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
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.