Archive for the ‘projects’ Category

AMC Eagle license plate light fix

June 23, 2017

In my endeavors to make everything on this car an LED I have decided to replace the licence plate light with an LED (a spare dome light).  All the documentation I saw said to replace this part ‘as a unit’ but they clearly have never met me.  This part is not the easiest to upgrade, but I did it anyway.

It fell apart after I opened it

After taking a dremel to the seam I found that the old heat-damaged plastic broke clean in half.  The bulb was so long ago burned out, but the goop that stuck down the spot welded leads was still soft.  I dremeled it off to scuff up the pads I could solder to and epoxy-ed back together the base.

Always use a backing you don’t mind will stick to the final product, that board would be hard to fit in the car

I let that cure overnight because I didn’t read that I had bought knock-off JB-quick instead of knock-off JB-weld.  The next day I cleaned up the edges with a dremel and removed the STEEL wires from the LED module.  Those are not copper, don’t notch your nice diagonal cutters trying to cut them in half, desolder them with liberal use of flux and heat.  The LED module was balanced on a pile of copper wire stiffened with solder and a ground wire added underneath.

Make sure to center it or you will hate it later

I then gooped many coats of epoxy under the LED to build up the post that isn’t quite tall enough (BTW, you made sure it would fit in the lens, right?) and built up a second column to support the LED module.  When that was dry enough to work I inserted the base back in the lens and slowly added layers of epoxy to make sure I got a seal all around.

Remember to label the pins for positive and negative, mine are labeled but backwards so doubly unhelpful

Sanded down the sides so it was flush-ish and would fit back in the hole it came out of.  Now I have another lamp I should never have to replace, there will be a picture of it here after I finish painting the newly blasted license plate holder.

there, nice and bright.  Forever.  

The home page for this project is here, it has a link to the album of pictures.


AMC Eagle Air cleaner vacuum actuator

June 9, 2017

In my first post I noted that the pop rivets that held one of my vacuum actuators in place had broken so I taped it back on for the ride home.

Mystery part, janky fix

The advice I got from the forum was: “The thing you taped in place on your air cleaner is part of the TAC system, I believe.  That vacuum motor controls a trap door that should close when the engine is not running, I assume to control escaping vapor.  As long as it’s open your car should run fine.” which makes perfect sense.  That trap door springs shut (plastic flap, not a metal coil spring) normally and seems to be pulled open when the engine is running.  I tested the actuator (yes, I sucked on it) and it seemed fine so I thought I’d mount it back with some sheet metal screws to make the repair a bit more permanent.  Problem is, those holes are really big for sheet metal screws.  If I thought I would keep this air cleaner forever I would have tacked captive nuts on and bolted it back, but I don’t.

New rivets, new hose, all better

My fix was to use pop rivets (what a concept!) but I didn’t have the right size so I stacked some #6 washers to make up the gap and thickness.  I think it worked ok, but it also let me see how rotted the hose was so off I went to buy a roll of that.  The new hose was not the same ID so I also got some cheap hose clamps.  When I was all done I realized that I failed to slip the actuator around the bit it pulls on, so I had to bend it a bit to open it up and bend it back to close it around the rod sticking out of the door.  This is not a fix I needed to do, I could have plugged the hose and removed the door, but for now at least I know what it’s for and I have more hose and clamps for when more of it crumbles.  While I was in there I cleaned out the air cleaner, and wiped down/wire brushed everything I could get my hands on.  I will sandblast and spray this all later but for now I just wanted it back in place.

The home page for this project is here, it has a link to the album of pictures.

AMC Eagle electronic flashers

June 9, 2017

When I did my headlights I also did the turn signal bulbs… which broke my flashers.  The LED bulbs just don’t take enough current to trigger the mechanical flashers and the lights stick on.  I could have added ballast resistors to make the flashers work, but if I don’t then technically my car is more efficient.  That, and if I want to put regular bulbs back in (or someone else does) then it will still work.

Where, oh where, is the fuse block?

The thing I thought was crazy is that I saw zero pictures anywhere for how to access the turn signal flasher.  I couldn’t find it in the service manual, in the forums, or anywhere.  The Eagle has two flashers, one for the turn signals and one for the hazard lights, which is fine.

There it is! (yours may not have a janky extra fuse, this is probably for the old fog lamps)

The fuse block has two curved indents that look like they’re designed for flasher units, but only one is used.  The explanation I got and makes the most sense is that it was designed that way, but the turn signal noise was too quiet and they moved the turn signal flasher up into the dashboard to make it more audible.

Step 1, loosen those screws and pull this out

The flasher is behind the 4×4 switch to the left, and it should be easy for someone with smaller hands than me to get in and out (I did it, but the car took its pound of flesh).

There you are!

When installing electronic flashers remember you need a ground wire (I saw some solid state ones without it but I wanted a click), luckily there was a ground lug nearby that worked perfectly.  I extended the ground wire on one of the flashers so it would reach somewhere easy to install and once it was jammed back into the spring steel bracket grounding that wire was easy.  Before you do that, however, make sure your polarity is right.  I bought polarity sensitive electronic flashers (they make a polarity agnostic one but I was cheap, or maybe they only had one in stock) and the car was wired backward for them.  The mechanical flashers just heat up a bimetalic strip so they go both ways, but my new units are a little less flexible with which terminals are ‘exit only’.  The turn signal flasher was easy, jam a pocket knife in the spade connectors, swap positions, make sure to bend the tab back, and you’re golden.

purple, the universal color

The one on the fuse block was more trouble.  I decided that I would rather make a short jumper that swaps the pins than get in there and swap them.  One day I will have the seats out doing the carpet and then I will surely fix the wiring in the block, but for today this was fine.

The home page for this project is here, it has a link to the album of pictures.

AMC Eagle LED marker lights

June 9, 2017

This is a small post, but I think an important one.  I had no idea how to safely get the marker lights off my car.  I didn’t know if just the lens came off, if there were screws under it, if the previous owner had glued it on.  This is another thing I couldn’t find in the manual, they all just said ‘take them off’, ok but which part?

The whole thing comes off

On my vehicle this was stuck on so bad I thought maybe there were more screws I couldn’t see.  Of course now that I saw this it seems reasonable, but I can never be sure on these vehicles.  The LED light is polarity sensitive (what, four diodes would kill you?) so be sure to install it the right way around.  I have heard of a way of wiring the ground for these lights to the turn signals so they flash with the turn signals, but to do that with LEDs I’m pretty sure you would need a bridge rectifier.

Obviously I’m cleaning this

That’s it, really.  I just wanted to write down, somewhere indexable by google, that to change the marker bulbs you remove the screws and pry off the whole unit with the foam rubber seal.  The bulb socket is a quarter turn one and the bulbs are those flat ones that have really shitty bent leads as contacts.

The home page for this project is here, it has a link to the album of pictures.

Sun Ray 270 to pi/monitor conversion

May 27, 2017

original glory

Sun Microsystems used to be one of the makers of very pretty hardware (if you like the color purple), but that era is no more.  Sun rays in particular are cool though.  The ability to move your desktop with your smart card to any terminal you want is awesome and really, the hardware is really well built.  Also, Oracle sucks.  Combine these two and you have no new hardware or support for a modern ecosystem of sun terminals.  I have tried and failed multiple times to get sun ray servers working and I give up.  I decided to make a decent tiny little thinclient/monitor out of my only LCD sun ray.

custom wiring

The first thought was to just have a pi contained inside it, but it became obvious that I was going to break out other ports from the generic LCD controller.  Doing that and not having HDMI would be annoying, so I added an HDMI switch to the deal.  This did not add much complexity, but it gave me more buttons to put on the front panel.  I decided to use the audio jack holes for the power button to the LCD controller and the input switch button for the hdmi switch, leaving one free to house an RGB LED that could represent which of the three inputs was active.  The power LED for the LCD controller went where the original one did, and the IR receiver went in the corner of the smart card hole.

NEVER trust the silkscreen of the button functions on cheap controllers

It turns out the bulkhead mount HDMI cables I bought have almost the same spacing for screw holes as the VGA ports the sun ray originally had.  I cut and mangled most of the case to fit the new contents and decided to mount as much of it to the LCD as possible so the clamshell could be opened for service.  I also added the 2 composite ports out the original serial port holes as they fit snugly there.

first constraint

The backlight driver went in first, it couldn’t move very far but I put it as far out as I could to leave room for the rest.  Then went the insulating layer (cardboard) and the LCD controller.  With that in and the video cable routed the PI and power supply for it went in easily.  The only hard one was the HDMI switch as it had ports out all four sides and there wasn’t enough space to glue it down anywhere.  After some fiddling it all fit, but I had to add a power switch for the PI because it didn’t like to come up if powered on with the monitor.  This power switch went in the SIM card port that this had for some unknown reason.

all laid out and shimmed with corrugated dead tree

This HDMI switch is actually really cool.  You can only switch between inputs that have signal, and it auto-switches when one comes online.  I’d recommend it for being cheap and useful.

sandwiched between insulating cardboard

This is now 100% more useful to me, it’s a wireless linux box that’s got a built in monitor for working on my single board computers.  I can download and write images right from the second input of the monitor.  If I had decided to spend more time at it I would have lined up the original ports with the USB, ethernet, and other jacks so it looked more stock.  I could have tried harder to get internal sound working on it.  I could have broken out the pi’s gpio to the slot where the smart card went.  This was already a dubiously useful mod for me, and while all those things would have been cool, I really wouldn’t have found them much more useful.


All of the pictures of this build are here.

AMC Eagle radiator cap

May 25, 2017

So, when I went to pick up my ’57 Chevy 210 I got phantom-of-the-opera’d because I opened the radiator cap while it was really hot.  Despite how I love telling this story to explain that when I do something I know is super dangerous I always do it with my non-dominant hand, leg, eye, etc… I originally wanted a pressure gauge, but it looks like the automotive community settled on temperature gauges instead of pressure.  That’s ok, especially because there are red, yellow, and green zones which means I may eventually get to use the phrase “The red line’s about to blow!”.

Look how safe this makes me, it’s almost idiot proof

The first one I ordered was cheaper and blue which I liked because I decided to go with the blue valve cover but that one had two problems: it was too small (apparently motorcycle radiators are smaller), and it was too high pressure.  I didn’t feel like going out that night to check the pressure on the cap so I researched it online and came up with 13PSI.  Turns out the one on my car is 7PSI, probably because it’s old and worn and someone was trying to stem leaks by limiting the pressure.  I don’t really want to fix leaks either, so I’ll leave it at 7 for now.  The one I got is actually quite nice, so I’m not too broken-hearted over using the other one as a thermometer.

That’s it, small upgrade but I’m billing this one as a safety feature too, considering I’m an idiot.  The home page for this project is here, it has a link to the album of pictures.

Amateur car wiring fail

May 23, 2017

This one’s not me.  This is the exact reason not to use certain tape when repairing electronics that will be serviced in the future.  I found duct tape around a ground crimp on my New Car and it had degraded to a sticky mess.  Please don’t do this.  I know electrical tape degrades as well, and the older tape is basically fabric and tar.  The preferred use is heat shrink, or heat shrink with built in hot glue but that is sometimes not convenient as you need forethought to put it in before crimping/soldering and I don’t have that.  This is really a reminder to NOT USE DUCK TAPE FOR THIS.



AMC Eagle Headlight Mod (LEDs part one)

May 23, 2017

When driving this thing home I was really bothered by how terrible the headlights were.  I could see a couple feet in front of me and that was it, whenever you go to pick up a new car and drive it home make sure to leave three hours earlier than you expect (and even then, it’ll get delayed so you have to drive home in the dark).  I’m declaring this upgrade a safety modification to compensate for the fact that I’m putting off rebuilding the carburetor.

The first thing I did was but all the parts:

3 stainless 2″ #8 phillips pan head sheet metal screws (Frentz and sons hardware store)

12 stainless 1.5″ #8 phillips pan head sheet metal screws (Frentz and sons hardware store)

Headlight harness (Ebay)

Headlights (Amazon)

Turn signals (Amazon)

Under-hood light (Amazon)

Epoxy primer (Amazon)

Dielectric grease (Amazon)

That’s the first lie, I didn’t buy all this first, but one bit at a time.  First I bought the headlights and some relays with pre-built connectors and pigtails.  Then I decided that I didn’t feel like wiring up all that myself and bought the kit (I’ll use the relays somewhere else).  I picked up a pile of each type of light I thought I’d need, I tried counting them but after losing count in the manual several times I just guessed and figured I’d either order more or use 12v LED lights somewhere else eventually.  The dielectric grease I ordered but picked up a tube at the auto parts store in the mean time and the primer I had from a previous endeavor in putting a bunch of effort into un-needed repairs.

torn down

To start I removed the headlight bezels, grill, headlights, turn signals, turn signal bulbs, the plastic cable control clips along the trim piece under the grill, and trimmed back the wire that runs to the un-used connectors (the middle bulbs and the driver’s side outside one).  To get the relays mounted I also removed the battery.  The Relays got sheet metal screwed to the plate just forward of the battery which is non-ideal, but that’s the length harness I had.  I sunk a sheet metal screw, fender washer, and two star washers to ground the passenger’s side bulbs.  I grounded the driver’s side bulbs to the screw that attaches the driver’s side quarter panel to the trim panel under the grill.

this was totally mandatory

Behind the grill was really oily and dirty, I cleaned it as best I could and even removed, sandblasted, and epoxy coated the two brackets that hold the grill up.  They were rusty, never again.  The screws I meticulously cleaned with denatured alcohol and a brass brush and re-used them because I couldn’t find stainless replacements locally.

as was this

I didn’t buy replacements for the screws that held the headlights in, but I did get ones for the trim (those got mangled coming out.  The #8 screws I bought had heads that were slightly too big, they worked, but if there were ones with slightly smaller heads than normal they would be perfect.  Of course they’re stainless, always buy stainless whenever possible.  I cleaned the turn signal housings meticulously because if I take it off the car and it’s annoying to handle, it should be easier the next time I take it off.  The wire got routed with sheet metal screws and plastic brackets that zip ties go through (so they’re re-usable).  The loom on the new harness was not split loom, but continuous so I couldn’t wrap the old harness in it unfortunately, but that’ll come another day.

Ah! my eyes!

I tried to get off the side marker lenses but I didn’t know where to pry so that I wouldn’t break it, that’ll come next.  The whole project took about three days of afternoons to do it meticulously.  I think I’ll call this a success, the outer bulbs have a dim mode (they all do, but the center ones aren’t wired for it) that only lights up the bottom of the three rows of LEDs and the center LED on the middle row, I’m not certain about the mods I’ve heard about that use diodes to change which bulbs fire on dim, I don’t know if I’ll need that or really why I’d do it.  The turn signals don’t work, but I have electronic flashers coming in right now that will hopefully fix that.  The under-hood light really could use a diffuser.  Right now the mosquitoes are out and I’m done for the day.

This was daylight-ish, the white balance just went nuts

The home page for this project is here, it has a link to the album of pictures.

TI-58 Calculator battery upgrade

May 15, 2017

After a weekend at Minicon I came back with plenty of goodies thanks to the trusting nature of Amtrak (look for a CDV-715 post coming up) and one of the smallest was this TI Programmable 58 calculator.


I love old bubble display calculators, thermostats, stopwatches, whatever I can get my hands on.


This repair seemed pretty simple, replace the old Ni-Cd batteries with new ones.  The challenging part was someone already did this once before.

you’ve had some cowboys in here…

The batteries were a snug fit, the power tabs snapped, and I ran out of patience.  The original TI charger for this was rated to put out ~3v although after the bridge rectifier easily identified was somewhere around 6V DC-ish.

looks like a rectifier, that can go

I decided that that’s close enough to 5 for 1977 and injected my new power source there.  My selection was based on what I had lying around which turned out to be a micro-usb lithium charger/boost converter that put out 5 volts and a lithium battery out of an old ipod external battery pack from radioshack long ago (I bought it before the advent of common charger/boost converters for single lithium cells).

all kapton’d up

Put together and with some kapton to hold it in place and a dremel to hollow out the case I successfully added usb rechargability to this old calculator.  I will admit that it is now incompatible with some of the add-ons, but I’m not terribly concerned as I intend to use it just as a pocket calculator.  All pictures (including others not in this post) are here.

useful once again

Completely mandatory Eagle accessories

March 17, 2017

This one is just me showing off.  All my life my dad has had a brass embellished american flag and eagle licence plate frame in the basement on a workbench.  Last year he picked up some model paints and touched it up, then surprised me by installing it on my 1957 Chevy 210 for me when I got home from work. I really like it and decided that I would like another one for my new AMC eagle.  It turns out that it’s made by a company called Baron LFI and originally came with a keychain, moneyclip, and pin.  He found me a new one on Amazon, but it just looks too shiny, almost cheap in the pictures.  Maybe I’ve been conditioned to think that new products are photographed like that and my experience has shown me most new products are crap.  I really gravitate toward the items on ebay that have one photograph taken of them that shows how they really look (I try not to buy things with stock photos).  I found one on ebay proclaiming to be from 1985 and compared them.  The older one has different slots at the top to bolt the plate to, that sealed it, I bought the old one.  I didn’t care about the slots  specifically, but that told me it wasn’t the same mold and therefore could be worse in ways I couldn’t see.  I think it looks pretty good and installing it reminded me I need to sandblast and paint that spring-loaded frame.

Lookin’ good.

The home page for this project is here, it has a link to the album of pictures.