Several months ago, our teal '58 Apache Stepside was nearing completion after several years of work, and we still hadn't figured out what the rear end should look like. We knew integrated taillights would look better than the bolt-on, after-thought-looking types that the truck came with, but we weren't sure how they should look. Trucks without bumpers in the rear tend to look unfinished, but we didn't want to put on a big, heavy chrome bumper simply to fill the visual gap.

Then we looked around and picked up a pre-formed steel roll pan with a built-in license box, as well as a license plate light kit from Brothers Truck Parts for a nominal price, and things started to fall into place. The pan proved to be a good solution to our truck's ungainly rear-end appearance, and it was easy to install. The pan was ordered by mail using a credit card, and when it arrived, we prepped it and shot some paint on it so it wouldn't rust while continuing to work on the taillight situation.

Because we wanted a sort of retro custom truck, we first considered using repop '59 Cadillac bullets for taillights, but we couldn't figure out how to mount them in such a way that they wouldn't get broken or pinched. Then, we seized upon the '58 Impala with its three less obtrusive taillights on either side. But finding original lenses turned out to be a difficult proposition.

We finally gave up on that idea and decided to wander through the local auto supply and see what was offered in the way of aftermarket lights. That's when a pair of LED truck lights popped up that were much brighter than conventional bulb-type lights and could be used as combination taillights, brake lights, and blinkers. They were a bit pricey at $40 each, but they were guaranteed for 10 years, so we bought them.

At first we considered cutting oblong slots in the roll pan to install the LED lights, but then another solution came to mind that also evoked that '58 Impala look. We simply cut three holes in either side of the pan and mounted the lights behind them. If your truck's rear end doesn't look as good as you'd like, read on. Installing a roll pan is easy and inexpensive, and mounting LED taillights is a snap. Here's how it's done.

The roll pan came from Brothers already formed and fit like a glove. In fact, if you didn't want to mount a license plate or taillights on it, all you would have to do is paint the pan and mount it with a couple of bolts and some sheetmetal screws. But in that case you would have to resort to the original-style, exposed taillights and a license plate mounting bracket. To get that custom look, all we needed to do was drill or cut a few well-placed holes in the roll pan, which had a license plate well already.

We began by drilling the holes for the license plate lights. The easiest way to figure out exactly where you want the lights positioned is to mount a license plate using the pre-drilled holes for it, so you can see how to centrally position the lights on either side. We marked the center of the hole we needed to cut on one side of the license plate well. Then, we marked the other side exactly the same.

We used a punch to indent the centers of the holes, then chucked a hole saw of correct diameter to allow a snap-in fit for the license plate lights in a variable-speed drill. We slowly drilled each pilot hole, making sure the drill was held at right angles to the panel. We then shot a little light oil on the hole saw and cut the hole. We cut the other side the same way, then used a file to clean and de-burr the holes.

To install the LED lights, we figured out where we wanted them (high up is best), then we determined what shape we wanted them to be. One oblong opening that is the same as the shape of the LED light might make a neat shape, or three horizontal slots could be cut. Diagonal slots could have also been cut. Another possibility was to install four LED lights across the back and use as many slots, holes, or other shapes as we liked. We just had to make sure the lights would be mounted so as to clear the frame ends behind the roll pan.

To create our '50s look, we figured out where we wanted to position the lights. We then drilled and cut three 2-inch holes side by side that just fit the LED light. We cleaned and de-burred the holes, then located the lights so they fit properly over the holes. We then marked where the attaching fasteners needed to be mounted. The lights were then set aside.

We used eight small, fine-thread, 1/2-inch screws, then drilled out the marked holes in the roll pan to allow the screws to just start in the holes. The screws were silver soldered securely into place. We let the parts cool, then we filed the screws flat on the back of the roll pan. A die grinder was used to cut off the heads of the screws, then filed to clean up the ends of the resulting mounting studs.

We wrapped the threads of the taillight mounting studs with masking tape, then primed and painted the roll pan to match the rest of the truck. We popped in the license plate lights making sure they were facing in toward the plate. Then we coated the outer rim of each LED light and pressed the light into place behind the roll pan. The sealer helped to keep out dirt and moisture, and secured the lights in place. We installed nuts and lock washers on the mounting studs and snugged them up. We didn't want to over tighten them or crack and damage the taillight.

A small wiring sub-harness was made and attached to the license plate and taillights. We used the same color of wire as the original for each wire from our truck and arranged the wiring to have a central plug that would allow us to take down the roll pan without cutting any wiring. You may want to do this also in the off chance that you'll have to take down the roll pan and take one of those LED lights in to exchange it for a new one. With a sub-harness and plug, you won't have to cut any wires.

Another small sub-harness was made and plugged to bring together the wires from our truck. Protective plastic sleeves were used on all the exposed wiring to keep dirt and moisture away. Any exposed wiring will last much longer if it isn't exposed to the elements.

A friend helped us locate the roll pan under our truck. We then drilled two holes at the ends to mount the roll pan in place using 5/16x1/2-inch bolts and nuts. Finally, we used sheetmetal screws to attach the upper lip of the roll pan to the underside of the bed. The wire harness was plugged in, and we made sure the lights were grounded and all of our connections were tight. Finally, we gave our lights, blinkers, and stop lights a try -- they worked and looked great.

SOURCE
Brothers Chevrolet and GMC Truck Parts
4375 Prado Rd., Ste. 105
Corona
CA  92880