The addition of ’55 Olds headlights...
The addition of ’55 Olds headlights is a refinement that fits virtually any early ’50s fender. The graceful shape of the chrome ring gives this ’51 Ford the appearance of a more expensive car.
In the world of customizing there are certain elements that just seem to be nearly universal by design. If you are looking for side trim the ’53 Buick and ’55 Pontiac come to mind; rear lighting can often be handled by a ’56 Packard, ’56 Buick, or ’59 Caddy; and when it comes to headlights the ’55 Oldsmobile headlight ring seems to look good attached to any fender built between 1949 and 1955.
Beyond the intrinsic beauty of these rings the modification often makes more sense than the traditional Frenched headlights. When properly installed the 1955 Oldsmobile headlight rings will allow for standard headlight adjustment from the front of the fender. Replacing a sealed beam is no more difficult than it would be on any factory stock ’50s car. The thin headlight ring has a slight brow built in and that bit of chrome on the end of the front fender adds a touch of elegance that is simply missing on many early ’50s Fords and Chevrolets.
With the stock headlight ring...
With the stock headlight ring removed we can see the installation of a headlight bucket. While this is a Ford, most all ’50s cars had similar headlight buckets and mounting.
During a recent trip to Rodcrafters in Welcome, North Carolina, we followed along as Larry Shoaf installed a set of ’55 Oldsmobile headlights on a ’51 Ford owned by John Kocsis. While our project car happens to be a shoebox Ford, the principles and installation theory should be very similar for any early ’50s car from a Chevrolet to a Hudson.
The really cool part about the installation is the original fender remains uncut and a new brow is simply formed and welded in place on the fender. This allows the headlight placement to be on the same plane as the original fender and also provides a handy mounting flange for the new headlight bucket.
After removing the stock Ford headlight ring we held the ’55 Olds unit in place and it quickly became apparent that with a wrap of cardboard and masking tape around the sealed beam the bezel could be pressed into place. This gave us a chance to “eyeball” the location and if the sealed beams remained in the stock location the Olds headlight ring would actually extend the fender over 1 inch. That could be a desirable look in some cases, but after mocking up the area with poster board it was decided that the car took on an unpleasant bug-eyed look and so we decided to move the stock sealed beam rearward in the Ford fender and then install the Olds headlight ring in basically the same locations as the original Ford ring. The only extension to the forward line of the fender was the brow the Olds headlight ring provides.
By moving the sealed beam rearward in the fender 1 inch the bottom of the Olds ring was almost flush with the face of the fender and the filler panel and yet the sealed beam can still be changed from the front of the car and all factory headlight adjustment screws remain fully functional.
The only downside to this project is the availability of ’55 Olds headlight rings. Since reproduction units are not available, you must search boneyards, swap meets, and the Internet for a good set of rings. Beyond that it is basic sheetmetal work and the results are well worth the effort. If your goal is to improve the look of your ’50s car with a timeless customizing trick, few modifications are more likely to achieve that goal than a pair of ’55 Olds headlights.
A wrap of cardboard and masking...
A wrap of cardboard and masking tape would shim the headlight enough to hold the ’55 Olds ring in place. This was important for our initial visualization of the installation.
Here’s a clear illustration...
Here’s a clear illustration of the sheetmetal that must be formed to fill the void between the new headlight ring and the original fender. We are mocking things up with the headlights in stock position. The car had a bit of a bug-eyed look so the sealed beam was moved back in the fender 1 inch and the ring move rearward the same amount.
The cardboard holds the ring...
The cardboard holds the ring in place while Larry Shoaf rotated the ring until it was vertical in the fender. This is an important step to keeping the rings properly oriented with the fender.