Jim Smart
December 3, 2003

Late in the '60s, lamp manufacturers began marketing halogen sealed-beamheadlamps. Aside from the obvious difference being greater light,halogen headlamps are also not vacuum envelopes. We can break the glassand still have a working headlamp. The halogen lamp is a lamp within alamp--a small lamp about the size we see in a movie projector or anightlight. Inside the small lamp are two filaments: one for low beamand one for high beam. The low-beam filament is shielded, with its lightreflected off the silver dish. The high-beam filament isn't shielded,allowing its light to pass through the glass, plus the added lightmultiplication that comes from the silver dish.

More recently, lamp manufacturers have developed the xenon headlight ina sealed-beam design. This means it will fit your vintage Ford. Thexenon headlamp is called a "Litronic" lamp (combining light andelectronics). Inside the sealed-beam glass envelope is a gas-dischargelamp the same size as the halogen lamp previously mentioned. Thegas-discharge lamp offers a wider field of vision without adverselyaffecting the vision of oncoming motorists. We're talking a brilliantlevel of light 2.5 times greater than halogen headlamps. Unlike thehalogen lamp, most xenon lamps have an electromechanical shield thatshields the light in low-beam mode, and unshields the light in high-beammode. This isn't completely true with all xenon headlamps--not all havethe electromechanical shield. Some, like the Wagner BriteLite Xenonlamp, have rather conventional low- and high-beam filaments.

One lamp we haven't addressed is the composite headlight. It isdifferent from the sealed-beam in that the filament is inside aremovable lamp installed in the headlight body. The aftermarket industrymanufactures a variety of composite-style headlamps designed to fitsingle- and twin-set headlamp systems in vintage Fords.

The Tri-Bar headlight from Mustangs Plus, for example, is a compositeheadlamp because the bulb installs inside a Lexan plastic headlampassembly. The headlamp assembly and the lamp inside are two separateassemblies, hence the term "composite."

About Bulbs

Headlamps are only the beginning of your lighting needs. They help yousee where you're going. But we want other motorists to see ourtaillights, especially when braking. And we want to be able to see ourinstruments no matter how dark the night outside. When we are enteringand leaving our Fords, we need courtesy lights that enable us to do itwithout tripping over the garden hose or family dog. Underhood and trunklighting are also important for convenience and safe operation. Goodlighting is always important, regardless of the mission.

The way Detroit lights instruments has improved a lot since 1965. Sitbehind the wheel of a new '03 Mustang and turn on the headlights.Instruments are much easier to see in today's automobiles. Flip on a '65Mustang's headlights and look at the instruments. The lighting is poor,with instruments that aren't easy to read. What's more, it didn't getmuch better in the years that followed. This is because we lightinstruments differently today. Instruments are lighted from behind thegauge faces, allowing light to pass through the numbers and characters,with illuminated needles that are easier to see.

Back in the '60s, instruments were indirectly lighted from behind,reflecting those awfully dim, two-candlepower bulbs housed in clear blueplastic off a flat white surface onto the instrument faces. They're hardto see, even with the best eyesight. Instrument needles long ago weremade of metal, painted fluorescent orange to improve visibility. In duecourse, instrument needles were made of plastic. Many became white incolor. Later, clear fluorescent orange needles lighted from behind. Ittook many years to get there.

As much as we would like to say there are solutions for dim instrumentlighting from the '50s, '60s, and '70s, there aren't. The only lampstill available for older Ford and Mercury instrument panels is the GE1895 lamp originally used from the factory. It is a two-candlepower lampthat was never bright enough to begin with. But you can replace thefrosty, milky blue plastic bulb covers Ford originally used withimproved versions from Scott Drake Enterprises, available from NationalParts Depot. What's more, Scott Drake makes them in a variety of colorsfor a dramatic effect we intend to use later in Project KISS. You canuse a combination of colors, or you can stick with one. Opt for theoriginal factory blue, or get wild with red or yellow.

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