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How to: Lit "Camaro" Tail Panel

This is a discussion on How to: Lit "Camaro" Tail Panel within the Appearance Section forums, part of the General Help category; Alright, so this was an idea of mine a year or so ago, and finally I decided to go through ...

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    Member ProwlerZ's Avatar
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    How to: Lit "Camaro" Tail Panel

    Alright, so this was an idea of mine a year or so ago, and finally I decided to go through with it, so here's a quick write-up:

    To start off with, I bought a spare tail panel; I didn't want to risk the possibility of screwing up and being stuck without a car to drive. In retrospect, if you had all of the supplies ahead of time, this could be done on a long rainy afternoon when the car was just parked in the garage, and avoid having to buy a back up.

    So, in preperation, you will need the following materials:
    -Tail panel
    -10mm wrench or socket to remove/replace panel... I think it's 10mm...
    -"Dremel" or other rotary tool
    -Rotary bits: drill, cut-off wheels, detail grinders
    -Sand paper
    -Plexiglass, I used 1/8" for the painted 'glass, 2x 1/16" for the tinted 'glass
    -Paint or Tint for Plexiglass lettering
    -Paint (optional) I did the "Berger" style paint at the same time
    -Clearcoat, even if not repainting, you'll want to clear the cut edges
    -Waterproof adhesive, I used silicone bonding glue
    -Double-sided body-molding tape
    -Light source, the lettering is approximately 19" across, and 1.75" vertical so, if using neon, make sure you're using at least an 18" bar, and make sure that it's 18" of light, not total length, which is only about 14" of light.
    -Hammer, probably necessary only if using an led bar
    -Time; Remember, with any physical modifications to your car, patience yields results, don't try to squeeze this into a limited time frame, and if you get frustrated, take a breather!

    On to the process:

    First of all, remove the tail panel, it's held in primarily by the four bolts, two on each side, but also retained by the tail lights (held in by plastic wing nuts). I would recommend using towels to pad the tail lights as they rest against the car (I acually tinted my tail lights at the same time, so I removed the assembly and wrapped the bulbs, then set them inside the hatch with the hatch slightly ajar).

    Next, give the panel a good washing, you're dealing with parts of it that have probably never before seen a good cleaning, so give everything a solid wash. If your panel currently has vinyls or other such fill-ins, this is the time to remove them.

    Okay, now grab the dremel, and get comfortable. The tail panel is fiberglass composite, so you always have to be careful, and I suppose eye and breathing protection would have been a good idea. I started with a very fine drill bit, just to get a penetration large enough to get the grinder in. After I ground away the inside of the top of the letter "C" I had room to slide in a cut-off wheel. If/When I make another of these, I would probably purchase one of the dremel cutting kits, as it includes some useful attachments I didn't have. Proceed to cut away the insides of all of the letters; I tended to do several passes, starting in the middle of the area to be cut, and slowly working my way towards the edge. Please note: The center portions of the letters 'A' and 'O' will be reused, so don't cut those things up! And remember, patience is key, I probably spent close to an hour on the first letter, and a good 20-30 mins on each letter after that.

    Once the primary cutting has been done, go back through the edges with a detail grinder to hit any rough spots. Next use either fine sandpaper or a fine file.

    Pause for just a moment, enjoy the first sign of real progress, grab a beer, and sit back down.

    Now is the time to decide if you're going to repaint the panel, if so, use a small grit sandpaper and scour the surface to prep for paint adhesion, I think I used a 180 grit. Remeber to sand the insides of the 'A's and 'O'.

    Once the panel is prepped for paint, I would recommend using an air compressor to blow off any fiberglass bits that are hanging around. I just used a damp microfiber towel, but stumbled across fiberglass pieces mid-painting.

    Relocate to an area that's suitable for painting, and get ready to spray. I won't go into details on the painting aspect, as it's pretty self explanatory. Before you actually paint, you'll want to go ahead and start on the plexiglass. Cut a sheet (or two) that will cover the entire lettering area, it may be useful to cut out a notch where the hatch key hole is, though I didn't, and I had enough room on both versions. I used a Jigsaw with the finest teeth I could find, but since the edges will be concealed, the dremel could be used again, or you could just score it and break it. Go ahead and do a test fit, and when you're sure it's good, set the plexi to the side and primer/paint/clear your panel.

    Now as far as the Plexiglass panel goes, you have a couple of options. My first version, I picked up a can of Sebring Silver paint from GM parts, and sprayed 2 fine coats on the side of the plexi that was to be on the inside. I also cleared it, just for protection against fading. Your second option is to use window tint, I bought 2 rolls from Advance, a roll of Silver reflective tint, and a roll of red tint. I actually overdid it on the tint, but I didn't know that until I was all finished and it was mounted. I applied two layers of the silver tint on top of each other, then a single layer of the red tint on the second sheet of plexi. I then used electrical tape around the outside to hold them together...why you ask? Because it was sitting next to me. Realistically you could have just used a single layer of one of the tints, and although the red gives it a nice touch in sunlight, it isn't necessary. I just wanted to make sure that you couldn't see through it in daylight.

    Once your plexiglass panel is complete, and your painted panel is dry, go ahead and attach the plexi to the inside back of the panel. The first time I used silicone bonding glue, but this past time I just used the 3M Body molding tape, and it's holding up just fine. I felt that with the tape I could apply adhesive to small areas more cautiously than with the silicone.

    Now turn your panel over, and use the body-molding tape to affix the insides or your 'A's and 'O'.

    Now comes the lighting, once again, you have choices: I used a neon bar, but would have rather gone with an l.e.d. setup, because as we all know L.e.d.s are brighter, and offer more possibilities. If you're using a neon bar, remember that the clear tube portion should be at least 18" long, and 19" would be preferable. Mine is actually 24", because I couldn't find a happy median. A neon bar will fit along the steel body paneling behind the panel on the very bottom, where the convulated tubing containing the tail light wiring is. I don't think you would need to modify anything, just zip-tie it in... I was expecting to need more clearance, so I spent an hour hammering the raised portion back in. It does provide a more consistent light, but unfortunately, at night when the light is on, you can see where the metal was altered...

    Once the bar is in place, you'll need to wire it in. Ground it to the ground bolt on the left of the hatch release mechanism, or anywhere else you see fit. I used a volt-meter to identify which wires were live when the headlights were on (middle and right positions on the headlight control). Initially I was going to tie it into the brake light, but I wanted to be able to turn it on at meets and such to show and tell, and didn't want to have to wire in a override switch.

    Ah, and by the way, you'll have to figure out where to run the ground wire into the car, I'm sure there's a better way, but I just used that old faithful dremel to cut a slit next to one of the mounting holes for the panel, and ran it in there.

    Go ahead and mount everything back up, and give it a test run, don't get angry if you have to make alterations with the lighting to get everything perfect. I plan on finishing the hammering job and then cutting a piece of decoy steel to line the inside of the beaten body with. You may also notice that light escapes in some areas on the bottom of the panel, if it bothers you, just use something on the bottom of the panel to close the gap, I used a thin rubber hose, which when the panel is screwed down, compresses to eliminate all light coming out of the bottom.

    And voila' you're done. Chances are by this time it's already dark out, so you can really enjoy.

    On an additional note, one possibility that I haven't tried to tackle yet is this: If you were handy enough with that dremel, one could actually cut out plexiglass letter fills, and mount them against the plexiglass sheet. The idea would be that you could simulate the flush Berger look with the stainless letters. You would however have to truly be a black belt with that dremel.

    I'll clean the rear of my car and snap some pictures tonight, then update this post.







    Like I said, I'll post updated pics ASAP.
    She's baaaaaccccck...

    '02 Z/28 M6 Hardtop

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    Just me Y2KPewterSS's Avatar
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    Added to Appearance Musuem, thanks for the excellent write up
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    I like that! I like it a lot!

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    Member ProwlerZ's Avatar
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    Well, nevermind about putting updated pictures up; I just got nailed in the rear at a stop light. The panel is broken, along with the bumper, hatch, spoiler, and the driver's side quarter panel wrinkled... way to ruin a good day. I guess optimistically since it wasn't my fault I won't have to pay for it, but it's still a freakin' inconvenience, and a big let down. I'll be getting started on another one soon, so I'll take pictures as it progresses.

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    Mike The Guz's Avatar
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    Damn! That sucks. As long as you're alright. I am sure it will look just as good as the original or maybe even better.


    -Mike
    2002 Artic White SS 35th Wheels|Full Hotchkis Suspension|Koni SA|Magnaflow CME|SLP lid|www.fquick.com/The_Guz

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    Just me Y2KPewterSS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ProwlerZ View Post
    Well, nevermind about putting updated pictures up; I just got nailed in the rear at a stop light. The panel is broken, along with the bumper, hatch, spoiler, and the driver's side quarter panel wrinkled... way to ruin a good day. I guess optimistically since it wasn't my fault I won't have to pay for it, but it's still a freakin' inconvenience, and a big let down. I'll be getting started on another one soon, so I'll take pictures as it progresses.
    Sorry to hear, but on the bright side, you are in good health

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    Member ProwlerZ's Avatar
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    Am I just sick for thinking I'd rather have a broken arm or something than have a wrecked car? Is that just too far out there? I honestly wish that the car would have just been totaled, then at least I wouldn't have to worry about "if" it'll ever be straight again...

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    Consumer of kraut SiggyZ's Avatar
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    Dang, sorry to hear of your misfortune.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ProwlerZ View Post
    Am I just sick for thinking I'd rather have a broken arm or something than have a wrecked car? Is that just too far out there? I honestly wish that the car would have just been totaled, then at least I wouldn't have to worry about "if" it'll ever be straight again...
    Let's not get crazy now! Although you can heal, you could be in pain for the rest of your life. You can always fix or replace a vehicle.

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    vert 00vertss's Avatar
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    Cool mod sorry to hear about your baby

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    Impounded
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    Ill be posting within the next month a way to do this on the WS6/TA Panel. and keep the solid black look on the back.. but have the bird logo when lighted

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    Member Mike's TA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JoshieDoom View Post
    Ill be posting within the next month a way to do this on the WS6/TA Panel. and keep the solid black look on the back.. but have the bird logo when lighted
    Ah, Great! You're giving me ideas now.

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    79 T/A -91 Firebird
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    Still havent got around to it...frikin second shift hahah

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    Member Mike's TA's Avatar
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    Well, here's my thought process on it so far.

    Cut out the bird on the main plastic housing. Take a piece of fiberclass and router out the areas that surround the bird, just as deep as the plastic housing is thick. So that when the two are stuck together it will be flush on the outside. I would use VHT to black out the fiberglass like I did my taillights so that it's hidden with the lights off. Haven't worked out the lighting yet though.

    Oh, this is all in my head. I don't know when, or if, I will get around to it.

    JoshieDoom Thanks for the idea. Let me know when you get yours done. I'd like to see how you did it.

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    79 T/A -91 Firebird
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    I was going to smooth down the plastic surface to where it was clear.. i heard it was just painted black... and then put a bulb in it... then put the bird decal over it... paint over the whole thing black... peel the decal off... then apply black candy.... you get the idea...

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    Member Mike's TA's Avatar
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    I know that you can buy clear plastic front license plate covers. I have had the back off and the whole thing is black. Certainly does not look like painted clear plastice. Maybe try sanding the back before you do the other side.

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    79 T/A -91 Firebird
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    The previous owner did a shitty job at blacking out the bird... so i plan on either modifying my current one or getting a new one altogether.. I wonder if they make aftermarket middle panels.. clear ones... like for the ricers and crap.. idk.. more research is needed. its all in my head as well

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    Member Mike's TA's Avatar
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    You can sand yours down and refinish. I did this when I blacked out out my tail lights to remove my fading bird.


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    Member PatrizioD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ProwlerZ View Post
    Am I just sick for thinking I'd rather have a broken arm or something than have a wrecked car? Is that just too far out there? I honestly wish that the car would have just been totaled, then at least I wouldn't have to worry about "if" it'll ever be straight again...
    Man, if youre sick, Im terminal. Just to let you know that you're not alone, my GTO got stuck in the snow a few weeks back at a stoplight. AAA took 7 hours to get to me, during which I was standing outside using my body to block other cars from sliding into the goat... Thats a sick mod by the way, I wonder if it could be done with the lower rear bumper on the GTO ::the part that says "GTO":: Imma try it, and get back to y'all...

  20. #20
    Member ProwlerZ's Avatar
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    I talked a guy through it on a 03 cobra, so I'm sure it could be done on a GTO, with similiar principles. biggest hinderance is to figure out what has to be done with the bumper support. On a Cobra you have to cut out a square in the middle of it, but that does a great job on containing the light behind the bumper... If you really want to know, I'll find out what's necessary!


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