FILL’ER UP!

How to Install an Electric Gas Filler Taillight Kit

By Eric Geisert   –   Photography by the Author

More than 100 years ago, when automobiles first began to be mass produced, you’d fill your gas tank via an exterior cap and filler tube. Over the decades, gas caps and filler tubes moved around to different locations on both the exterior and interior of a vehicle but, in the ’40s and ’50s, a handful of cars hid them from sight altogether.

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002 two main pieces of the kit are the horizontally mounted
The two main pieces of the kit are the horizontally mounted, motorized base and the vertical gas filler tube support plate.

The ’40s-era Cadillac used a flip-up taillight to hide the cap and filler, but soon Imperials, Oldsmobiles, Nashes, Continentals, and even a Peugeot would give the design a go.

Even Chevrolet’s fullsize passenger vehicle, the Bel Air, would use the feature on their ’56 model, but by the ’70s, when more stringent safety standards were enacted, the gas filler moved from behind the rear license plate or apron to a vehicle’s quarter-panel.

003 motor baseplate will be secured to this horseshoe shaped plate that will be welded to the wagon’s taillight opening
The motor baseplate will be secured to this horseshoe-shaped plate that will be welded to the wagon’s taillight opening.

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For vintage-minded folks who not only want the nostalgic look of a hidden gas filler behind their ’55 Chevy but want it to motorize the operation as well, then you should know about Rocky Hinge, based in Girard, Ohio.

Formed in 1996, Rocky Hinge manufactures more than 50 types of vent, trunk, and hood latches, bear claws, door hinges, folding hood props, door lock mechanisms, and more—many of which are electrically powered.

004 stock taillight housing being removed from the vehicle
Disassembly begins with the stock taillight housing being removed from the vehicle.

Recently, Orange County Hot Rods (OCHR) in Corona, California, installed one of the Rocky Hinge ’55 Chevy taillight conversion kits on a ’55 Chevy Handyman wagon. However, the Rocky Hinge kit is made for the ’55 Chevy passenger car line of vehicles, so some modifications needed to be made to both the wagon body and the kit to make everything fit right. The thing that took the longest in doing these modifications was the miniscule adjustments to two mounting screws that set how the unit fits in its hole during the closing operation—critically important adjustments. OCHR took it all in stride and got the job done, so follow along and see how they did it.

005 horseshoe plate is laid over the lower portion of the opening
The horseshoe plate is laid over the lower portion of the opening, which is marked to show how much material will need to be removed. The factory horizontal housing support bracket will also need to be removed.
006 horseshoe bracket screwed in place to the motorized base the unit is fit into place and pulled rearward for a flush fit to the opening
With the horseshoe bracket screwed in place to the motorized base, the unit is fit into place and pulled rearward for a flush fit to the opening. (As you install and remove the unit multiple times during this part of the build, you’ll need to support it in the opening somehow—OCHR used small magnets to keep it from falling inward.)
007 edge of the opening that needed to be ground away to ensure a tight fit
Fine-tuning the base’s fitment meant marking the edge of the opening that needed to be ground away to ensure a tight fit.
008 edge of the opening that needed to be ground away to ensure a tight fit
The base and opening should have location marks so the unit will always be fitted to the exact same spot and orientation each time.
009 magnets underneath to hold it in place the horseshoe bracket is set in place
Using magnets underneath to hold it in place, the horseshoe bracket is set in place.
010 MIG welds the plate in place
After wrapping the wagon’s quarter-panel in 3M Welding and Spark Deflection Paper (because the car is painted) and making sure it is level, OCHR’s Nic Cantrell MIG welds the plate in place.
011 After some grinding and sanding the mounting plate is now ready for the base unit
After some grinding and sanding, the mounting plate is now ready for the base unit.
012 base section is reinstalled
The base section is reinstalled and, by gently pulling on the motorized arm, you can see how far the arm will extend.

013 by gently pulling on the motorized arm you can see how far the arm will extend

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014 Handyman wagon body has this factory welded seam
This Handyman wagon body has this factory-welded seam (large arrow) that interferes with the gas filler plate that will be installed next. The smaller arrow points to the upside-down bottle cap that was inserted into the rear antenna hole (on both quarters) by a previous bodyman and then covered with body filler.

015 upside down bottle cap that was inserted into the rear antenna hole (on both quarters) by a previous bodyman and then covered with body filler

016 This is the orientation of the gas filler tube mounting plate to the motorized base plate
This is the orientation of the gas filler tube mounting plate to the motorized base plate.
017 Rocky Hinge supplies a mounting tab in their kit to help secure the filler plate’s location
Rocky Hinge supplies a mounting tab in their kit to help secure the filler plate’s location, but it is located exactly where the body seams are, so it had to be removed and the plate notched for clearance.
018 The stock taillight bulb holder will hit the new gas filler cap so it must be removed and relocated
The stock taillight bulb holder will hit the new gas filler cap so it must be removed and relocated.
019 The factory bulb hole is capped off and the new bulb location is marked and drilled
The factory bulb hole is capped off and the new bulb location is marked and drilled.
020 The new LED light bulb is installed here
The new LED light bulb is installed here.
021 Cantrell marks headless Allen screws with some black ink and then sets the housing back in place thus marking the location on the housing
To know where the taillight assembly will attach to the arm, Cantrell marks headless Allen screws with some black ink and then sets the housing back in place, thus marking the location on the housing.
022 Cantrell then drills out the marks and attaches the housing to the arm
Cantrell then drills out the marks and attaches the housing to the arm.
023 Cantrell finds the housing barely rubs the upper right edge of the taillight opening
After checking the complete swing of the arm, Cantrell finds the housing barely rubs the upper right edge of the taillight opening, so he’ll grind that away until it doesn’t interfere with the housing’s movement.
024 adjustment in them determines how well the housing will fit against into the taillight opening
These two mounting screws for the housing are critically important because the slightest adjustment in them determines how well the housing will fit against into the taillight opening. Washers will determine height adjustments.
025 the entire taillight assembly can be gently pulled into and out of the opening
At this stage the entire taillight assembly can be gently pulled into and out of the opening.
026 Cantrell marks the diagonal angle of the mounting plate against the tube and then tack welds it in multiple spots
After fitting the gas filler mounting plate and tube into the unit, Cantrell marks the diagonal angle of the mounting plate against the tube and then tack welds it in multiple spots.
027 The finished assembly in place from the inside with only wiring needed to complete the procedure
The finished assembly in place from the inside, with only wiring needed to complete the procedure.
028 Now the finished taillight housing will swing open and shut with a flip of a switch
Note the little locating tab Cantrell added that fits to a nub on the back of the taillight housing, which ensures proper alignment when the unit is closing tight against the quarter. Now the finished taillight housing will swing open and shut with a flip of a switch.

Sources

Orange County Hot Rods
(714) 514-3887
orangecountyhotrods.com

Rocky Hinge
(888) 539-6295
rockyhinge.com

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