Adam's En"light"ening Experience

W Christian Mental Ward
by W Christian Mental Ward
adam s en light ening experience

My friend Adam is a great guy. He is a first generation American, Air Force Officer and genuinely pleasant person. Like anyone else, he has his preferences and dogmas. He believes television peaked with “The Rockford Files” and owns the complete series on DVD. He also believes any car worth owning was built before 1973. As such, he owns a stunning all-original 1963 Pontiac Gran Prix and this beautiful 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Convertible.

It’s not all original, it has had a respray. The previous owner was attempting to clone a 442 when Adam got it. Adam slowly returned it to the way it looked when it left the factory. It’s driven just shy of daily, so the top, carpet and upholstery have been replaced because they just wore out. He usually has a qualified local mechanic wherever he lives but on occasion will attempt small repairs himself; such as a “straightforward” headlight replacement on Big Blue.

This picture shows the simple problem; one of the high beams is not working. It must be burned out, right? The problem was noticed when he got out of the car one night leaving his lights on (If that confuses you, know that old cars don’t have dingers, or auto settings. They will simply drain your battery while you are at work).

With the lights on, there was a tiny little glow from the questionable hi-beam filament. So he turned on the hi beams via the floor switch…

Remember these?

…and was rewarded with the above Popeye scenario. It was not a huge problem, he doesn’t do much open country road driving in the Miami metro. But it still needed to be addressed. Since it’s an easy enough fix and it had been over 12 years since he last replaced a glass headlight, he thought;

It might even be kinda fun in a nostalgic way, and couldn‘t be that expensive.

For some background, these pictures show how hi-beams were activated on a car before it was on the turn signal stalk and the hi beam indicator before the introduction of the blue light icon.

Adam continues;

Glass headlights are still packaged exactly the way I remember them. They are, however a bit more expensive. I remember shelves full of them being available in the auto section of all the big department stores for about $4.95 or so. This one cost me $11 and I had to go to a dedicated auto parts store.

These pictures show the 1st step of a what is actually a very straightforward process. First remove the decorative trim piece to reveal access to the mounting ring with its screws. The next shows what the area in question looks like after the pieces are removed. The retainer ring is stainless steel with three tabs that fits around/over the outer lip of the bulb and screws to the bucket.

The bulb just plugs into the wiring harness like an electrical plug on household appliance. Certainly not rocket science. As the holy book of Haynes often sayteh, installation is simply a reverse of removal.

But before everything is screwed back in/on, it’s usually smart to make sure it all works like it is designed to. So Adam turned on the headlights and again stepped on the hi beam switch…


Nothing except that little glow in the filament just like the one in the bulb he removed.

We have all been there. Adam then muttered several choice words and searched under the hood, behind the headlights. After removing the battery that resides snugly in-between the back of the headlights and the front of the wheel, he found a wire not connected to anything originating from the headlight harness.

To avoid more choice words and the throwing of tools, the time had come to RTFM.

These are excepts from his re-poped GM assembly manual and the page that shows exactly what the issue was The key is being used as a pointer for illustrative purposes.

This is the old ground tab, NOT connected to the ground wire, after it had been taken off its mounting place on the core support. A replacement ground tab that he had in the box-o‘-bolts-&-such was put on the wire and screwed into place.

Once that little detour into automotive electrical was completed, he took the OLD hi-beam, plugged it in and stepped on the switch…

The result;

Adam then fired up the Cutlass, and returned the new headlight for a full refund.

No, this is not breaking news or even a review. But dear reader, we are drawn to the various facets of this hobby for any number of reasons. But if we can’t learn from our passions and apply these lessons in our daily lives, then we may be missing the point of a hobby. There are a few lessons we can all be reminded of here. With every new year comes the promise and hope of renewal and growth. But as we grow, we must keep our roots grounded…as well as our wiring.

Christian “Mental” Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is a graduate of Panoz Racing School, loves cartoons and once exceeded the speed of sound. Married to the most patient woman in the world; he has three dogs, a Philosophy degree and makes Derek wonder if English is actually his first language.

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  • Bk_moto Bk_moto on Jan 12, 2015

    The giveaway clue to this problem was the dim glow of the high beam filament. Something was grounding through the filament because the real ground connection was no longer connected.


    My FIRST Car was a 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme coupe in Sherwood Green (code 48) with green interior and white vinyl top. Cost me $725 and I kept it from 1978 to 1987 when I sold it to my mechanic (who still works on my twelve cars today!). It had the bucket seats, console shifter, and SSI wheels. It overheated on the way to Anaheim Yellow Cab (where my father worked on the radios) where "Lyle", the taxi technician, told me I should have bought any Dodge with a Slant-Six. I told him "no way, I'm a GM man" and have been since then! I had the engine rebuilt by Roger's Automotive in Orange, California and added an intake manifold from a 1972 Oldsmobile 98 with another 455. My license plate read "70 OLDS"...

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