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Anatomy of a Headlight

by on August 4, 2015

One of the most often overlooked parts of a project vehicle, whether it is a show or racecar is lighting — and how often times even simple changes can drastically change your view.

by Josh Mackey  by Josh Mackey & JB Custom Lighting


Let me preface by saying that headlight modifying is nothing new. Modifications to headlights or swaps have been common for at least 10 years, but it isn’t until most recently where retrofitting has become quite the industry.


15 years ago, you would have never seen anything like what’s being done today. In fact, what you did see were S15 Silvia headlights being modified to fit on MR2s, Supra taillights on the back of a Civic – I think you get where I’m going with this. It’s very rare that a completely different set of head or taillights will look good on a car; it completely ruins the original bodylines and throws the whole aesthetics of the car off.


“Retrofit” by definition is to take something that already exists, but add an additional component(s) to it. Three years ago, we took our stock Mazda3 headlights, opened them up and sent them to paint. They came back considerably a lot nicer than the stock version, even with just a little smoke and paint. Even then, we hadn’t really heard about retrofitting and we were perfectly fine with our newly painted lights and HID kits.

Six months ago, we did some research and looked into building a completely new set of headlights for the Project3. Headlights are often one of the most overlooked parts of a car that now has an entire world of businesses and builders that caters directly to it. After seeing the endless possibilities, we set in motion to have our set built. We had a specific vision of how we wanted our headlights to look: a term we like to use called OEM+. Clean, functional and aesthetically pleasing headlights that make you look twice. After a few mockups, we set forth with the idea and contacted our friends at TheRetrofitSource.com with our idea and what parts they recommend. Matt Kossoff, President of TRS and Morimoto Lighting, instantly knew what he wanted to see from this build and gave us our shopping list.


The easy part was done. Ask any retrofitter in the community, the build out is never easy and usually more time consuming than it should be. Our advice to you: do all the research you can and do it again to be safe. We ended up sourcing 3 used headlights to be our guinea pigs for the build and a broken set of Mazda3 GT (Tech Package) housings for specific parts. Because we were stepping into new waters with this build, we contacted local builder JB Custom Lighting, based in Everett. Jordan Brown is a proven retrofitter in the Northwest that was more than willing to take on a custom project of this level.


Our vision for the lights was simple (we laugh at that now… but it was the idea!). We wanted to retain the stock projector and replace it with a crystal clear Black Series lens from TRS, retrofit a brand new projector in the high-beam housing and add in the clear lens from the GT package. There is one specific reason why we say the idea was simple but would not be on the production side, and it all relates back to functionality.


A lot of retrofitters will build crazy headlight setups using dual, triple or even quadruple projector setups, but what most DON’T know is that half the time those projectors are just dummies, installed to look good but have zero function. Jordan from JB Custom Lighting is not one of those builders, and when he saw what we were going for and what our project car is about, he wanted function to be priority. His first idea: get rid of the stock projectors. Over the course of a few weeks, Jordan and his lighting partners in crime would design a completely new projector based on various Nissan, Subaru and various parts that he dubbed the “P1,” or Prototype 1. This projector would eventually be additionally modified to be Bi-Xenon capable, which is where a mechanical plate inside the projector flips to give it both low and high beam light patterns. The new P1 projector would replace our current stock set and utilizes the Morimoto 5500k H11 Elite system.


The second step in the design was to retrofit a new projector into our high-beam housing. This would require precision cutting and work to make it as clean as possible. When we chatted with Matt from TRS, we let him know that we wanted something special for this, so he put us in the very last set of prototype Morimoto Mini H1 Bi-Xenon 7.0 projectors he had left (7.0 is currently not available, only 6.0). If that wasn’t enough, he even had his team in his Atlanta, GA office laser etch the lenses in the DailyDriven.com diamond pattern. The housing and shrouds were painted in metallic yellow and filled with the H1 Bi-Xenon 3000k Morimoto HID Elite kit to match in color temp.


What’s great about this is that now we were going to be running two, fully functioning sets of Bi-Xenon projectors: a quad setup, if you’re following! The next few weeks I will put in fast forward as it’s all about production, tuning and making sure that the build is as precise and clean as it could be. We had the inner bezel wrapped in carbon, and did some minor trimming to other parts to compliment and complete the build. No install is ever without its complications, but Jordan worked through all the issues and got them installed without issue. See for yourself in the output photos below that our cutoff and brightness is simply amazing.


We must say we learned a lot about lighting and that’s in part to the amazing customer service from TheRetrofitSource.com and JB Custom Lighting. If you are looking to build out custom headlights for your car, we highly suggest using either of these businesses and of course, do as much research as possible.

Output – Outside “P1″ Projectors only 5500k H11 Elite HID

Output – Center “P1″ Projectors 5500k H11 Elite HID & Inside H1 7.0 Prototype 3000k Elite HID
Output – Center “P1″ Projectors 5500k H11 Elite HID, Inside H1 7.0 Prototype 3000k Elite HID, Diamond Lighting Technology 3000k HID Fog Lights