LED lights retrofit

Our 1980 Spider is in very average shape as we use it on a daily basis during the summer. If you really have to go to work, might as well drive there in a vintage Alfa Romeo.

As we all know, the secret to keeping our cars reliable is constant and meticulous maintenance. Although I am not too worried about originality, I do tend to stick to OEM parts as much as possible. However, I do make the occasional exception in the name of reliability and/or safety.

My latest upgrade to the Spider was upgrading to LED lighting for taillights, turn signals, side markers and dash lights. I was constantly afraid of being rear ended because of my dim brake lights.

A bit of research led me to the SuperbrightLEDs website. They sell LEDs for all sorts of application; household, industrial and of course, automotive. The bulbs they sell are plug & play and use the same fitment as our regular bulbs. You can search their inventory based on car manufacturers. Sadly, Alfa Romeo is not listed. Closest I found was Fiat. I selected a 1980 Fiat 124 Spider. This only got me part of the way. Some of the bulbs suggested did not match what I had on the car namely brake lights and front signal lights. The website listed type 1156 but the ones installed on my car were 1157. As the lights worked fine, I went with 1157.

Round headlights are also available but I find that they do not look very good on a vintage car. Or in the words of George Beston “A bit like putting a mini-skirt on your grand-mother “.

Another thing to consider is the beam angle and which colour to choose. I chose a 360 degree beam angle for all bulbs as that is what is most similar to regular bulbs. You also need to select the colour based on the colour of the lenses. For taillights you need red. Front markers and signal lights, amber. Installing a white LED behind a red lense will result in a pink glow instead of bright red.

Now, although the price of LEDs has gone down significantly over the last few years, this is still not a cheap endeavour. Total cost for the bulbs amounted to $134.80 CAN including shipping. I did not include licence plate lights and dash lights were limited to speedometer and tach. Fitting of lights for the smaller gauges is pretty much a dash out job and will have to wait until next winter. I also neglected to order sufficient bulbs for the speedometer and tach as I was under the impression that it was only one bulb per dial. You need 2 per dial.

Again, fitment is no harder than replacing regular bulbs. One of the advantages of LEDs besides stronger light output is low power draw. This does cause a bit of a problem for flashers. Because of the low power draw, the relay thinks the lights are burned out and will not flash.  I have tried using other relays made specifically for LEDs but remained unsuccessful. I contacted Superbright LEDs technical support who confirmed that load resistors will need to be used for my application. One load resistor is required per LED so 4 in all at $5 each.


Resistors come with vampire clips making fitment quick and easy although I may eventually replace those vampire clips by a more permanent connection. Of note, when energized, those resistors become very hot very quickly. Think of a hot light bulb. Make sure that the resistor will not come in contact with anything that could be damaged by the heat or even worse, catch fire.

load resistor

Sure enough, the resistors solved the turn signal issue. My brake lights are now extremely bright and I can now see how fast I’m driving at night. Not that I really care about that one……

1 thought on “LED lights retrofit

  1. “Fitting of lights for the smaller gauges is pretty much a dash out job”. I found by removing the heater hoses behind the centre console I was able to bend my arm sufficiently to remove the bulbs from each gauge. I did need the tiny arm of my daughter in one case where two hands were needed behind the dash, one to hold the socket and the other to push the bulb in. Needless to say, I changed all the bulbs at the same time.
    Even if one can not reach the bulbs from the side, removing the centre console would be far easier than removing the dash.


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