Project Ford E350 Tow Rig: Part 3 – Step into the light…

Thanks to our awesome Edge CTS dash we could see what was going on with our drivetrain. But what we couldn’t see was where we were going. Project E350 is old enough that it still uses 5″x7″ sealed beam square 6054 headlights, much like many other cars in the 80s and 90s. Fortunately for us, things have come quite a long way with lighting technology. We could have just bought some upgraded housings and then used H4 bulbs, but we could do better. Enter JW Speaker.

jw speaker 8900 evolution led headlamp box
While they might have speaker in their name, JW Speaker is a well known quantity in the lighting space, especially in the offr-oad aftermarket.

JW Speaker has been manufacturing LED (and other) lights for quite some time, and us motorsports enthusiasts are fortunate that the Jeep and other off-road vehicles at one point used the same 6054 headlight. JW Speaker makes this super awesome 8900 Evolution LED headlight that can replace our square units. That’s right — all you kids with S13s, hachis, FCs, Miatas, and other cars can join the cool club.

They even make a heated version for those in icy and snowy climates!

finned black back of headlamp with yellow, red, white, and black wires going to h4 connector
As is to be expected, these sealed units are a simple plug-and-play replacement for your OEM lamps. They feature the same 3-prong connector that’s already on your vehicle.

The 4th, red, wire is for vehicles outside of North America and is described as being for a “front position light”. I didn’t connect it because I figured the van would explode.

close up of sealed halogen 5x7 lamp
Here is my turdy old sealed beam headlight.

I think I’ve had the same headlights on the van since I bought it. They’re terrible. Even with the brights on I can barely see what’s going on. That’s not particularly fun when you’re towing 6000+lbs of race car and trailer.

Changing the lights out isn’t that complicated. Open the hood, remove the grey plastic bezel, and then remove the metal retaining ring that holds in the headlight. Unplug it. Installation is the reverse of removal.

If you haven’t taken the headlights out in a long time, or if your vehicle has spent any time in salty conditions (like in the North where it snows and they salt the roads) you may have a tough time getting the screws loose. Use a penetrant and patience. Or find your drill.

looking out front windshield seeing dim beam pattern of headlights on driveway
Here’s a picture of the output from the old lights.

You can see that the beam pattern sucks, the lighting isn’t particularly bright, and the beam pattern sucks and the light isn’t bright.

Did I mention this sucks?

14 comments

  1. Spray Boeshield in all freshly drilled holes for rust protection. It will save you a lot of frustration down the road.

    1. @DocWalt we had looked at that option. The bottom of the E350 bumper is not flat and also is not wide. It actually steps down to a lip which reduces the mounting area. If you look at the picture where the light bar is installed, you can just make out the nuts on the bottom side of the bumper. When it’s just the nuts under there, it’s not a problem. In order to install the entire light bar below the bumper and still have sufficient adjustability, we would’ve needed a more complex mount. Then you have the difficulty of dealing with the wiring having to get around the lip and so on and so forth.

      We also considered on top of the bumper where the old lights were. But, again, the lack of a flat surface would’ve made constructing the mounts more difficult.

      I agree that there is a definite airflow sacrifice here. In towing performance thus far we have not seen any issues with the transmission temps, and the light bar is more blocking airflow to the extra trans cooler than the radiator. The vans are not intercooled. Once the summer comes on and we make longer tows we’ll get a better idea as to whether or not it’s a problem. Fortunately it’s just four bolts to undo and one wiring connection and the light bar is removed if it turns out to be a problem.

      There’s also the roof 🙂

    2. Isn’t this a diesel? Can’t see how you would need that much cooling unless you were running it during the day in the middle of the desert.

      1. It is a diesel, but it’s used primarily for towing, so the transmission cooling is somewhat important. It does routinely get into the 90F range here in the South East, and there are a couple of decent mountain climbs depending on which direction you head (for example, Monteagle between Chattanooga and Nashville). That being said, I’d think that this is not going to make a meaningful difference in cooling. Fortunately I have the Edge CTS2 Insight display to tell me if something is wrong!

  2. Wow, the light output from the headlights looks great! Hopefully you got em aimed right 😉 Give that red wire +12v im guessing and you got yourself some cool DRL!

    1. @3phase_power – I actually didn’t hook up the DRL. I am not a huge fan of them and I would’ve had to hack up some wiring to get something to work. The van has enough of a hackjob of wiring going on, I don’t need to add to it 😉

  3. Oh wow! Eric, I think you’ve given me my next project for my E450 tow vehicle. Have you tried the 5 star tuning upgrade on your E350 that I did four years back (mine is gas). Long term analysis – I really like it! The mini LED project that I did was to change all of the E450 RV’s interior lights to LED – literally a night and day difference on brightness plus a huge saving on the duration of charge held by the RV cabin batteries. Plus I replaced my outside ‘porch’ light with two LEDs. I put one at the front and one at the back. Now if I need to do some night work on the car, I’ve got superb lighting.
    Frank

      1. @Frank Ewald Which 5Star upgrade are you referring to? The Van is a weird 7.3 Powerstroke in that the ECU is different than the Ford trucks of the same years and some of the PIDs are different. This is why the Edge programmer (Evolution) version of the Insight wasn’t used — Edge claimed they couldn’t program the van. I do have a much older Edge tuner that came with the Van and I have supposedly programmed it for “towing” (Level 1) mode. I’m not entirely sure how much difference it made because I never really compared it back-to-back.

        As for the interior lights, I am definitely considering upgrading everything to LED. It is quite dark in there.

        As for back-up, well, you’ll have to wait and see! (pun intended)

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