Picture of Rebuild Your Car's EL (electroluminescent) Lights!

 So you've got a beautiful old ride, and everyone is jealous. Only one problem- those electroluminescent opera lights! They probably stopped working sometime before 1992, and no one has made replacements for twenty odd years. What to do? Scour junkyards? Search eBay daily? Replace them with generic substitutes? Rig up some LED's? Deal with them being dead forever? After rejecting all those ideas, I decided to pioneer a way to bring your original lights back to life and looking completely original for under $50!

 But first, let's take a step back and explain what EL panels / lights are...

Step 1: Intro to EL Lighting 101: Electroluminescence Explained

Picture of Intro to EL Lighting 101: Electroluminescence Explained
Most older vehicles with opera lights (or any "extra" lights, inside and out, for that matter) are simple 'normal' ones. That is, they are the kind you're used to seeing everywhere- what Thomas Edison is famous for. 12v direct current electricity runs though a glass-enclosed vacuum, traversing a filament that gives off light. It's cheap, replaceable, and they still make all the funky little bulbs that you'd need to replace them.

At some point in car design though, someone got the bright idea (pun intended) to use electroluminescent lighting. EL lights use an entirely different (and admittedly odd-sounding for a car) principle. The standard 12v DC car current is run through an inverter to create a higher-voltage AC source, then applied to a printed layer of phosphor. This makes it glow. It's the same principle as those glowy green-blue nightlights.

Which is better? Well, they each have plus points. The phosphor panels glow evenly, unlike standard bulbs. They also don't 'break' like filaments- instead, the phosphor simply gets dimmer over time. They also run quite cool. However, the phosphor tends to break down under direct sunlight, and they must be run off of AC current, thus requiring an inverter. I won't choose a side, but say that they each have their own uses. For the purposes of this Instructable, we are trying to keep the vehicle as original as possible.
slowtrain12 years ago
can you please email me at a101ramirez@yahoo.com I have a few questions on how to do this...I want to rebuild my Cadillac Fleetwood Opera lamps..Thank you a101ramirez@yahoo.com
Hi! Did you ever get your response? How did your opera lamps turn out? Can you give my buddy and I any advise? Alan @ sologate@ymail.com

Sorry for the late response ...no he did not..I still want to do my lights...did u do yours? How did they turn out????? A101ramirez@yahoo.com

this is great, to replace a side light. What about instrument lights?

GarageGuru1 year ago
Very interesting and a great job repairing them. I remember those opera style lights on cars when I was a kid. I also remember looking at the amount that have burnt out over time. All these years, I figured they had a simple 12 volt bulb or two in them creating the illumination. I would have never guessed they, or at least GM did on this model, used a high tech of sorts solution for low tech exterior illumination. Although I'm sure they were hoping customers would purchase the pricey replacements which were probably only available from the dealer.
johnvin1 year ago
can you tell me do you need only one inverter to operate both opera lights or do you need one for each side right left? thank you
johnvin1 year ago
I got a great idea what you can do with the other el strip...you can make my Riviera opera lights....Just kidden, your video was great. I tried to find the electroluminescent strips on here but to no aval. I will keep looking.
Thanks a million, CharredPC! This Instructable has enabled me to do what no other online forum or dealership can help with - make the opera lamps on my 1984 Fleetwood work again! I'm afraid I didn't do as neat & tidy a job as you did, and couldn't keep things as stock as I would have liked (especially with the inverter, which still functioned perfectly). One lamp was physically damaged, so I wound up creating a new backing/housing out of styrene and used clear silicone caulk to waterproof the seams. The end result is very TRON-like, and totally 80's!
Thanks again for the thorough step-by-step instructions!
89Barritz2 years ago
Hi! My buddy and I want to follow your instructions and get my 1989 Eldorado Biarritz opera lamps working again--actually the driver's side is still shining brightly. However, the Ebay link and products you mention for purchase on Ebay aren't working and do not come up. Suggestions???
cosworth763 years ago
Hello! I am very thankful for this post--My son & I are doing a 1985 Lesabre Ltd.
Edition for him--& have been struggling to find opera lights. Could you please post the wiring diagram you mention? Thanks. Also your car looks GREAT!
MaddMann3 years ago
Nice job - on both the lights and the ible. One suggestion though too late now, but you might have used a clear silicone caulk to "glue" everything back together...in case you ever have to re-replace. The epoxy is VERY permanant.
angelinaS313 years ago
I m totally shocked to watch out the new look it seems to be saw clean and well and good and it is been an original way of sharing is been quite very helpful for the making of Second hand cars and it had made very convenient in this post.

aristide2023 years ago
well done bud! I'll soon do something like that in my 1993 audi
Common$4 years ago
Very nice. I am a fan of restoring/saving/refurbing original equipment whenever possible.
fzumrk4 years ago
Nice instructable. I was completely unfamiliar with this material, and this was a nice introduction to it.