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Turn Signals for Collector Classic Cars: Turnswitch from S&M Electro-Tech

By Chris Wantuck

Whether your vehicle is a 1932 Plymouth sedan or a 1948 Chrysler Town and Country, you no doubt enjoy the drive. You can be slowly moving through small town streets in the down town area or travelling at higher speeds on country roads, past the horse farms and corn fields. Today's roads are much better than when these cars were new. Asphalt roads today are a far cry from the wash-board rumble dirt and rock roads available when that '32 Plymouth was new. There has been one noted change, though, that affects all of us. There are many more cars on the road and everyone is moving faster.

One thing we don't like when driving (whether new cars or classic ones) are surprises. When a driver unexpectedly swerves in front of you, crossing your lane to get to the left lane to make a left turn — that can be a bit disconcerting. It is much better for drivers to signal their intentions beforehand so that their maneuver can be safely made. The simplest method to do this is use turn signals to communicate his/her intention of a pending turn or lane change. Equal to brake lights, turn signals alert others of your plan to turn which usually includes reducing your speed.

Turn signals are a rather simple electrical circuit involving just a few components: lights, relays, flashers, turn switch, indicator, and wire. It can be difficult to create a turn signal system. Purchasing one and adding an assortment of extra lights also can prove to be difficult. However, with a little engineering, you can add turn signals to your collector car using only the existing lamps to maintain the car's esthetic appearance.

A turn signal system as offered from S&M Electro-Tech in Blaine, Minnesota accomplishes this as elegantly as any known off-the-shelf system can. S&M's Turn-Switch is an electronic integrated-circuit-based controller that connects all the components together into a single module. This module, usually mounted in an inconspicuous location (such as under the dash board) connects power, lights, brake switch, and the turn switch together. Table 1 shows the results at the cowl and tail lights for the possible conditions such as using the running lights (regardless of head light), signaling left or right, depressing the brake pedal, and using four way emergency flashers.

One benefit of using S&M's Turn Switch controller is the ability to use existing bulbs and light circuits, and in most cases even the original lamps. Tail lights usually have two lights: a low intensity tail (running) light and a high intensity brake light. These lighting systems may feature two separate bulbs with two separate lenses, or could include two separate lamps (housings) or may be packaged as one light with double filament bulbs. Either way they are configured, they consist of two separate electric circuits. The front or cowl lights are a different story, however, usually having a single bulb arrangement only on when the running lights are on. Another front lamp configuration includes running lamps inside the head light. These are usually found on cars before cowl lights were included on fenders or on the body cowl.

FUNCTIONS OF S&M TURN SWITCH CONTROLLER

Function Left Cowl Lamp Left Tail Light Right Cowl Lamp Right Tail Light
Running Light Off Off Off Off Off
Running Light On On On On On
Left Turn Flashing Flashing Off Off
Left Turn & Brake Flashing Flashing Off On (Brake)
Left Turn, Running & Brake Flashing Flashing On On (Brake)
Right Turn Off Off Flashing Flashing
Right Turn & Brake Off On (Brake) Flashing Flashing
Right Turn, Running & Brake On On (Brake) Flashing Flashing
Emergency Flashers* Flashing Flashing Flashing Flashing
*Flashers cease when the brake pedal is depressed.

Integrating a turn signal system such as S&M's Turn Switch into your collector car can be challenging depending on the lamps and lights you have available and how far you are willing to deviate from the original. This is usually directly related to the vintage of the car. In general, the older the car, the less lights were offered by the manufacturer. Cars of the late teens through the late 1920's fall into this category.

Turn Switch controller connections:

  1. Power — Either positive or negative
  2. Ground — Either positive or negative ground
  3. Right Switch — This is the lead included in the wiring harness that goes to the arm on the steering column. It is connected using the three prong Molex connector (supplied with the kit).
  4. Left Switch — This is the lead included in the wiring harness that goes to the arm on the steering column. It is connected using the three prong Molex connector (supplied with the kit).
  5. Right Parking Lamp — Wire connection to the right parking lamp.
  6. Right Brake Lamp — Wire connection to the right brake lamp.
  7. Brake switch — Wire connection to the brake switch.
  8. Left Brake Lamp — Wire connection to the left brake lamp.
  9. Left Parking Lamp — Wire connection to the left parking lamp.
  10. Parking Light Switch — Wire connection to the light switch (parking or running light terminal.

Problem: Only one tail light is present on the car. Model L Lincolns are a good example of this situation where up to 1930, Lincoln only offered one tail light on the driver's side. Packard's as late as the fourth & fifth series also fall into this category.

Possible solution #1. Create a separate tail light for the missing side. Use a similar tail light assembly correct for the given year and adapt it in a manner similar to the original. This may include a special frame bracket and stanchion. This approach would preserve as much as possible the original appearance, but admittedly is the most complicated. It is likely adding the extra tail light would cost more than the whole turn signal system.

Possible solution #2. Add small accessory lamps to the bumpers either permanently or for temporary use using a clamp method or even Velcro straps. This is the least elegant and least costly solution, but may be good enough if the intent is to remove the extra lamps when participating in a judged meet.

Problem: No cowl lights present.

Possible solution #1. Small running lights may be present in the headlights that may be considered as turn signal lights.

Possible solution #2. Add small accessory lamps to the bumpers similar to the method as the tail lights.

Summary/Notes

  1. The Turnswitch is designed to self cancel itself after 15 seconds. This is setting is adjustable from 15 to 60 seconds. The driver can also cancel by momentarily switching to the opposite direction.
  2. The Turnswitch includes an audible indicator inside the controller. It can be turned on or off using the procedure in the manual.
  3. The unit operates on 6 or 12 volts, either positive or negative ground.
  4. If the audible indicator is not enough, a separate visual indicator (not included in the kit) can be included and mounted using a magnet or other means (see Photo3). The manual supplied provides information on how a customer can include this feature.
  5. The latest version will fail-safe with the brake and park lights still functional, even without power to the controller. (Note: your cars brake lights, brake switch, wiring and lamps must still be good).
  6. Can now use any type of momentary contact switch(s) to initiate or cancel a turn (You do not have to use our switch).
  7. All input signals to the control are optically isolated from the car wiring for improved noise rejection (e.g. ignition noise).
  8. Single plug wiring harness connector to control should the control need service or replacement.
  9. Adjustable self cancel. Will only cancel after preset time and lack of brake signal. (Time out is paused whenever the brake lights are on.)
  10. Still shares single filament park lights with front turn function. No need to use double filament lamps
  11. Hazard 4-way flash function by holding the signal switch in a left turn for 3 flash cycles. Flash rate is constant rate regardless of lamp type — LED or incandescent lamps.
  12. Source: S&M ELECTRO-TECH, 8836 Xylite St NE, Blaine MN 55449 Phone: (763) 780-2861 Website: http://www.turnswitch.com/
Photo 1 — Pictured is the Turnswitch controller that would normally mount under or behind the dash board. The strip connector makes it easy to make the necessary screw connections and disconnects if the controller requires servicing.

Photo 1 — Pictured is the Turnswitch controller that would normally mount under or behind the dash board. The strip connector makes it easy to make the necessary screw connections and disconnects if the controller requires servicing.


Photo 2 — The Turn Signal Switch is the means the driver uses to signal his turns, much like a turn signal on a modern car. It mounts to the column using a clamp. It includes a simple connector that disconnects from the controller (handy if you want to remove it while at a show).

Photo 2 — The Turn Signal Switch is the means the driver uses to signal his turns, much like a turn signal on a modern car. It mounts to the column using a clamp. It includes a simple connector that disconnects from the controller (handy if you want to remove it while at a show).


Photo 3 — An accessory indicator can be made and integrated into the wiring to visually alert the driver. This indicator was made using Light Emitting Diodes (LED) inside an aluminum block and is held onto the dash using a strong magnet.

Photo 3 — An accessory indicator can be made and integrated into the wiring to visually alert the driver. This indicator was made using Light Emitting Diodes (LED) inside an aluminum block and is held onto the dash using a strong magnet.


Photo 4 — The hose clamp that comes with the Turn Signal Switch (Photo 2) can be a little unsightly. A more elegant mounting uses thin aluminum strips and wings nuts. The switch can be quickly removed once at a show if the driver chooses.

Photo 4 — The hose clamp that comes with the Turn Signal Switch (Photo 2) can be a little unsightly. A more elegant mounting uses thin aluminum strips and wings nuts. The switch can be quickly removed once at a show if the driver chooses.


Photo 5 — Rear view of a 1930 Lincoln Touring. The car originally came with only one tail light (from the TRILIN Company) on the driver's side. As the name implies the three lens light are 1) Clear for Reverse, 2), Amber for Stop, and 3) Red For taillight. This car was restored using another TRILIN tail light to permit the use of the turn signals and added stop and tail lights. Adding the second TRILIN light for safety with no point deduction during judging.

Photo 5 — Rear view of a 1930 Lincoln Touring. The car originally came with only one tail light (from the TRILIN Company) on the driver's side. As the name implies the three lens light are 1) Clear for Reverse, 2), Amber for Stop, and 3) Red For taillight. This car was restored using another TRILIN tail light to permit the use of the turn signals and added stop and tail lights. Adding the second TRILIN light for safety with no point deduction during judging.


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