Taillights

Most of the rubber seals on the car were replaced when the paint work was done (sometime during Reagan’s second term). However some seals were not replaced. I assume those seals were hard to find so the body shop simply put the old seals in and patched them up with adhesive as best they could.

That is all well and good but some of the old seals are visible and very ugly. Also every time I wash the car the trunk gets a LOT of water in it. I don’t like ugly, I don’t need any rust on the car, and trunk drying is not high on my list of fun things to do. So I started looking for replacement rubber.

The first seal I found was for the trunk latch. I got it on e-bay and it is a pretty good reproduction part. I say pretty good because it is not quite the right shape but it looks a lot better than what I had. I was lazy that day so I did not take pictures of the process. Sorry!

Next I found seals for the headlight bulbs and tail lights at Stephen Allen Studebaker. The headlights need one more set of seals before I can do those so when the parts arrived I got started. The seals were $20 each! Ouch! They do look nice though.

The first step was taking the taillights out without breaking anything. These lights were only used on 1941 Studebaker cars and they are both rare and expensive. However they are not sophisticated. As you can see the bulb is just sitting behind the lens with no reflector or anything. As you might expect the lights are pretty dim. The whole assembly comes out by removing the two nuts at the top and bottom.

I did hit a couple of surprises. First of all the lights were assembled with some really nasty adhesive that had hardened into a gritty, frozen mess. I suspect it is actually that old windshield glue that looked like asphalt. I had to be very careful both separating the light from the fender and disassembling the light. Kerosene softened the goop so I cleaned everything up with that.

The second surprise was nastier. The passenger side lens is actually broken. It looks like it just fractured at the weird bulbous part. If you look carefully at the picture the protruding part looks whiter than the lens. This is not an illusion. It is actually clear glass for some reason. I suspect the fracture is at the boundary between the clear and red glass.

The good news is the break is clean. I washed both halves and super-glued the lens back together. The break is basically invisible now. You can see the finished lens in the picture at right.

The lens rests on the metal backing plate/lamp socket. When I took the light apart the lens was simply gooped to the metal with that nasty glue. The parts book shows a rubber seal in there which is simply not to be found. So I made one out of an old tractor inner tube. I had to make two for each side to make the rubber thick enough to keep the lens from rattling around (and maybe breaking). You can see one of my inner-tube abortions in the middle at right.

The drivers side was not broken but the backing plate had some minor surface rust. So I wire brushed it then primed and painted it. You can see the still-wet primer at left. The finished color was white in an attempt to get as much reflectivity as possible out of this tiny lamp. You can also see the outer frame and old fender seal at left.

To assemble the lights I put a thin bead of silicone rubber on the inside rim of the outer chrome trim. I did not want to glue the lens to the trim so I coated the metal and the lens with Vaseline before putting the silicone rubber down. I then put the lens in the trim ring, put my homemade seals on the lens, then screwed the entire sandwich down with the backing plate. Finally I bolted the assembly onto the fender with the new fender seal. Except for the pitted chrome it looks much better.

The lights are also much brighter. The brake lights were always very dim. I assumed that was because of the old wiring and 6V system. But when I took it apart I found that the lenses had 63 years worth of dirt and gunk on the back of them. A good cleaning did wonders. I also cleaned the bulbs and contacts in the sockets which did not hurt. I may try to track down 6V halogen or LED bulbs but it is improved.

I have the headlight fender seals on order. That will be next. I also have a burned out headlight that will need replaced. Exciting stuff.


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