1966 Chevrolet Corvette: Headlight DIY FTW
August 7, 2015
It was the end of a very long and rewarding day at Willow Springs and I reluctantly agreed to drive the Stingray 90 miles back to Los Angeles. It was already leaking battery acid onto the side pipes, so I got underway with caution. Not 20 seconds after firing up the V8 did I discover a bigger issue.
I held the switch to raise the headlights and only the passenger side came up.
"Oh what the heck!?!" I loudly exclaimed (not really, but you get the idea).
I walked over to the driver-side headlight and it freely swung open with gentle pressure from a finger. It also freely swung shut with little encouragement. I figured that maybe I should just brake really gently to keep the headlight up, but I was just kidding myself. With a few strips of gaffer tape, it was good enough to get me home.
The next day, we took a look through the hood and there was the actuator, resting between the grille and the radiator. It appeared as though the bolt that attached it to the subframe had shaken itself free in all the on-track fun. I took to the internet to order up some minor parts: the bolt, a split rubber grommet and a retainer clip. The cost was a measly $12, but expedited shipping almost quadrupled the price.
The shipment from Eckler's showed up a few hours earlier than I had anticipated, so I headed down to our shop. I was cautioned against removing the hood for the repair, even though it would have made the whole affair much easier. Instead, I had to cover the hood and surrounding area with towels and try to see what I was doing through the reflection on the slice of exposed hood. Not fun.
I found a drill hole but it was stripped and slightly torn. My solution was to take a trip to the auto parts store and get an appropriate sheet metal screw. How I was going to get it in there was beyond me. The garage gods took mercy on me, however, as I moved my hand a few inches over and felt the old grommet. Crisis averted.
Side note: the passenger side actuator was also unattached and hanging on only by the two posts and retainer clip from the headlight housing.
I replaced the old driver side grommet and reattached the passenger bracket with relative ease. Old vs. new are pictured above. Getting the actuator back on was a different story, altogether. Between working in reverse to what I could barely see, and with two recently broken fingers, and Mercury in retrograde, and, and, and...it took a lot of wrestling. And resting. And wrestling.
There's a flat-bladed post that comes off the headlight housing and it slides into a matching journal in the actuator. There's also a positioning rod that attaches to the actuator and it's held in place by a flimsy wire retainer clip. I had to keep moving the actuator motor to try and get the journal in the right orientation to get the post in. Then "clunk," it went in. There was much rejoicing. Until.
The headlights both rose in unison. How glorious. But the driver side only went partially back down. In my best Nancy Kerrigan voice, I wailed, "WHY?!? WHYYYYYY?!?"
Then Scott Jacobs showed up just in time to talk me down off the rafters. With him working the switch, I watched as the motor stopped at the end of the retract stroke, but continued well past what was needed to deploy. So I tried rotating the motor about 180 degrees before it stopped and reattached it to the headlight housing.
Remember that whole wrestle, rest, wrestle thing? Yeah. Rinse, repeat. Again, after some choice expletives, "clunk." So here's proof that I fixed it.
It wasn't easy, nor was it pleasant, but I did at least leave with the satisfaction of fixing it myself. Judging by how weakly those actuators are attached, I won't be all that surprised if I have to do it all over again.
Next up: that leaky battery.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor