Part 3 - Taking Shape

Since buying the Jeep, it seemed like there was always another delivery from UPS. Whether it was new tires, upholstery, or even a nine foot long PVC pipe containing an antenna, there was always something. I’m sure my delivery driver hated me. That or he was really curious

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Each movie Jeep had a winch mounted on the front bumper. More than just for looks, it acted as a plot device that led to one of the movie’s most memorable deaths. In 1992, the winch chosen was a Ramsey REP-6000, though by 2016, that winch had been discontinued and newer models had been introduced to replace it. Since I wasn’t looking for 100% accuracy, the newer Ramsey REP 9.5e was ideal for the newer Jeep. It had the same design yet was beefier, having nearly double the pull rating as the original. How could I complain?

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Installation was straightforward. I used a cheap Smittybilt winch mount on the bottom of the winch, and then put the mount on the Jeep where the tow hooks were. Instructions wanted me to replace those hooks, but I liked their utility and thankfully their bolts were long enough that the extra thickness of the plate wasn’t a problem. Rather than using the supplied bolts, I just reinstalled the hooks on top of the winch plate. No issues.

Wiring, on the other hand, was slightly more complicated. To remote mount the solenoid and keep the clean look of the winch, I needed to find a place big enough for the large plastic box. I had planned on using the empty tray underneath the brake booster, as it’s large enough to hold a second battery, but the cables I had were roughly a foot short from reaching. Instead I found a snug spot behind the windshield fluid reservoir that barely managed to work, and drilled into the fender wall to secure the box in place.

With the winch mounted, I used a screen capture from the movie to place a few vinyl decals, making modern winch look more like the vintage model.


Another UPS visit brought several more boxes, these containing Jabsco 135SL searchlights. These lamps are motorized searchlights designed for marine purposes. Each one has a thicker wiring loom than a standard lamp, and a much wider base. While mounting lights onto a Jeep is nothing new, these would take a little fabrication work.

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But I needed a lightbar before I could begin to mount them to the Jeep. Rugged Ridge made a cheap one that looked alright enough. Some of the reviews talked about how it came with the wrong hardware or didn’t line up right, but I had no issues and managed to do a temporary install in about 10 minutes.

I say temporary because the tabs on the cross bar were far too small for the searchlamps, so I removed the entire thing and dropped it of at a custom truck bumper fabrication shop in order to craft a mounting shelf. The finished product was tolerable, but overall I wasn’t very happy with it. It was off center and the corners weren’t rounded to match the lights like I wanted. I felt I paid too much for it, especially when it basically an unfinished steel plate. I printed out the mounting template for the lights, drilled the holes into the plate, then took a rattle can of black Rustoleum to the thing.

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The lights too needed some work. I purchased some Cowles trim molding, along with a sheet of black ABS plastic and set to work. I marked out 1” and 2” points on the black plastic, and first used a small hacksaw to trim them to size. Unfortunately, they seemed a little crooked and each one was slightly a different size so I came up with a better solution: I used my table saw.

The auto trim wasn’t so easy. I’m certain that somewhere I had read of someone using hot glue for those plastic rectangles and relying on the trim’s 3M adhesive for those pieces. Didn’t work for me. After several tries, I thought I finally had them secured in place, but after taking a little PlastiDip to the bases, they started coming undone.

I went to the store and picked up Loctite’s two-part plastic epoxy, came home, and tried again. Aside from the 5-10 minutes I had to hold each piece in place while the glue set, this glue worked without fail. Considering how well it worked, I chose to use it to pre-attach all of the mounting tabs to the rings.

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Taking some scrap wood and my nail gun, I assembled a small paint stand for the 3D printed rings and covered them in another few coats of PlastiDip. Since it would be a while before I sent the Jeep to paint, I figured the lights would look best solid black.

I had expected the 3D printed stuff to be less fragile, but drilling the holes for the #8 screws cracked several of mounting tabs, even after drilling smaller pilot holes. Hearing the crunch and crack as the drill bit pushed through them was disconcerting. Glue and PlastiDip were the only things keeping some of them together. Serves me right for not using a 100% fill. Surprisingly though, the threads of the screws bit into the plastic allowing them to be held into place. All said and done, I was satisfied with the look and couldn’t wait to get them mounted onto the Jeep.

Each of the cables fed into the light bar without issue. I measured the group of cables at a little less than 3/4”, so I headed back into town and picked up a rubber grommet. I drilled into the side of the jeep and shoved the cabling through. There’s a lot of empty space beside the antenna cable so there’s no danger of hitting anything, but if anyone else does this, know that there’s 2 layers of metal there: the outer sheet metal, and another layer about an inch into the interior. Wrapping the cables in electrical tape, its a very finished looking product, and couldn’t be happier with its appearance.

Wiring them was a little time consuming, but fairly easy. There’s not much room for all of the wires, but there’s only *just* enough.

I took one of the lights to the Jeep, wired it up, and tried it out, learning how it worked. Each light had 6 wires: two for the lamp, two for vertical movement, and two for horizontal. Knowing some basic electronics, I realized that I could combine the lamps into a single junction, using a single rotary switch to connect a single joystick to all four lights.

I purchased a 4 position 2 pole rotary switch from online, took apart the control panel and started cutting. In the movie Jeep, each light had its own toggle switch and joystick, all laid out on the passenger side dash. In my newer TJ, I don\’t have the room for the four panels. Airbags and glove boxes take up that space. Luckily, there’s a small 2.5″ square beneath the a/c controls that was empty and looking for some sort of switchery. Eventually, I ended up with a clean and working solution.

A new “Spotters” toggle acts as a master switch, sending power to the 4 toggle switches, one to power each light. The small rotary switch, connecting the joystick to one of the four lamps, letting me retain control of each individual lamp, yet still allowing me to turn them all on or off at once too.

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The Jeep looked great, but it sounded terrible. The Jabscos began to let out a slight whistle between 20 and 30mph, depending on wind speed. At highway speeds, it sounded like a tornado siren was inside the Jeep. I had expected some noise with lamps as large as these, but I had thought it would be the dull wind noise the Jeep itself makes, not a loud whistle that pierced through music and conversation. I began to experiment with fixes.

The sound came from airflow interacting with the lamps. If I could stop the airflow, I’d be able to stop the sound. My first attempt was with a piece of cardboard taped to the front of the light bar, simulating a wind deflector. I can’t imagine what people though as they saw me driving like that, but the important thing was that it did help. Some. The sound started a few MPH later, and at highway speeds was roughly half volume.

Home Depot sells large sheets of clear Lexan plastic, but something long enough to fit across the width of the Jeep would’ve been more expensive than I felt like paying, especially for what seemed to be only a bandaid.

While I was out, I realized I had a large air compressor with a blower nozzle, and wondered if that would let me reproduce the whistle at home, in the driveway. Sure enough, after pointing the air around multiple parts of one of the lights, I heard a faint whistle that seemed to be coming from the bottom two corners of the light rings. Begrudgingly, I removed one of the light rings and tried the air gun again. If anything, the whistle seemed louder, but it was definitely coming from the bottom and sides of the lamps.

Across various Jeep forums, there’s comments about how 50″ LED lightbars have whistling noises coming from their cooling fins, and people solved it by filling the spaces between those fins in a handful of areas. I thought I might need the same fix and, grabbing some rubber sealant, I filled in the gaps between the rubber rings on the front and both sides of the base. A few minutes later, I tried the air gun again.

The noise was still there, as loud and obtrusive as ever. At this point, I was confused. There was no noise before, with just the light bar, and even after adding the 6″ wide mounting plate to the bar, there it was still silent. The sound was definitely coming from the light, but I couldn’t figure out where.

I took the blower to the light again, moving it around to get the loudest sound. Then, I started blocking the air with my hand, moving it closer and closer to the light, until I found the source…On the underside of each light are four screw holes, two on each side. Covering one with my thumb, the whistle stopped. Remove my thumb, and the whistle returned.

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I took to removing the sealant, and ended up removing most of the PlastiDip too, amazed at how it peeled off so easily.

On each lamp, I filled in each of the four holes with the rubber sealant. It would’ve been easier off of the Jeep, where I could’ve flipped them upside down and not fight against gravity, but I didn’t feel like redoing all of the wiring. After each hole was sealed, I waited a little and started to re-dip the light. Four or five coats later, the lights all looked like the did before. But did it work?

I started up the Jeep, and pulled out of my driveway, straining to hear. It seemed silent driving through the neighborhood, which was an improvement over the faint beginnings of the whistle I had heard before, but the strong Texan winds may have been at my back, negating the slow speeds I was driving.

Merging onto the highway, the speedometer swept towards 50 and I noticed it was still quiet. As I approached 60, there was no whistle, only a turbulent wind noise. At 70, the same, only a little louder. The wind noise was livable. After all, no one buys a Jeep for creature comforts. I turned around and headed home, my lights fixed. Best of all, I didn’t spend the $60 for the plastic!

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Jacob Mast