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Cibié Headlamps with City Lights:
How I Lost My Fear of the Dark
Cameron Lovre

As is true for most of us, I've wanted to improve the lighting on every one of my old Volvos since I started driving old Volvos. My approach has been very simple: Remove the old-style $3 cheapie varieties and replace them with Hella H4s, as these have always been easiest to find.

While Hellas are an enormous improvement over sealed beams, I've always heard good things about Cibiés. Everyone I've talked to who has tried both kinds says Cibiés are one step better; so I decided to try a pair. Installation was slightly more involved than a straight remove and replace, as these particular lights are fitted with what are called "City Lights."

City Lights are low watt bulbs perched inside the lower portion of the headlight itself; when turned on, they cause the headlights to glow softly, similar to old Porsches and VWs that had parking lights mounted forward of the headlight assembly.

We wired the City Lights to the parking lights, installed bulbs in the headlights and then mounted the headlights to the car. The tabs on the aft end of the City Light socket didn't fit into the Volvo headlight buckets until we gave them a slight upward bend. A handful of zip ties secured the wiring and a couple spade terminals connected everything up.

I should make it clear that I really don't know lighting the way some folks know lighting. I don't give much thought to lumens or optics or much of that other stuff. What I do know is that I want to be able to see where I'm going when it's dark out, and I don't want to blind oncoming drivers. The Cibiés emit a different light pattern than Hellas do; on low beam, both headlights have a "horizon line" that runs horizontally from the left to center, then cuts upward to the right to help illuminate things on the side of the road. Certainly superior to the "anemic scattered illumination out front" offered by the old-style sealed beams.

The first thing I noticed during the initial test drive was that I could easily see as well in the dark with the low beams as I could before. So far, so good. The second thing was that there was a lot less glare; while the light cast by the Cibiés illuminates things in front of the car very nicely, this light seems to reflect back into the driver's eyes less than the light from Hellas.

With the high beams on, the improvement is obvious: The Cibiés' lenses are fluted in such a way as to offer a good spread that doesn't leave any dark "holes" out front, much like the Hellas. More impressive is that they're Much Brighter directly in front of the car a good place to be able to see.

I would say that this swap is a worthwhile upgrade and, based on these factors, I prefer the Cibiés over the Hellas they replaced. At this time, I have 55/60 watt bulbs. Plans include setting the headlight circuits up on relays to increase effectiveness further now that the better lamps are installed, it's time to give them as much power as possible.

The second stage of the lighting upgrade was to install an additional pair of 5" Cibié lamps, one driving and one fog, atop the overriders on the front bumper. Instead of the way I used to wire accessories (power from fusebox through switch directly to the accessory), we used relays (one for each light) to handle the electrical load and we sourced power directly off the battery + terminal instead of the fusebox. Once these were roughly aimed, we went for a test drive and found that we could just about burn the paint off the neighbors' houses.

Over the next few days, I tried night driving with all the different combinations I could think of: Low beams only, low beams and auxiliary lights, high beams and aux lights, and high beams only. This particular combination of four forward-facing lamps leaves very little to be desired in a street-driven car; the aux lights augment both the low beams and the high beams nicely and once aimed don't seem to annoy oncoming drivers. This aspect is particularly important in Portland, where people have been shot for flashing their high beams at other drivers.

Note: Two days after installation, I learned that running all four lights simultaneously easily outran my OEM generator and left me with a dead battery. If you're thinking about adding a more powerful pair (or two) of lights to your own Volvo, you might like to consider an alternator as a good first step Ron and Wendy Kwas at "Swedish Embassy" offer a Delco conversion kit if your engine block isn't set up to accept an OE style alternator.

As with most upgrades, this stuff isn't cheap. It is, however, equitably priced considering the results and, as with any upgrade, you get what you pay for. Improving the lighting on your car is an important step toward greater safety and anything we can do to improve that element is time and money well spent. It's nice to be able to see where I'm going, too.

Sources for this good stuff: OJ Rallye Automotive and Daniel Stern Lighting offer the Cibié line and can easily set you up with all the right wiring terminals, relays, fuses, etc.

Editor's note: Cameron's installation was temporary and for the purpose of evaluating the lights. Driving lights should only be used to supplement high beams and fog lights should only be used with low beams. All lights must be fused, although not necessarily through the existing fusebox. These lights may not be legal in all states; check local laws before ordering. Our next issue will feature a comprehensive article on wiring lights using relays.

More about relays: Archived article
Swedish Embassy web site:

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