There is no arguing the fact we all love old cars. Let’s face it, we’re spending time on this website that is dedicated to the hot rods of the muscle car era. But we have to readily admit, the cars we enjoy have certain aspects that could use an upgrade — in this case, think headlights. I know what you’re thinking, “a headlight is a headlight, right”? Well, actually, no.
It was way back in 1939 when sealed beam headlights were introduced. The actual light is emitted when an electric charge passes through a piece of tungsten. Behind that glowing piece of tungsten is a parabolic reflector (a curved mirror that focuses the light) that forces the glow to provide a more focused, brighter light. The downsides to these bulbs were that they provided little light, considering the amount of power they used. Additionally, the boiling-hot filament could leave a dark residue on the glass, limiting the amount of light that was able to pass through.
In 1962, the first vehicle-mounted halogen lamps were produced. This new light provided even brighter, longer-lasting headlights, due to the way the halogen gas reacts with the tungsten. This process delivers better visibility, particularly when in the high beam setting. Even if you have upgraded to halogen headlights, which are already brighter than the original incandescent units, did you know there is an even better option from United Pacific Industries (UPI)? Have you ever considered LED headlights?
LED lights have been around for years, and the aftermarket is flooded with various versions. If that’s the case, are there pros and cons to using LED headlights? Also, what separates a quality light from one that is not so good? According to Matthew Eugenio of UPI, “the LED chip, photometric design, lens, and housing materials determine the quality. UPI uses the highest-grade materials and backs its lights with a three-year warranty.”
Another aspect of creating a headlight that shines as bright as possible is the reflector design. Without a reflector, the light will have no directional path. It just shines everywhere. The headlight’s reflector surface directs the light rays of the bulb into a concentrated beam of light. “The reflector design is critical to the effectiveness of the LED headlights,” Matthew affirms. Basically, if you have a light with a poor reflector design, you have a poor beam of light.
Thankfully, upgrading your hot rod’s somewhat bright headlights with modern LED units that will light up the night is an easy task. We decided to add a set to Phil Sanner’s Nova to see if the upgrade is actually worth doing. We searched online for a pair of 7-inch lights that wouldn’t stand out like a pair of multi-speckled eyes, and we found what we thought was the perfect solution from UPI.
Once on the UPI website, it’s readily apparent that the company has a huge selection of lighting options available. After a quick search, we opted to try the ULTRALIT – 5 (PN: 31391). I know what you’re thinking, “what’s the price”? Before I mention that, you need to understand a few things.
For starters, headlights are rated by lumen output. A lumen is a unit of luminous flux in the International System of Units. It is equal to the amount of light given out through a solid angle by a source of one candela of intensity radiating equally in all directions. In less technical jargon, lumens equal brightness. Many people exclaim from the mountain tops the virtue of their 5,000-watt light. Unfortunately, watts do not equal brightness. Watts measure energy use, not light output. With new, energy-efficient LED technology, we can no longer rely upon wattage to indicate how bright a bulb shines.
First, these LED headlights from UPI were chosen because they still have what we consider to be a somewhat factory appearance to them. Next, these LED headlights produce a “whiter” light than a halogen bulb. This whiter light closely resembles daylight, which will substantially improve nighttime visibility. If that’s not a big deal to you, think back to the close calls you’ve had while driving at night with a standard old-school headlight. Also, LED headlights will last exponentially longer than standard halogen headlights.
Finally, each LED headlight’s low-beam usage only requires 1.7 amps at 12.8 volts. The high-beam amp draw comes in a measly 2.6 amps. When you consider that a standard 60-watt halogen headlight pulls 5.0 amps, the benefits are undeniable. With that said, we found these lights on the UPI website for $162.79. That might make some enthusiasts hesitant, but if these lights are brighter and improve visibility, last longer, and do not put as much strain on the electrical system as a halogen bulb, we think it’s worth it.
We also understand there might also be some confusion surrounding the installation of LED headlights. First, don’t confuse installing an LED headlight with installing the once-popular HID headlight. Upgrading to an HID bulb requires much more wiring and electrical knowledge than LED headlights. For instance, an HID bulb requires a transformer to be spliced into the system to make the light work. These LED headlights from UPI only require a standard headlight socket and wire harness plug-in. In other words, they are a factory-fit install. But enough with the technical stuff.
Once we began the install into Phil’s Nova, we ran into some issues with the car — the headlight was fine, but when we started to remove the old headlight, the light came out with the headlight bucket and trim ring still attached. Once we got the bucket properly mounted back in place, installing the headlight only required plugging it in, installing the trim, and finishing the job by replacing the bezel. This really is a simple job that can be done by anyone with a screwdriver.
Upgrading our cars typically means we have enhanced their performance. Isn’t it time we also thought about safety? The next time you’re driving your hot rod at night and don’t have a set of UPI’s LED headlights lighting the way, think about what you can’t see. That’s what can create an unfortunate metal-bending experience that we all want to avoid.