Project F-Word: Updating Our Vintage Ford F-100 With LED Lighting

There is something about driving around in a vintage Ford pickup. Even Project F-Word, with all the updated suspension and powertrain, still has that vintage vibe that lets you instantly know you’re in a decades-old vehicle. It oozes with all the coolness that makes these trucks such hot commodities right now. Then, there’s the lighting. Remember when halogen bulbs first came on the scene? You could instantly tell the new vehicles because the headlights were so much brighter and whiter than we were ever used to seeing at night. Now, those H4s look more faded and yellow than a day-old banana peel compared to what’s on our roadways any given evening.

LED

You can instantly see the difference between the sealed beam original and the LED bulb. Sealed beams were around 2,500-2,700K while an LED can easily produce a much whiter (and into the blue spectrum) light between 4,000-6,500K.

With the introduction of HID and LED lighting, if you’re the guy still running halogens or heaven forbid, sealed beams like our 1969 Ford you get used to seeing a shadow cast out in front of you by the lights from the dude on your tailgate. Performance is always a nice upgrade, but better-performing lighting brings a safety factor that can’t be measured. It was time we brought our fun little F-100’s lighting up to the modern age. For that, we contacted the folks at Classic Industries. It carries an extensive list of brands for both performance and restorations and was our one-stop supplier for everything we needed for the final touches on our Ford pickup.

Everything we needed for this upgrade came from Classic Industries. Classic Industries warehouses products from numerous manufacturers and served as a one-stop shop for our F-100 pickup.

Benefits & Challenges Of Updating With LED Lights

Technology is a great thing, especially when it reduces power usage and boosts the candlepower of each bulb. You could argue that every bulb around the perimeter of our pickup is important. Anyone who has had their classic car rear-ended will definitely agree. Classic Industries carries all the LED bulbs to update the headlights, taillights, brake lights, and turn signals so our heavy-hauler from the Summer of Fun would have cutting-edge lighting at every corner. Classic Industries also has all the OEM-style lenses, so now is a perfect time to wipe away those years of decay and neglect from when your heavy hauler was actually hauling stuff.

Since we needed to remove the parking and turn signal lenses anyway, it just made sense to fit new lenses so those new LEDs will be as bright as possible. Just look at the headlights of many of the cars from a decade ago and you'll see how oxidized lenses affect lighting. When replacing incandescent turn signal bulbs with LEDs, swapping out the flasher unit to one like this unit from Painless Performance will keep those blinkers in time.

The beautiful thing about LED lighting is they draw a fraction of the current of old incandescent bulbs and a whole lot less than a halogen bulb upgrade. That is typically great news, except when it comes to the turn signals. The vintage flasher relied on a specific amount of current draw to heat up the breaker inside the flasher unit. With LEDs drawing so much less current, the turn signals would “fast-flash” instead of the steady, rhythmic blink we are all used to seeing. The faster cycling of the turn signals is an eye-catcher in the turn lane, but many folks prefer the old-school rhythm of blinking, especially in a vintage truck. Painless Performance offers a flasher unit that uses a circuit board instead of a heated breaker to restore the stock-style flash to systems using LED lighting.

The new LED is designed to fit into an H4-sized hole, and of course, our F100 had sealed beams. So, we ordered a set of H4-equipped headlight housings for our truck and simply upgraded them to LED bulbs.

LED Lights As Plug-&-Play Upgrades For Vintage Vehicles

Even if your mind isn’t wired to comprehend wiring schematics or diode functioning, you can still upgrade your vintage ride thanks to the fact that many LEDs are available as plug-and-play replacements. If you can change a bulb in your vintage ride, you can upgrade its lighting to LED. We replaced all the bulbs, including the headlights, which were still the original, sealed beam units from way back. We received a new set of H4-equipped headlight housings from Classic Industries and swapped out the original halogen bulb for a set of drop-in LEDs, which Classic Industries also carries in its catalog.

With the new LED bulb installed, we just needed to swap out the rusty headlight bucket for the new units we received from Classic Industries and install the new bulb. Note that we also replaced the wiring for F-Word. Even though LEDs use less current, they still won't work right if there are shorts or open circuits in that fifty-year-old wiring!

All of the other bulbs only required a screwdriver and a quarter-turn of the bulb to remove them and install the new LED replacements. While we had the lenses removed, we replaced them all with shiny, new Dennis Carpenter units we received from Classic Industries. The results are nothing short of astounding and the additional lighting is not only safer for driving, but also for being seen by everyone else.

Getting Cranky With Project F-Word

When these trucks were rolling off the line, no one likely thought they would still be on the road today, let alone the beloved projects they have become for so many enthusiasts. They were built like trucks, and many of their components have served their owners well. However, they’re worn. Thankfully, parts such as the window regulators are available now, so there’s no need to try and rebuild those rusty old parts. We took some time and did a little bit of work on the doors of F-Word to remove the clanging-glass syndrome we could never really get used to hearing.

The opening in the door is large enough to get inside the door to replace the regulators. We also installed some Kilmat to the interior of the door to help with road noise.

To start, we received new window channels and regulators for each door. Adjusting window regulators scares some folks, but in these old trucks, it’s pretty straightforward. We simply marked where the old bolts were and placed the new regulators in the same spot. There was no reason to even remove the glass from the doors. Just make sure you hold the glass when you unbolt everything. You don’t want it crashing to the bottom of the door. With the new channels and regulators, the windows work nice and smooth. You can check out their operation in the video.

We Like Bright, But Not Too Bright!

The only thing left to do on F-Word was to add a little bling to the bedside. Our truck was a Ranger, but the only way we could tell was from the holes and the outline of several layers of paint. The paint differential fit in perfectly with our patina’d project truck, but those holes just looked — unfinished. We included two Ranger emblems in our order to Classic Industries and while they filled the holes perfectly, they were a little too “finished” for our little truck. A quick dance with a Scotch-Brite pad and they blended into the bedside perfectly!

With a little bit of Scotch-Brite, our new Ranger emblem looks good and fills those holes quite nicely!

F-Word Parts list:

Doors

Emblems

Lighting

For now, we are considering our F-100 as done. We’ve completed a lot of upgrades and now it’s time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. We may do a few more things down the road, but since summer is at hand, the road we’re more interested in is the open highway. Keep your eyes peeled, you may just see us on our way to a show somewhere near you!

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About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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