Adding LED Headlights And Daytime Running Lights To A 1964 Chevelle

Putting more available light out in front of a vintage ride is always filled with compromises. You want to see better, but (at least in theory) you don’t want to blind oncoming drivers. You also don’t want to overload the factory-style headlight switch or harness with light sabers mounted to the front of your vintage ride. Light-emitting diode (LED) type bulbs have been all the rage recently, and these were just some of the considerations that came into play when we decided to put LED headlights and daytime running lights in our 1964 Chevelle.

Benefits And Features Of LED Headlights

LED headlight bulbs require much less current than incandescent or halogen bulbs during operation. They typically have a much higher rating on the Kelvin scale, meaning they produce a much “whiter” light. On the flip side, you need to control that light differently than you would for a typical incandescent, or halogen bulb. Many times, the actual light-emitting diode is not in the same location as say, a factory halogen bulb. That allows for a different beam pattern than what the halogen housing was DOT-certified to produce. This can result in blinding oncoming traffic. That is why installing an LED bulb in a housing designed for a halogen bulb is illegal.

LED headlight compared to incandescent bulb

This is a perfect example of the amount of light, and the color of light emitted by LED headlights (left) compared to the incandescent bulbs our Chevelle left the factory with decades ago (right).

The solution for our vintage Chevelle was to replace the factory-style incandescent bulbs with sealed LED units from UPcarparts. These lights work in both high and low-beam configurations and each one also features a “Position Light Bar” of LED bulbs (available in either white or amber color) that we intend on using as Daytime Running Lights (DRLs), to give us a additional level of safety when driving during daylight hours.

UPI LED headlights

These LED headlights are available with white or amber lights in the center light bar.

Installing Our LED Headlight And DRL Upgrade

Beyond being able to see — and be seen — better, another benefit of LEDs is how simple the upgrade can be. Since the UPcarparts lights are sealed units, they easily replace the existing sealed-beam headlights in our Chevelle. We did need to trim the back of each headlight housing due to the additional depth of the housing of each LED unit.

We trimmed the back of the headlight housings to allow for the larger back housing of the LED headlights (left). We filed the edges to clean everything up (center) and covered the edge (right) to protect the wire and edge of the housing.

Since we needed to control each LED assembly’s light bar separately from the headlight switch, we ran a separate wire to power each bar within the sealed unit with a key-on power source. That way, all four light bars will illuminate automatically whenever we’re driving without turning on the headlight switch.

The existing headlight harness powers the LED headlights. We needed to add keyed power and a ground for the DRLs (left). We ran a fused circuit to the battery with the control circuit to a keyed power source so the DRLs would come on automatically (right).

Controlling the high- and low-beam operation of the bulbs is handled through the same connector for each bulb. Save for powering the light bar, the upgrade is a plug-and-play installation. We recently upgraded the harness in our Chevelle, which improved the output of the incandescent bulbs immensely. The additional light output of the LED bulbs and the option for DRLs compelled us to make the jump over to LEDs.

The DRLs look cool and are enough to make you take a second look, a good thing for getting noticed during rush-hour traffic (left). Turn on the headlights and the full potential of this upgrade becomes obvious (right).

Should You Upgrade Your Headlights To LEDs?

Choosing to upgrade your headlights to LEDs is a personal decision. The choice should be simple with all the information available about LED bulbs and the many options offered. If you drive your car at night, more light is always a good decision. But, if you value originality, or have a deep distaste for a modern, whiter light emitted by LED bulbs, then LEDs may not be the best choice.

LED headlights on the road

We couldn’t wait for the sun to finally head over the horizon so we could try our new LED headlights. This is with high beams, and the difference is, well, night and day. We’ll be able to see obstacles and animals long before they become an issue.

As mentioned, swapping an LED bulb into a halogen housing isn’t recommended. So, if you go with LED headlights, do it right and install the proper housing to control all the light available through an LED upgrade. These bulbs from UPcarparts made the decision simple for us, as we’re always looking for ways to improve driving our 1964 Chevelle. As a bonus, we now have a cool-looking set of daytime driving lights, even when we don’t need our headlights!

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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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