While the term lead-sled refers to an overall style of rod, there will always be one image that comes to mind, the 49-51 Mercury. No other single model has ever possessed a more enduring vision of custom that the Merc. Wide whites, chopped top, fenders skirts and flames shooting out the pipes will always be cool on a sled. There is another requirement of owning a lead-sled, frenched headlights. Frenching the headlights has been a mainstay of the rodding world since the beginning. In the past, setting the headlights back in the fenders required a lot of custom work, shaping sheet metal, careful measuring, and required specialized tools to get the job done, leaving novice builders out of the loop. Then a few enterprising people started making kits that simplified the frenching process. Not only do these kits take out the guesswork, the result is finished off with shiny trim that sparkles. Installing one of these kits is quite easy, requiring very few tools and can be completed in a couple of hours. The best part about these frenching kits is that just about any builder is capable of the work. RPPG, formerly Good Times Productions, manufacturers several frenching kits, including headlights, antennas, tag and several versions of taillights. We took a set of “Custom Beams”, the 7” lamp complete French kit and installed them on their 1951 Mercury custom project. The total job took less than 2 hours and only required a wire-feed welder, grinder, sandpaper and some rattle can primer. The result really adds to the custom look, removing the factory bug-eye and only cost $250. Follow along and then go get your own.
1. The RPPG Custom Beams kit comes with the buckets, headlight-mounting rings and a stainless steel trim ring. The buckets come primered and ready to weld in.
2. Our 51 Merc had already been hacked up to fit some Buick headlights, so we did not need to trim the opening. Had this car been stock, the hole would have been trimmed with a jigsaw. The area around the hole was cleared of all paint and body filler with a grinder to prep it for welding.
3. The bucket was held in place, adjusting it to fit the contours as best it could. The buckets fit perfectly with the roll of the fender.
4. The bucket was tack welded in a few spots to keep it in place, the entire ring was stitch welded.
5. Each stitch weld was about an inch long, skip 1 inch, another stitch and so on. After one revolution, the skipped sections were stitched until the entire circumference of the bucket was welded up.
6. Using an angle grinder, John Van Pelt ground the welds smooth.
7. Once ground down, the metal was further shaped with a file to smooth the contours.
8. A coat of body filler was added to finish the job. Don’t worry about working the filler smooth yet, leave it a little thick so it can be sanded smooth with less low spots, which require more applications.
9. Van Pelt then sanded the cured filler to perfection using increasingly finer grit paper. He starts with 35, then 80, then 150 then 220.
10. After wiping the area with some paint thinner to clean it, a nice coat of rattle can self-etching primer was sprayed on. This is just to protect the metal while the car is being built, a real primer job will be done when the car is completed.
11. The headlamp-mounting ring was installed in the bucket. Note the small spring at the bottom of the bucket, this is for adjusting the aim of the light. See, just like factory.
12. The supplied headlamp trim ring simply slides over the 7” lamp.
13. Then the light was plugged in.
14. The headlamp was screwed in and the stainless steel trim bezel was mounted using two supplies stainless steel screws.
15. All done, the frenched lights really make a difference in the look of the front end. Any rod can benefit from the frenched beam look.
A life-long gearhead, Street Tech Magazine founder and editor Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 5 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced. You can follow Jefferson on Facebook (Jefferson Bryant), Twitter (71Buickfreak), and YouTube (RedDirtRodz).