Since early childhood, lights and shiny things have fascinated most of us. Inspired by old 4x4s and new technology, we decided to indulge in the fusion of high-tech LED lighting and aged steel with our Toyota Land Cruiser.
LED, short for light-emitting diode, have been around since the 1920s—developed by a Russian scientist named Oleg Vladimirovich Losev. Up until recent years, their use has been primarily in consumer electronics, but it’s quickly gaining ground in the automotive world. More colors are available and prices have become affordable.
There are many benefits to LEDs that outshine conventional filament bulbs. They are much brighter and use less power. Their life can be 50 times longer than conventional bulbs (50,000 hrs LED vs. 1,000 hrs Filament Bulb). They are very shock resistant—great for off-road. Most of the DOT-approved housings on the market are completely sealed and waterproof—yet another great feature for off-road use.
|LED diagram shows the simplicity of the diode construction, which is why they are so resilient to wear and tear (Image by Inductiveload).|
There are many different types of LED tail lights. They have round ones, square ones and oval tail lights with anywhere from 9 LED to 40 LED clusters. At $30 to $50 a piece, experimenting with different setups can get expensive.
We wanted to make sure we were getting the most rugged, off-road proven LED tail lights, so we consulted Off Road Warehouse (a.k.a. ORW) in San Diego, CA. They carry hundreds of off-road and specialty race parts from Yamaha Rhinos to SCORE Class 1 desert racers.
With so many options, we narrowed it down to the 4-inch round LED tail light. We wanted to keep in line with the original round FJ40 Land Cruiser tail light design.
Wally from ORW explained to us that this type of sealed LED taillight was very popular with off-road racers and Jeepers. We’ll see if it catches on with the Toyota crowd after you see what we did.
We first tried positioning the lights in the back corners of the tub, but with less than 2 inches of flat surface, we could not make these round lights work. Some 6-inch oval LEDs will work better if that’s the route you want to take (both available from Man-A-Fre.com).
4-inch round LED (left). Original 1969 Toyota Land Cruiser tail light stamped Tokyo, Japan (right).
Determined to use the 4-inch round LED tail light, we decided to retrofit the OE bracket and place it in the factory location. The original taillight on the Land Cruiser is shy of 4 inches. A 4.25 inch opening is needed to accommodate the rubber grommet used to keep the LED taillight in place
To make sure we had a perfect circle, we borrowed some utility trailer taillight brackets to stencil in our cutting area. To mark the dark metal surface, use a soap stone marker. Make sure your circle is 4.25 inches.
|We needed more cutting disks for the Dremel, a trip to the Home Depot resulted in a good find—the new Dremel EZ CUT set. It included a quick release attachment (EZ Lock Mandrel) that really makes switching disks fast. Just pull back and turn the disk to release ($20.97, Home Depot).|
With exact measurements and a prayer, the cutting wheel came out and we started cutting off the excess metal on the bracket. There's no room for mistakes as these 1969 Toyota Land Cruiser tail light brackets are no longer available—not even from Spector Off-Road (Largest Toyota Land Cruiser restoration parts dealer).
To cut a circle using a Dremel cut-off wheel, you will need to cut at a 45-degree angle. This allows you to use the circular shape of the disk for making a clean curved line cut.
It seems to work better if you go once around the circle and make a guide line before you lay into the full cut. I made my initial cut at 3/4 speed; then cranked it up to full speed (25,000 RPM) to get the cleanest cut possible.
After you’re done cutting off the excess steel you will need to use a metal file to dull the edges and clean up your circle.
We gave our bracket a fresh coat of black Krylon Rust Tough Enamel. The bracket had 40 years worth of dirt stuck to it and some light rust. Taking a wire brush to it while prepping did the trick.
TIP: If you want to speed up the painting process, grab a piece of bailing wire and bend into “J” hook. You can now paint both front and back sides by suspending in air, then just hang to dry.
Once the bracket was painted and dried, it was on to slapping in those LEDs.
Test fit the rubber grommet. If all looks well, add a little soapy water to the inside of the grommet and work in your LED light. This takes some finesse and may take several tries if your grommet is snug.
Wiring for the light will require a special three-pin wire connector that attaches to the back housing of the LED light. There is a Tail, Stop & Turn and Ground wire.
Since the original wiring on the Land Cruiser only has 2 wires, you will need to test which is the Tail light wire and which is the Stop & Turn wire. The Ground wire can be attached to the frame.
The LED tail light fits perfectly into the retrofitted bracket. All you have to do is bolt back on to bumper and connect your wiring.
Using the stock taillight bracket and modifying it to accept a modern LED tail light was a great conversion. It not only gives your Toyota Land Cruiser a distinctive look, but it also makes it much safer by providing bright tail lights that won’t easily burn out on the trail.
We are very pleased with the final results and would recommend it if you want to bring some spunk back to the old girl.
Off-Road Parts & Service
Universal LED tail lights and brackets