Radio Control Car Action

Stringin’ the lights

Stringin’ the lights

Hastings, Bob

BODY .secrets from the paint booth

One of my favorite things about December is all the lights. For me, even more than pies and presents, it’s the decorated houses that make my holiday. Since this is the December issue, and you’ve no doubt already sent your letter off to the big red guy, I thought we’d string the lights together on an RC car.

One of the hottest setups for body illumination comes from the gang at RC Neon. Their gallium-nitride LED lighting systems are so bright that they’re visible in daylight and throw off plenty of light for nighttime running, as well; best of all, the systems are prewired, so there are no connections to mess up. All you need to do is to choose how you’re going to install them; let’s look at a few ways to get the job done.


This is the fastest way to add lights to a body, and it doesn’t involve a whole lot of effort. I used this method on my lowrider T-Maxx project; it’s great if your body doesn’t have premolded headlamp buckets. All you have to do is make a hole in the body wherever you want to insert the bulb. Make certain the bulb fits snugly and then dab some adhesive on its back end to hold it firmly in place. I prefer Shoe Goo because it remains somewhat pliable after it has dried. The only downside to this “drill and fill” method is that the bulbs protrude from the body and are noticeable when the lights are off.


If you’re feeling creative, it isn’t difficult to add a set of authentic-looking headlight buckets to your RC body. The blister packs that pills come in are close to the correct size for 1/10-scale cars, and they’re available in both round and oblong shapes. Once you’ve trimmed the plastic to fit your body’s contours, drill the holes for the bulbs as we did up top, and you’ll be all set. A simple reflective coat of silver is all you need to complete the overall look.


If you want to add lights to a special body, “close” just isn’t good enough. If you have the time, it isn’t difficult to make your own authentic headlight buckets. Protoform’s new GT-40 is an ideal body on which to demonstrate this technique because the full-size version of this classic Ford had deep buckets in the front that were a huge part of its appeal.


To get an accurate impression of the car’s front end, I use some self-hardening modeler’s clay and force it into the body’s contours. Set the body in the sun; the clay will harden in a few hours.


The outline of the headlamp leaves a nice indentation in the clay. To make it easier to follow the outline in the next step, color the line with a body marker.


Now it’s time to create the bucket in the hardened clay. I usually apply the headlight decals to the body so I have a reference for the bucket’s size and shape.

A Dremel tool and a grinding bit make short work of this procedure, but remember to wear a dust mask and eye protection during this stage.


Take some scrap body material and place it over the clay; wheel cutouts are the ideal size for this. Use a heat gun to gently warm the scrap plastic until it begins to fold into the clay impression. With the handle of a large paintbrush, work the plastic into the correct shape. If you have access to a vacuum-former, it is excellent for tasks such as this. I have one from Cross Hobby Tools, and it’s an inexpensive way to achieve professional results. When you’re satisfied with the shape of the plastic, drill the necessary holes to accommodate the RC Neon LEDs.


Trim the bucket to fit the body, and leave a small, flat portion to provide some glue surface. If you so desire, apply a back coating to the bucket– silver for reflectivity or black for style-or spray them the same color as you’re going to use for the body.


Remove the center portion of the headlight decal so that all that remains is the outer border. Mask the inside of the body to create the window section of the headlamp.


Go ahead and paint the body as you normally would; I chose the traditional Gulf-style race scheme to go along with the whole race theme.


Remove the masking around the headlamps and, if you wish, apply some thinned black paint for a tinted lens effect. Use the paint sparingly because the “window” will darken quickly and reduce the intensity of the lights. Once the paint has fully dried, apply adhesive to the lip of the headlamp bucket, and tape the buckets into place until the glue has set.


Remove the tape and insert the LEDs into their respective holes. Run the wires so they will not interfere with the car’s operation in any way. I prefer to run electrical tape over the top of the wires for added security. If any of the leads are too short, splice in additional wire to prevent them from pulling away from the body and possibly marring the paint. After the wires have been routed, I use hook-and-loop fastener to attach the battery and “black box” to the inside of the roof.

Whether you stick the LEDs through your existing body or create your own receptacles, lights add function and good looks to any RC vehicle. They aren’t expensive or difficult to install, and they provide that truly finishing touch to your model. You’ll find that your efforts are well worth the investment.

Copyright Air Age Publishing Dec 2001

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