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It was no secret that I was not looking forward to working on our 1965 Clark Cortez’s exterior lights.
“Do you know how to fix this?!” I asked Andy when we realized that practically all of our exterior lights did not work. Hell, all of our lights — exterior and interior — did not work, but that’s a story for another time.
“I mean” and he hesitated as if considering his words carefully. “I can figure it out.” Then he paused. “I think . . . “
His answer left me with no faith in us — or I should say him because he is my ‘mechanic guru’ who is teaching me the ins and outs of restoring our fifty-five-year-old motorhome.
“Great” was all I think I said to him before exhaling and slouching my shoulders. I felt defeated and we hadn’t even started repairing anything yet.
At this point, we had been slowly chucking away at tasks to get our Cortez to pass a state inspection. We had plowed through the two seemingly daunting jobs of getting our motorhome to start and renovating its faulty brakes. After this, we had even installed wiper blades and a washer bottle and jets. However, if we were talking about a state inspection, we were ignoring the obvious: our exterior light problem.
“I’m going to jump into the driver’s seat,” Andy told me standing straight and seeming all diplomatic, which only illustrated to me how super serious and therefore intimidating this job was. “I’m gonna systematically work through all of the switches, and you’re going to give me a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ — thumbs up, thumbs down — as to whether each light is running or not.”
“Okay,” I said to him, conscious of smiling and showing positivity because we were recording with the goal of documenting our Cortez restoration on our newly-formed YouTube channel. People didn’t want to see my hesitation, my fear, my view that this monumental job was way too big for us. ‘But it is a thumbs up, thumbs down,’ I told myself silently. ‘That’s easy. You can totally do this’ and so a “Let’s go!” escaped my lips.
Round and round I walked as Andy hollered various lights to check while he pulled or punched or twisted knobs inside, and so I prided myself on my ability to offer creativity when announcing the lights did not work: “The passenger does not,” I said next to “There’s no indicator light coming on” and “Nothing’s coming on” and “That one’s not” and “The driver’s side does not” and “No” before “Now nothing’s coming on” and I concluded with “Nothing.”“So more doesn’t work than works,” I heard Andrew say as I jotted our list of exterior electrical repairs:
At the end of our test, Andy was the one looking defeated.
“It’s okay,” I told him because we exchange optimism when the other slides down the pessimistic hill. “We are still in the introductory phase with our Cortez,” I reminded him off camera because at this point, we had only owned the Cortez for two months. “This is where we are getting to know our motorhome and learning about its quirks and kinks but we will get there.”
“I wanted a VW Beatle,” he huffed and that is how Day One ended. Despite my negativity at starting this electrical light project, I felt confident that by the end of our Cortez overhaul Andrew would never again regret our Cortez purchase. We would get there . . . it would just take time . . .
* * * * *
The next day, we arrived back to our ancient motorhome determined to investigate and correct our light problems. This though was harder said than done because after spending the day analyzing each light issue, when we tried to leave the garage to go home, our Cortez wouldn’t start.
I think it safe to say this is where I began waiting with bated breath every time we now fire up the engine to the point that if it does turn over, I feel a large amount of surprise. This day, however, was not one of those days.
“This might be the start of — ” another problem was how I planned to finish my sentence until Andrew injected.
” — the end.” He was clearly out of optimism. Again.
Turns out, we not only flattened our battery that we were told was new . . .
and then learned of a larger issue: Our alternator was not actually charging the battery.
This basically meant our alternator was faulty so we needed to replace it. We will have more on that alternator work in another post, but for the purpose of this one, let’s just say another day was lost without exterior light improvements.
* * * * *
“I apologize now — I know I’ll get stroppy.”
When our Cortez work starts with an apology before we have even started, I already knew it was going to be a long day.
Overall, it took us five days on and off to complete the light work (not counting the time to replace our alternator). For the purpose of this post though, instead of illustrating how we bounced back and forth from light to light, I’ll focus our repairs by area. Also know, our most crazy find was discovering many of our lights are earthed through the steel body of our Cortez — very strange!
Starting with the clearance lights, we found both front bulbs were dead and all either had nearly or entirely corroded metal bulb bases. Not only that, but all bulb holders were very rusty . . .
This was not a difficult fix though. After buying new bulbs and contact light sockets, we cut the old wires so we could restore our original holders. While the front clearance lights were easy to access . . .the rears proved more difficult due to being covered by ceiling panels and insulation. This only meant we had our first venture in removing portions of our interior . . .
We had earlier debated on if we should spend time checking our the rear clearance lights because they worked. Turns out, we were both very happy we made that decision because both holders were disgusting and needed a proper restoration.
Next up came removing the rust from the metal parts . . .
then spraying rust treatment and paint . . .
After it dried, we used a metal file to scratch areas where a connection (earth) was needed from holder to Cortez body. Then we had the final step of replacing our contact light sockets.Re-attaching both wires, the end result meant all of our clearance light holders were restored and our front clearance lights now work!
PS — Despite the pictures, Andrew stayed true to his word of modeling each step by doing only one light, which meant I was left with the other three. (He just does not feel as comfortable behind the camera to snap shots of me while I work!)
Front Passenger Indicator Light
Moving onto our second problem, the front passenger indicator light proved to be the easiest fix because the wires — perplexingly enough — were simply cut.
“That will do it,” Andrew said baffled at our first peek of the rat’s nest worth of bundled wires. We would soon learn butt and screw-on connectors would be the norm, along with cut wires without protection on the ends, frayed wire ends, and wires leading to, well, unused wires — which makes about as much sense as everything else. It is, therefore, undetermined as to whether the mass of electrical mess was typical of a Cortez installation . . . or if it is to be blamed on the the quick (and unprofessional) hands of someone who attempted to rewire incorrectly.
Still, Andrew set forth testing the bulb and wires, which allowed us to find the wiring was okay but the bulb had burnt out.
A new bulb purchase later, we were ready to continue our light work: Andrew replaced the bulb while I rewired the light by soldering and heat-shrink wrapping the connected wire ends. No more butt and screw-on connectors here!
By the time we were done, our Cortez looked like it no longer had a surgery performed on it and our front indicator light now works!
Next up were our reverse lights. This was the most daunting and challenging of all lights, and it admittedly tested both our patience and hope at ever completing the exterior-light-job.
Popping off the lens and light housing unit, we had in front of us another chaotic bundle of wires larger than any we’ve found so far.
“This is a right mess,” Andy told me while he took to determining the problem . . .Meanwhile, I set to work using a metal file to remove rust from screws he set down . . .
It was here Andrew figured out the light are earthed through the body of our motorhome. Also, he found the driver’s side reverse lights were not working because the wires were not — for whatever reason — connected. The passenger side reverse light proved more difficult, however. After testing, we found there was power to the wires but the earth — also for whatever reason — was not working.
This is when we employed one of our many owner’s manuals.
“Can you find where Wire Twenty-Nine connects to both lights?” and here he would wait too long for me to analyze a guide that appeared more as a maze.
“Andy,” I told him after many moments of being unable to find the wire number yet. “I don’t know how to tell you this but I have no idea what I am doing — I cannot read this.” There, I thought. I admitted defeat. That will be enough. But I was wrong . . .
“What do you mean you cannot read it?” His question was phrased more as if he was asking, “What do you mean you suddenly cannot read?” and so I answered that question instead.
“Well of course I can read — but you’re asking me to find Wire Twenty-Nine when all I see are numbers to more numbers to lines that lead to codes to pumps and fittings. I do not understand anything on here.” And for anyone that has never seen a wiring diagram before, here you go:
You’re welcome because now you can locate Wire Twenty-Nine.
Taking the manual from me, Andrew took over . . .
“Should we cheat?” Andrew asked and I understood he was focused on our larger goal of our state-inspection. Getting our lights working was a small hurdle to the larger one of replacing the cracked glass.z
“Absolutely,” I told him not know how someone can cheat when dealing with lights but being completely open and ready to do so.
Our cheat turned out to be running a live wire from the rear driver’s side to the rear passenger’s side. The only problem though was that this proved to not work because there were too many (useless) wires behind insulation and wall panels — essentially, a jumble of mess.
“I’ve got a feeling this will involve starting to tear a bit of the back out,” Andrew sighed as he tried again and again to unsuccessfully view wires from a small light hole. I agreed — We needed to see our problem fully. However, it would take another day to remove a portion of our interior and so as dusk set in we packed our tools and left the garage . . .
only to discover basically all lights that had previously worked in the garage moments before — such as the rear lights, dash lights, brake lights, and four clearance lights — suddenly refused to come on.
Realizing it was not simply one light left, we drove out of the farm feeling confused and utterly defeated. Back to analyzing owner’s manuals apparently . . .
The next day we learned rather quickly that blown fuses were the cause of our long list of lights out. The good news: After fuse replacements, the nine lights came back on!
Knowing there could still be a cause to the blown fuses, Andrew wanted to investigate every earth wire to test and clean it.
This is where we also found wires — that were disconnected — dangling down from the underside of the motorhome possibly used for towing.Disconnecting those, we moved on to our remaining problem: the reverse lights.
Now it was time to handle our earlier defeat in the best way defeat can be tackled: a full attack! For this, we deemed removing more of the interior was our only possibility. Lucky, we picked up these respirators and goggles days earlier on the off-chance our work required removing insulation.While Andrew set to work on the driver’s side, I took to the passenger’s side . . .
Now we had a clear view: Around fifteen wires were visible when there should only have been a whopping three.
After our removal work, a man stood proud over our many motorhome bits that would be trashed.
And even better, long story short: Andrew ended up removing unused wires, connecting others that had become unconnected, and replacing others to . . .finally get our rear lights to work! I do not think I can properly put into words how excited we felt so here is one frozen YouTube shot to fully illustrate!
Exterior light work now complete, we packed the Cortez to go as night began to quickly set in. It was as if time was telling us to show off our light work, which we were more than happy to do . . .
Driving away from the farm, I inhaled deeply. Looking back at our job now, I learned an important lesson: We can do this. Andy and I can totally take a didn’t-start no-breaks and no-lights rare fifty-five-year-old Clark Cortez motorhome and we can get it working. With a little patience (okay, a lot of patience) and passion, we can totally do this.