Smoothing the Back End- Frenched Taillights on Pile House.

Posted: February 4, 2015 By: MattM

I will admit that I tend to over think things when I am building a custom car and sometimes I mock something up and I don’t like it or decide I need to tweak the original idea. A while back I decided on a set of ’62 Oldsmobile 88 taillights for the back of the truck. I liked the lens shape and chrome trim on them, but the bezel had peaked ends that made it tough to sink them into a relatively flat panel. For the sake of getting “something” in the rollpan I temporarily made brackets to slide them into the panel. At first I was “ok” with how they looked, but the further I got with building the tailgate on the backend I knew I needed to revisit how they were sitting.

Photo Jan 27, 11 19 19 AM

My biggest gripe with a lot of custom classic trucks is that a lot of people just seem to forget about the bed and the back end of the truck. The two schools of thought seem to be to just hang some boat trailer type lights off the bedsides, or go crazy tunneling or frenching a set of 59 Cadillac or even worse, C4 Corvette lights! I wanted something that sorta matched the era and styling of the truck and flowed with the tailgate, but most of all, weren’t cookie cutter! I opted to source a set of Olds 88 lights and ended up disassembling them to keep just the chrome uprights and the inner chrome bezel. The lens itself was flat, so it made things a lot easier when I decided to french them into the rollpan. These lenses are stepped with the center being raised above the rest of the lens. I decided I would sink the lens in so that the center raised portion of the lens would sit just below surface of the rollpan.

Photo Jan 27, 12 33 55 PM

Photo Jan 27, 1 03 37 PM

Since I had already cut holes in the panel to sit the lights in, I was one step ahead of the game and could move onto making the “buckets” for the lenses to sit in. I wanted the buckets to match the shape of the lenses as close as possible so I first needed to make a template to copy the shape off of. I started by tracing out the pattern on some chipboard and carefully cutting it out. I then transferred the shape to a piece of 1/8″ steel. I cut the shape out using the Versa-Cut 60 and cleaned the edges up with a flap disc on the angle grinder. This gave me a piece of metal I could tack weld and form metal around during the project.

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Photo Jan 30, 10 36 36 AM

I wanted the edges of the rollpan around the taillights to be rolled so I decided to use some 1/4″ solid round bar for the base of the bucket. This gave me some material to blend the welds into the radius of the round bar and create a nice smooth rounded seam. I started by tack welding the end of the bar to the 1/8″ thick steel plate pattern and slowly bending the bar around the outer edge of the pattern. I tack welded the bar every few inches to secure the bar and lock the shape in place. The heat from the welds also helped the bar bend a little easier, but you can also heat the bar with a torch if you’re doing tighter curves.

Photo Jan 27, 5 43 10 PM

Once I had the shape formed I cut the overlapping bar off with the hacksaw and use a hammer to form the ends together. I then welded the seam up with the MIG 175 so we had a complete ring in the shape of the lens. I then duplicated the shape again to make another ring for the opposite side.

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Photo Jan 27, 6 06 57 PM

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Photo Jan 30, 11 24 30 AM

I measured the depth of lens next and determined that if I stacked a 1″ strip of sheet metal on top of the ring I just made, the lens would sit just below flush in the end. This sheet metal ring doesn’t need to be structural and it’s really just to give that “tunneled” look. For that reason I opted to make it out of 20 gauge steel. I wanted this piece to be a tight fit around the lens so I carefully used the lens as a pattern and wrapped the sheet metal around the edges, again cutting off the excess and welding the seam together. This gave me two rings, one out of round bar and one 1″ tall out of sheet metal. I stacked the two together and slowly welded them together. Combined they made a tunneled bucket for the lens to sit in.

Photo Jan 28, 12 12 41 PM

Photo Jan 30, 2 18 58 PM

Photo Jan 30, 2 19 03 PM

with the two buckets welded, I centered each bucket behind the taillight openings in the panel and slowly began stitch welding them into the panel. I cranked the heat on the welder up a bit higher than normal so I could really penetrate the weld into the round bar.

Photo Jan 30, 5 35 09 PM

Once everything was completely welded I used a 60 grit flap disc on the angle grinder to “rough” the welds in and knock down any major irregularities in the weld seam. I then came back with a sanding disc on the 1/4″ pneumatic angle grinder and blended the weld seam completely into the rounded bar so everything flowed together. I was then able to press the lenses back into the buckets and stand back to check my work. The result is a MUCH cleaner look that flows with the rest of the backend of the truck. I will be using the 1/8″ steel templates we made as backers to close up the buckets and hold the lenses in place. I can also drill holes for the bulbs and bulb holders in those plates when we’re ready to wire up the lighting on the truck.

Photo Feb 03, 3 21 26 PM (1)

All in all this was an afternoon project and utilized scrap metal drops from other projects so this is a fun, cheap project you could easily tackle in a weekend!

-Matt/EW

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