PRODUCT GUIDE: Hella Vision Plus 7″ Halogen H4 Conversion Headlamp

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One of the sacrifices we have to make to drive the cars we love is safety. And while old cars offer great visibility thanks to large greenhouses, that advantage is nullified at night when 30-year-old wiring and outdated bulb technology conspire to turn your touge run into a date with Dead Man’s Curve. Today we seek to remedy that with some Hella H4 conversion kits.

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First, a brief history. So why do all classic cars have round headlights? It wasn’t just a styling choice or technological limitation, it was the law. The mandate goes back as far as 1940, when the motor vehicle administrations of several US states decided on a standardized 7-inch sealed-beam headlamp. The standard was adopted by the US federal government and put into effect for over 40 years.

In 1957 an alternative system of four 5¾-inch lights — two high beams on the inside, two low beams on the outside — became permissible, and in 1974 rectangular sealed beams were introduced into the law. Naturally, because the US was such a large market, European and Japanese cars had to follow suit. It wasn’t until 1983 that the government changed the rules to allowed for architecturally integrated housings that could accept a light bulb. With the freedom to design housings of any shape, a new era in automotive design began.

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Now that headlights can be of any random shape, perfectly round headlights are distinctly retro. It’s even a key design cue for retro-themed cars like the Dodge Challenger or Toyota FJ Cruiser. We wouldn’t have it any other way. But in order to retain that classic look while using the latest in bulb technology, we’d need a conversion kit.

After the Vintage Auto Salon we visited Patrick Ng and his award-winning TE27 Corolla. We were greeted with gloves whiter than a Japanese taxi driver’s as Patrick was upgrading his sealed beams to a Hella Vision Plus 7″ H4 conversion.

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The premise is simple. It comes with what looks like a standard 7-inch sealed beam light, but in reality it’s a glass housing. At the back, there’s an opening and clip to accept any H4 bulb.

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Patrick opted for a European ECE-spec style face, although Hella also makes a kit that mimics the look of a DOT headlight. The main difference is that the ECE lights have a completely flat face while the DOT ones have a nipple, a vestigial growth for use with a certain type of DOT headlight aiming device.

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Luckily, Toyota has its own headlight aiming system, and the light’s outer ring even has an access hole so you can get to the adjustment screw easily.

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Afterwards, friend of JNC Brian Szeto decided to try out a set of Hellas on his Miata. You might remember his black MX-5 from our coverage of the the Vintage Auto Salon. Brian was gracious enough to let us to a before-and-after comparison.

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As you can see the old sealed beam (image 1) dispersed the light into two very specific hot spots. The Hella Vision Pluses (image 2), however, cast a very sharp beam pattern that had a clear cutoff horizon and distributes the light evenly across the road.

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Do a quick eBay search and you’ll find countless HID and projectors kits, but white or blue light, projector lenses or, God forbid, BMW angel eyes just don’t belong on J-tin. As we see it, the advantage with the Hella kits is that they give you better night vision without ruining the period look of your car. That made Patrick’s mango pretty happy.

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18 Responses to PRODUCT GUIDE: Hella Vision Plus 7″ Halogen H4 Conversion Headlamp

  1. The Black CRX said:

    A good set of H4 headlights was always the first upgrade I’d do to my cars back in the days before flush headlights, but keep in mind that even in their most basic form they draw 55 watts on low beam and 60 watts on high beam. That’s a significant increase in the current running through the wiring and headlamp switch compared to stock DOT-approved 35-watt tungsten/halogen sealed beams, so adding a relay to the circuit is a must.

    That way, the headlamp switch and its wiring only has to handle the low current needed to activate the relay, and the headlamps draw their higher current directly from the battery. Pre-made relay kits with harnesses that plug directly into one headlamp are plentiful on the web, easy to install, and worth the minor cost and effort to keep you from frying your headlamp switch or dashboard wiring.

    Aiming the new lights so the low beam’s “cutoff” (the top edge of the beam pattern) falls about an inch for every 100 feet in front of the car (easy to do on a blank wall at night, or with a yardstick and a flat parking lot) is the next step. That way you can enjoy your much-improved night vision without blinding oncoming drivers.

    • Randy said:

      What about a lower-power bulb? I read on another site that lower power isn’t actually bad if it’s aimed properly.

      • The Black CRX said:

        You can get 35W H4 bulbs, but I’ve never tried them myself. The lighting with the 55/60W bulbs is so superior to the stock headlamps that, imho, it’s worth the relatively simple addition of the relay —especially since better lighting would seem to be the main reason for converting the headlamps. With a 35W bulb, you’d only really get the benefit of the better beam patterns without much increase in range. It depends on what kind of night driving you do, but if you actually use the high beams on open roads (or live in deer country) you’ll appreciate the added range.

    • Mark said:

      Is there a certain relay that you recommend?

  2. Bart said:

    Pretty cool. I didn’t know the history of round headlights! Thanks.

  3. Power Tryp said:

    In the second picture the way the light plays on the carbon fiber splitter makes it look as if it’s made of leather with white stitching running around the perimeter.

  4. Richie said:

    I ended up doing the same H4 conversion to my Z, I didn’t like the flat faced look I the empis that were on my volkswagen so I found a set of Carellos H4 housings where I work and put them in, looks just like stock. I imagine the Hellas would look very similar.

  5. Jim-Bob said:

    I’m curious as to how much this costs. The Geo Metro I use on a daily basis is not what most would consider a classic, but I would like to upgrade it’s lighting for purely practical reasons. It sees 2-3,000 miles of mostly night driving a month and the upgrade would be welcomed. I also wonder if there is a upgrade that includes LED bulbs instead of incandescent since it would make better use of an older car’s limited electrical output.

    • Randy said:

      Depending on where you are, wouldn’t the LEDs put out too little heat to melt snow? I’m in Pittsburgh, so with winter, I consider that an issue…

      LOVE Metros, by the way! Cracked 45 mpg in my first one (HF, or whatever the model was; can’t remember off-hand). Hoping to get my present one (’94) back on the road, but gotta have moeny/time/cooperative weather all together…

  6. BearChair said:

    Can you do a followup on this and discuss the costs involved in performing an upgrade like this and where to source parts?

  7. pete240Z said:

    I first stopped into Sparomobile Foreign Auto Parts in Downers Grove, Illinois back in 1981 and bought a set of Hella H4′s for my 1980 Datsun 310GX. It was amazing to see how much better they were.

  8. Kuroneko said:

    > European and Japanese cars had to follow suit.

    Errr… only for US markets surely? The RoW still got snappy Opel, VW, Citroen, Volvo, BMW, Benz, etc with proper shaped headlights?

    > BMW angel eyes

    Appropriately called ‘squid rings’ in Japan, more accurate representing the status of BMWs on the road too… Neko.

  9. Thanks for the history. as a diehard JDM-fan i decided to go for the Japanese IPF items though, but anyway, thanks for all the information :)

  10. hypertek said:

    The raybrig clear housings are pretty nice too. I had the 6054 h4 conversions in my s13 with silverstar bulbs back in 02. They where awesome
    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v72/streetphase/000_0006.jpg
    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v72/streetphase/lights2.jpg
    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v72/streetphase/lights1.jpg

    I am planing to get some when I get a 240z, and also upgrade the harness. Only thing about the raybrigs is they dont have a shield for the bulb, but that really isn’t a big deal imo, I didn’t blind anyone.

  11. Troggie42 said:

    I have an 84 RX-7. It’s a European spec car, so it came with H4 lights when I got it. I had to replace the housings due to rust in the reflector, and I actually used these to replace them. They are FANTASTIC. They really are. They’re honest to god almost as good as the factory HID lights in the Mazdaspeed3 I had for a while. I think I paid 80 Euro a piece for them when I got them from an auto parts store in Germany where I was at the time.

    The swap was tremendously easy, but I didn’t have to do any wiring. The wiring itself to install the bulb should be as simple as determining which wire is ground, which is low beam, which is high beam, splicing those three wires to the right ones on a plug (you can get them at most auto parts stores like Advance Auto or Pep Boys), and you’re done. It’s super duper easy, and the payoff is fantastic.

  12. Mike Anderson said:

    I run the exact lamps in the photos in my ’68 roadster, but with 35w HIDs.. Unreal light, extremely crisp cutoff, and not too much draw for the poor alternator.. Second upgrade on every one of my vintage cars, after brakes..