pry tool i have. sidenote: i inherited this tool from my grandfather and it comes in handy a lot. the rivet top deformed a little, but i got it out in one piece.

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next i used the heat gun again around the perimeter of the assembly. using a pick and a small screwdriver, i scraped as much of the glue out of the channel as i could while the glue was warm. eventually the light assembly just started prying apart. go slow and be careful! with the louvered lens off, the reverse and tail light lenses are exposed. each one has a small screw holding it in place. the front of these lenses are smooth and the backside has texture.

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once the lenses are removed, you can see the chrome light reflectors in the base of the assembly.

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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by battmann » Mon Jan 05, 2015 11:38 pm

now i could mess with all the parts to see how they might work together. here's a couple pics showing how the clear charger reflectors fit inside the louvered outer lens of the trans am assembly.

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the charger reflectors line up pretty good with the louver spacing of the trans am lenses. this is as far as i got this past weekend. i'm thinking i'll have to fabricate a new rear housing for the trans am lens and then mount the charger circuit boards to it. then i'll have to partition off the LED patterns somehow using the reflectors as a guide. i got a guy on ebay who was parting out a 2011 charger to sell me all the tail light pigtails so i just have to figure out how to splice the plugs into my stock trans am rear harness to connect them. i think LEDs use less voltage so i might have to install resisters in the line or something. i'm not sure how to figure that out or how that's going to work yet. next i'll probably attempt to dismantle the charger center section. i'm hoping i can modify the lower LEDs to be straight like my trans am lights.
i got some ideas for the overall piece. the middle section of the trans am tail lights does not illuminate and has the trunk lock behind it. i think i'm going to try and make one large tail light assembly so i can complete the "race track" look. i'll need to modify the truck lock area to do this though - not sure how exactly yet. this kind of all depends on how the charger center section lights work. if they're also mounted to circuit boards, changing the layout may be difficult. hopefully i'll have time to mess with this project some more in the next couple weeks. right now i'm just pretty excited that it seems like it may work. i think i'll be the first person to successfully transplant the charger lights into something else!

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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by petegee77 » Tue Jan 06, 2015 5:28 am

Thanks for the pics Clint. The 1st pic was great seeing how the back of both cars look normally.
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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by twomanymontes » Tue Jan 06, 2015 7:42 pm

Clint, That's looking good!!! Don't worry about the electrical part, I can make that work. Cut a few wires, solder them and your good to go. The only thing you will need to buy is an LED compatable turn signal flasher. That will help control the hyper flash.

AS for the rear deck lid, IF you make the whole tail light assembly as one set up, We can always just make the deck lid power latch work on a keyless remote. Less chance of someone breaking into it as well.

Since you will be running a fuel injected motor with an automatic trans, we can easily hook up a remote starter with keyless entry and trunk release.
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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by petegee77 » Wed Jan 07, 2015 5:51 pm

twomanymontes wrote:Clint, That's looking good!!! Don't worry about the electrical part, I can make that work. Cut a few wires, solder them and your good to go. The only thing you will need to buy is an LED compatable turn signal flasher. That will help control the hyper flash.
Let's NOT mention hyper flash shall we . lol
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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by battmann » Thu Jan 08, 2015 11:40 pm

did a little more work today. this time i opened up the charger middle section.
first i removed all of the wiring and plugs from the back. i didn't take pictures, but this was easy. there are two really small plugs that connect to the LED circuit boards. these are pretty hard to remove as the release you need to press to remove the plug is on the bottom side facing the housing. now onto removing the lens. there's a seam on it just like the side tail light pieces so i was able to open it up the same way - heat gun and pry carefully with a screwdriver. the seal on the bottom of the lens, about 12" in the middle, was welded together pretty damn good. i thought i was going to break something. tip: pry the corners apart first. this helps prevent cracking the lens if you want to keep it.

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the inside of the assembly has the same clear reflectors as the side tail lights. there's a few little pins that hold them into place. i was able to remove them by prying with a small screwdriver.

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once the reflectors were removed, the LED circuit boards were exposed. good news is there's multiple boards in here with jumper wires. bad news is there might not be enough straight pieces to do what i want in the trans am lenses.

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the boards are held in the housing with REALLY small screws. i tried fine tip screwdrivers and allen wrenches, but those didn't work. using a magnifying glass i discovered the screws had torx heads. the smallest size i had was a T-10 and that was too big. i ended up going to Sears to by a mini torx set. it contained screwdriver torx sizes T-5 to T-9. T-6 was the winner!

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next i'll have to take some measurements of my trans am tail lights and see if i have enough straight circuit board pieces to make my idea work. next i'll probably start thinking about how i'm going to mount all this stuff in the trans am lens. here's my housing options:
  • cut up and modify the existing plastic housings
  • fabricate new metal housings
  • fabricate new housings out of wood and cover with fiberglass
  • fabricate new housings out of ABS plastic

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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by twomanymontes » Sat Jan 10, 2015 4:01 pm

Glad to see the progress, Clint. I'm curious as to how you can mold something out of ABS plastic. And that may be just the route to go if you can't fit it into the original housings. A metal set up will be too heavy.
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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by battmann » Sat Jan 10, 2015 9:35 pm

I think I can form ABS with heat. The light buckets should just be big rectangles so it shouldn't be too complicated... I hope. If that doesn't work I think I can cut the ABS and glue the pieces together.
Check out the video on this site:
http://www.tapplastics.com/product/plas ... sheets/524

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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by twomanymontes » Sat Jan 10, 2015 10:11 pm

That's really cool, I wonder if it can be sanded smooth and painted without too much trouble
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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by battmann » Fri Jan 23, 2015 12:06 pm

got my second lid mounted Charger light yesterday. the car it came from had a fire, but the rear light still worked. only problem is when i got it all apart, the clear reflector strips inside have some smoke stains on them. i tried washing them off with water, bleach and bathroom cleaner and nothing worked 100%. i got some of the smoke residue off, but they're not perfectly clear like the other ones.
i also tried taking the center Trans Am section apart and that didn't go so well. the pieces are plastic welded together. i got the lens separated in some spots, but can't get it apart in other spots. the edge of the lens cracked a couple times and the heat from the heat gun turned some lens edges white. i'll have to do something different with the middle section. i have a plan, but didn't start yet. i'll continue destroying this spare center section to figure out a way to make this all work. that way i'll know what will work when modifying the center section that will actually be used on the car.

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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by petegee77 » Fri Jan 23, 2015 1:24 pm

battmann wrote:got my second lid mounted Charger light yesterday. the car it came from had a fire, but the rear light still worked. only problem is when i got it all apart, the clear reflector strips inside have some smoke stains on them. i tried washing them off with water, bleach and bathroom cleaner and nothing worked 100%. i got some of the smoke residue off, but they're not perfectly clear like the other ones.
i also tried taking the center Trans Am section apart and that didn't go so well. the pieces are plastic welded together. i got the lens separated in some spots, but can't get it apart in other spots. the edge of the lens cracked a couple times and the heat from the heat gun turned some lens edges white. i'll have to do something different with the middle section. i have a plan, but didn't start yet. i'll continue destroying this spare center section to figure out a way to make this all work. that way i'll know what will work when modifying the center section that will actually be used on the car.
Good luck Clint .
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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by twomanymontes » Fri Jan 23, 2015 10:49 pm

smoke stains never come out. But at least they will be behind the red and won't be as noticeable.

Not sure of any ideas for the center section. But I'm sure you will figure out something
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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by battmann » Wed Jan 28, 2015 12:37 am

got some more work done today on the middle Trans Am section. since i couldn't get the lens off i figured i could just cut the plastic backing. the clear reflectors from the Charger light are about the same width as one Trans Am lens louver. i drew a silver cut line on the plastic backing to match the width of the louver on the front. using a Dremel tool i cut strips out of the plastic. i used a Dremel cut off wheel for long cuts and a high speed cutting bit for the parts where the wheel wouldn't fit. here's work in progress. i only cut three sections out for now as a test.

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the Charger reflector is a 'U' shape so i then used the cutting bit to make a 'U' on each end of the lens housing.

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then i could slide the reflector in one side and out the other. here's how it looks with the reflector installed.

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i'll probably cut the reflector to size and use superglue to hold it in place. i'll have to fabricate a couple channels to fit behind the reflectors to mount the LED circuit boards. that shouldn't be too hard. figuring out this middle section seems like it was pretty easy. i'm not exactly sure what i'll do in the main Trans Am tail lenses yet, but i'll figure something out.

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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by twomanymontes » Wed Jan 28, 2015 7:57 pm

Clint, that's going to look really good. But don't use super glue. Get a bottle of CA Glue. It will last a lot longer and seals better. We use it at work to seal up plastic pieces all the time. Works great!
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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by battmann » Wed Feb 04, 2015 12:24 am

worked some more on this over the weekend. i got the top and bottom strips cut out of the TA center section and then cut pieces of clear reflector lenses to fit in it. i think it looks pretty good. tonight i started messing with the circuit boards to try and figure out how they work. i'm not an electrical guy and so far i only figured out the following:
  • the circuit boards have jumper wires that connect the separate boards into a long string. if you cut the wires and remove a board, the remaining boards in the string still work.
  • if you cut a circuit board, none of the LEDs on the board work.
the second point might be a problem because i need to cut down a board somehow to get the overall length of the LED string to fit in the TA lenses. not sure what to do about that yet.
anyway, after messing with all this i used a battery charger to power up some LEDs to see how they look behind this TA center section.

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it's hard to get a good picture, but it looks sweet. basically it looks just like they do on the Charger. i only have LEDs behind the top strip in the picture. the bottom piece that looks illuminated is just a red reflector that is on the stock lens assembly. i'm thinking of mounting the boards in some kind of channel so they only shine through the reflector lens. i also need to make it so if a board burns out down the road, i'll be able to take this thing apart to replace it. i could just wait until that happens in the future, but i'd at least like to think about that now if possible.

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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by twomanymontes » Wed Feb 04, 2015 9:18 pm

That's going to look really cool!
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Re: 1984 Trans Am tail light mod

Post by darksider » Thu Oct 01, 2015 10:18 am

Great work Clint

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