DeLorean Xenarc HID headlamp installation

The DeLorean's headlights are marginal at best and suffer from problems like dimming at idle if your alternator or ground contacts are not completely up to snuff. I decided that a car with the DeLorean's contemporary design really deserves xenon high intensity discharge headlamps.

Enter Sylvania Xenarc. The Xenarc kits contain everything needed to upgrade an old sealed beam system to a modern HID system. The kits are expensive ($799) but seem to be very nice. The instructions that come with the kit are lacking in detail in many places, but hopefully this document will help fill in some of the blanks and demonstrate an effective installation on the DeLorean in particular.

The following is a walkthrough of the Xenarc installation in my DeLorean (1981, #4115). 

Tools and parts required

Step 1 - Get a good source of unswitched power at the front of the car. In most vehicles, since large parts of the electrical system at located at the front of the car, getting juice to the HID system is pretty easy. On the DeLorean, it's not as easy. I decided to run a fresh lead directly from the battery to the front of the car to ensure a good supply of power since the HIDs require a lot of power to start up.

Remove the headlamps by unscrewing the little metal rims holding them in. Be careful to get the right screws. The aiming screws are at the center of the top and the center of one side of each light. Don't touch these. You can do whatever you want with the old lamps, as we won't be using them, but be sure to save the metal rims and the screws because you'll need them later.

By reaching up inside the wheel well while pushing a 12 gauge wire though the passenger side low beam headlamp socket, I was able to get through. I have very small hands and arms. This may prove much more difficult for those of you who are beefier. You'll notice that I'm also attempting to straighten my fascia while I've got the front apart. This was only marginally successful on the driver side, so I will reattempt both sides with metal reinforcements at a later date.

Next I got this wire into the car by passing through the wheel well (cable tying the wire snugly in place so it will not contact any moving parts) and pushing it through where a bunch of wires pass through the front firewall and into the car. Finding this spot and successfully pushing a wire through it is a bit challenging. You're on your own.

I ran the wire along the passenger side of the car, under the carpeting. One 12 gauge wire passing under the carpet is not noticeable once the carpet is replaced.

Standard electrical good sense makes it a good idea to fuse this wire near the battery. The HID system has its own 20 amp fuse for each side, but I didn't want eight feet of wire before my fuse. I attached a 30 amp inline fuse and an eyelet large enough to connect to my battery. Since the HID system draws 12.5 amps at startup (and significantly less after the lights are running), I don't expect this fuse to blow.

Finally, the wire comes out from under the carpet and into the battery compartment. Don't hook it up yet! You don't want live power at the front of the car until after you've finished most of the installation.

Step 2 - Mount the ballasts. This step requires drilling some holes in the car (unseen, of course). If you don't like the idea of seeing a Delorean drilled, close your eyes now.

There's lots of space behind the fake grille with the DMC badge. Remove the grille if you haven't already. Just pull forward on it and it will pop off. Using the ballast mounting bracket as a guide, mark two spots on the metal at the back of the space where you want to drill holes. Make sure the ballast will clear the bolts in this area. There's almost a perfect amount of space here (see picture for exact location).

Drill the holes to mount the ballast. You should use drill bits designed for hard metal or you'll be here all day and you'll ruin your bits too. Once the holes are drilled, slide the ballast into the mounting bracket (you won't be able to after you mount it) and screw it into the metal using the supplied screws.

Repeat this step on the other side to mount the other ballast.

Step 3 - Install the high voltage wires. The HID lamps will be powered by new high voltage cables. These cables have special ends that plug into the ballasts and the HID lamps. Plug the end with the black plastic cover into each ballast, making sure the plastic clips onto the ballast so it doesn't decide to come out later.

Pull the other end of each high voltage cable over to the low beam light sockets (the outer ones).

Step 4 - Attach the trigger lines. While the ballast pulls its power from its own power lead, we still need to trip the relays when the low beams are turned on. On the low beam plug on each side, locate the wire that's +12V when the lights are on. On mine, it was the red and blue wire. I make no guarantees about yours. These are Deloreans, after all. Verify by connecting a multimeter with the positive probe in the plug and the negative probe at any ground location and turning on the headlights.

Once you have located the +12V low beam wire, clip it off near the plug, strip the end of it, and crimp on one of the supplied yellow-jacketed spade connectors. On each side, plug this spade connector into that side's green wire labelled "trigger." This wire is at one end of the black-sheathed bundle of wires suppled for each side.

Step 5 - Wire up the high beam sockets. The high beam lights that come with the Xenarc kit are regular halogen bulbs, as are the high beams on most cars with HID low beams. Locate the +12V high beam wire using the same method as with the low beams (but be sure to turn on the high beams when you're testing this one). Once you've found it, clip it, strip it, and crimp on another yellow spade connector. Also locate the high beam's ground wire, clip it off, strip the end, and crimp on one of the blue spade connectors.

Step 6 - Install the bridge. The bridge is designed to make sure that the HID lights remain lit when the high beams are on (which is required to make them legal in the U.S. and Canada). Since the Delorean already leaves its low beams on when the high beams are active, this part is probably not even necessary. I installed it anyway because it's not going to hurt anything.

Mount the bridge somewhere where its white wire is within reach of the high beam light socket. You'll have to do this on only one side, as there is only one bridge. Pull the white wire through the socket so it's ready for later when you install the bulb. Connect the green wire to the green wire labelled "bridge" in the black bundle. The bridge connection in the other side's black bundle can be ignored.

You may be asking yourself "why did he mount that right at the front? Will those screws even hold in that soft material?" They might not. Honestly, I mounted the bridge at the front because I forgot to find a good place for it earlier. Since its white wire needs to reach the back of one of the high beam bulbs, its placement options are limited. If I find that it doesn't stay here, I'll probably glue it on a little further back. Like I said before, it's probably not even necessary, so you may wish to ignore it altogether.

Step 7 - Mount the relays. Each side's ballast has a relay to power up the ballast when the headlights are turned on. I chose to mount both relays on the passenger side because the positive power lead coming into the relays is not particularly long, and the wire I ran in step one terminates on the passenger side. If you prefer to mount each relay next to its corresponding ballast (or even somewhere else altogether), be my guest.

Using a relay as a guide, mark the point where you want to drill the holes to mount them, then drill them and screw the relays in. See my picture for the exact placement in my installation.

We are now done molesting the car with a drill. If you closed your eyes in step two, you may once again open them.

Step 8 - Attach the black bundles to the relays. When you first opened the kit, you found the relays already plugged into the black bundles. If you're like me, you unplugged them to mount them. Plug them back in at this point.

Step 9 - Attach the incoming power from the battery. Strip the end of the wire you installed in step one and crimp it in a butt connector. Clip the two loop connectors off the ends of the red power wires going into the relays, strip the ends, and crimp them into the other end of the butt connector. A wire nut would probably work here too, but I like butt connectors.

Step 10 - Attach the ground wires. Remove one of the bolts in the center of the metal piece where you're mounting everything. Don't worry--nothing will fall off behind it. Clean the area so you get a good ground contact, put the loop connectors at the ends of the two black relay supply wires labelled "negative" and put the bolt back in.

Step 11 - Plug the black wire bundles into the ballasts. Each black wire bundle has a grey plug on it. Push these plugs into their matching receptacles the ballasts, making sure once again that the little plastic clip firmly attaches itself to the ballast.

Step 12 - Plug in the lights. We are approaching the end of the project, so now it's time to test the lights. Making sure the writing on the bulbs is right side up, attach each bulb to its wires. The HID lights (labelled "Sylvania Xenarc" on the front) go in the outside sockets. Just push the high voltage line installed in step three into the socket on the lamp. The high beams are a little bit trickier. Connect the wire with the yellow jacketed spade connector to the positive line on the bulb, the wire with the blue jacketed spade connector to the negative line on the bulb, and, if you are on the side with the bridge, the white wire from the bridge to the wire on the bulb labelled, surprisingly enough, "bridge."

Just set the bulbs on the bumper in front of their sockets for the time being. We're just going to test them for now.
Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of this step.

Step 13 - Apply power. Inside the battery compartment, attach the new wire to the positive pole on the battery. Assuming nothing blows up at this point, you're probably doing well.

Step 14 - Test the lights. You are now ready to test your new HID headlights! Get in the car and turn on the headlights, again hoping for no smoke, fire, or explosions. None? Good. Checking the front of the car, you should find the two HID bulbs are now on. They may not look bright, but if you get your face down to where they shine, you will disover that they are.

Now go turn on the high beams to check them too. You should now find that all four lights are on. Turn them off after you're done.

Step 15 - Modify the low beam sockets. Bet you thought all the hard stuff was done. Well, you were wrong. This is the hardest step, which is why I saved it for the end. The HID light will not quite fit in the Delorean's low beam light socket. The plug on the back is too big. You're going to have to modify your low beam sockets to accommodate the big plug. Those of you who closed your eyes earlier should do so again, because now we're going to attack the car with a hacksaw.

Using a hacksaw or any equivalent implement of destruction, extend the open circle at the back of the light socket about an inch or so. A mixture of sawing and banging with various objects seems to accomplish the task, but it's not particularly easy. Keep checking with the light as you go. Once you've bashed enough that the light fits all the way in the socket, with all four of its little feet in the spots for the feet, you are done. Now go do it again on the other side. The pictures below demonstrate two different cutting methods, both of which work, and neither one of which was the clear winner in the difficulty department.

Those with closed eyes may now reopen them for the remainder of this project.

Step 16 - Gather and tie up excess wire. Since this kit isn't designed to be installed with the power source so close, there's a lot of extra black bundled wire. Gather it up neatly and, using a cable tie or something of that nature, attach it to one of the fascia supports. The grill has enough space here that the cable tie coming around the support won't affect its ability to lie flat. Also bundle up and cable tie any excess lengths of the various other wires. These should be bundled separately from the black wires in order to remain neat.

Step 17 - Screw in the bulbs. Using the metal rims you removed in step one, screw the new headlight bulbs into their sockets, making sure their feet remain in the right places. Some of these screws are pretty tricky, and it may help you at times to have a friend carefully pull up on the fascia to make room for your screwdriver.

Step 18 - Replace the DMC grille. Hide all your work by popping the fake grille back on the front of the car. Just line it up and push it in. Congratulations. Your project is complete and your Delorean now has the headlights it deserves. Since the new lights likely shine a bit differently, it's a good idea to get them reaimed by a professional.

Additional Photographs

Low beams on after project completion.

High beams on after project completion.

Light output prior to Xenarc upgrade.

Light output after Xenark upgrade (as yet unaimed).

Sitting in the driveway, lights on.

Similar shot, sans flash.

Oooh, bright!

Special thanks go to my father, who helped with a lot of the muscle work. In fact, I think he did almost all of the muscle work.

This document and associated pictures may be copied and disseminated freely, provided appropriate credit is given.

I hate to have to say it, but I take no responsibility for anything you do to your car, yourself, anything else, or anybody else if you attempt the project on this page.

Any comments or questions may be directed at me.

-Andrew Smith
26 April 2002

Back to Technical Index

Home | Back Issues | Downloadable Files | Links | Subscribe
DeLorean FAQ Clubs and Events | DeLorean Mailing List FAQ

Copyright 2002 Andrew Smith used by permission
The legal fine print.
Comments, criticisms, questions: