IMPROVING YOUR VANAGON LIGHTING By Randy A. Bergum Today's society is inclined to get more value for every dollar, whether it be for housing, food, or automotive. If you have ever had to replace your stock Vanagon headlights due to stone strikes or an accident, you probably already know that the stock unit is quite pricey and still leaves a few things to be desired. The greatest deficiencies of this headlight are in the coverage pattern and brightness. My '67 bug had Cibie European headlamps, and Man-O-Man were they great! The low beam provided an even blanket of white light, with a definite cutoff to prevent blinding oncoming drivers. The high beam was aggressive and had a lot of power in the area directly in front of the car for better visibility at high speeds. Our family has done a lot of desert driving on the way to the cabin in the Sierras, and since buying our '90 Vanagon, I missed the old lights a lot. Therefore, it was time to see what could be done. A trip to the parts house revealed that the Hella 5x7" square lamps were very close in profile, and the price was right - about $40.00 each. I bought a pair and took them home to see what could be done. The main differences between the two styles of lamp were as follows: Stock units: Slightly curved lens to match the profile of the front of the van. Uses a non-standard bulb @ 45 and 50 watts lo/hi. Mounts to the car with spot welded tabs and plastic adjusting posts. Expensive to replace. Hella: Front lens is flat. Interchangeable left to right. Uses H4 bulb, available in many combinations, 55/60W, 80/100W, etc. Better driving and high beam patterns. Readily available at affordable prices. Reflector housing has various mounting bosses for different applications. I removed the front grille from the van and the headlight buckets were removed complete. Upon inspection, it was discovered that the new headlights could be mounted directly onto the existing hardware by making brackets that would locate the new lights in the same positions as the old ones. Gently prying out the adjuster screws from the headlight tabs, I measured and wrote down the diameter of the mounting holes. Next, the reflector housing on the new headlights was drilled and tapped at the proper corners to accept new machine screws - #8-32. These screws are to hold a steel tube of 1/4" Dia. x 0.035" thick by about 1" long. Mount the metal tubes onto the new headlights and use for a pattern for the rest of the bracket. Using a strip of chrome-moly steel of .040" thickness, a collar was made that fit around the light, touching the three mounting posts made earlier. This collar was brazed to the mounting posts. Mounting tabs were made with the proper diameter holes to fit the headlight adjuster posts (as measured earlier). The tabs were clamped to the collar, and then brazed into place. The collars can be made out of anything as long as the dimensions are preserved. Remember to paint the steel when finished to keep rust at bay. To connect the lights to the stock wiring harness, I made adapters from two H-4 pigtails found at the junkyard. Spade terminals were soldered onto the wire ends of the pigtails to permit connection to the plug that goes into the original headlights without changing anything. When completed, the collar was attached to the headlight, the headlight mounted onto the adjusting posts, and the mounting pan was reinstalled on the front of car. After test fitting the front grille where it surrounds the headlight, a small portion of the grille was trimmed to allow the edge of the headlight to poke through. At night the lights were adjusted by shining them on the garage door and getting some rough adjustments. High beams should be centered, and the low beams are placed by driving around in a dark area and simply making sure the low beam cutoffs were located a few notches below the horizon. Don't adjust them any higher, because the van pitches going over bumps and we don't want to dazzle oncoming cars. Those of you with access to the fancy adjusting machines can do it your own way. After the adjustments were made, Viola! Decent lighting once again. To summarize my experience, this lighting retrofit was a bit of work, but the results are worth the effort, especially if you want to retain the stock look of your Vanagon. Randy Bergum is a mechanical engineer who spends his spare time restoring antique pipe organs, and carousing. Randy can be reached at P.O. Box 6831, Fullerton, CA 92834