Helphos Spotlights 


 

As many of you will know, our current love affair is a 1967 Mercedes W111, better known as the Heckflosse or Fintail in English.  As a rarely seen model it undoubtedly garners a lot of attention.

In period the Teutonic design was quite reserved, but these days the Mercedes star sitting atop the huge chrome grill, the flowing chrome adorned tail fins, and the vertical ribbon speedometer all attract a lot of interest.

It doesn’t take long though before the inquiring eyes fall upon the car’s greenhouse, and in short order the question always comes, “what’s that on the windshield?”


The Helphos “Eye of the Car” or “The Car Eye” is a German designed spotlight sold through the 50s and 60s that mounts directly to the windshield.  The above photos show the evolution of the packaging during that time.  The Helphos design was also rebranded under the names Polimatic, Polco (seen below), Les Leston, Marchal, and probably others.

Many cars as early as the 1920s sported spotlights, as road illumination was far less common and most signage didn’t use reflective materials.  These spotlights were often attached to the A pillar or the front wing (fender) and required reaching outside the car to operate.  While many were strictly spotlights, combination units with a spotlight facing forwards and a mirror facing rearwards were a common accessory for decades right into the 60s.  Eventually however, spotlights mounted on and through the A pillar made it to the market. These were controlled from within the cabin via a handle and linkage and while quite common on police and fire vehicles were less common with the average car owner as few owners warmed up to the idea of drilling through the A pillar.

While the infamous British automotive electrics company Lucas had their own solution to reaching outside the cabin, it was not nearly so elegantly devised.  Lucas sold a roof mounted light that looked and operated much like a submarine periscope.  The light was unsightly and (with a large handle invading the cabin) intrusive.  Perhaps the biggest drawback was that it required drilling a hole in the roof of the car.  As such it really was only popular with the most dedicated British rally teams, and was never adopted by the general public as the Helphos was.

The Helphos spotlight was novel as not only could their design be used from within the cabin, the light itself was inside the cabin.  Not only was the user protected from the elements while directing and focusing it but the light was protected from damage from flying road debris.  All this was accomplished without alteration to the vehicle. Not only could the end user install the light themselves, with installation being non-invasive the light could be switched from car to car in an instant.

While popular for many recent years with the aircooled Volkswagen folks (who adore their period accessories) the Helphos spotlight is really otherwise unknown these days but for a niche group of period endurance or navigational rally enthusiasts.  While the Helphos light was used by many rally teams, Mercedes was especially fond of them. In fact it is rare to find a period photograph of a Fintail rally car where the vehicle is without one. 

As we always envisioned building the Fintail into a ‘period’ rally car, it was practically essential to install one to complete the look.  We actually owned the light before taking possession of the car itself.  


The light is actually comprised of two main parts, a metal mounting ring with embedded glass that attaches to the windshield and the light body itself that hangs from the mounting ring.  The early version of the mounting ring seen above was a simple design as the flat windshield screens of the time posed little challenge to adhesion.  However as curved glass became common the mounting design (seen below) necessarily became more complex.

The later mounting ring is actually two separate hinged rings, with a rubber seal that is placed against the glass.   Numbered levers along the circumference of the ring are swung in consecutive order while the rubber seal (smeared with a dab of included glycerin) is pressed against the windshield.  A thin wire is included that is placed under the edge of the rubber gasket.   

The wire allows the air trapped between the windshield and the mount to escape as the glass of the mounting ring is pressed towards the windshield.  The ventilation wire is removed and the levers are thrown pulling the two halves of the ring apart.  The result is an incredibly effective vacuum mount.

The main body of the lamp hangs from this ring and can be removed independent of the ring.  With the freedom provided by the included generous length of electrical wire,  the Helphos is effectively used as a handlamp for roadside repairs. Clearly this was another added bonus over most other available spotlights of the time.

While mounted on the windshield the light beam can be used to illuminate street signs, markers or roadside features.  The Helphos had another design advantage over most other spotlights as the beam itself could be focussed from narrow to wide beam simply by rotating the main body in a clockwise fashion.  Directing the chosen beam to the target was as simple as moving the handle.

 

While generally uncommon, the Helphos lights are still readily available in enthusiast circles, and eBay, even NOS (new old stock) lights are fairly common.  For the best prices, avoid any Volkswagen enthusiast sites, and German specific parts houses which tend to soak the eager enthusiast. Using some creativity in search terms and locations (these lights are far more common in Europe) along with some patience can save you enormously.  Ours came from England and even with the added cost of shipping we came a hundred or more dollars under the price of most North American sources.

 

While it’s best to confirm the electrical operation before purchase these are simple in construction, and easy to rewire if necessary.  While many Helphos lights now have male cigarette plug adaptors, in period they were sold with bare wire to install as the customer saw fit.  

 

Any potential buyer needs to ensure that the reflector and especially the rubber gasket are in good order.  A dried, torn gasket will absolutely prevent the light from adhering to the windshield, while a peeling or tarnished reflector will greatly reduce the light output.  

 

The bulbs, while still available, aren’t common and tend to range greatly in price.  Confirm that a bulb is included and working and consider combining the cost of shipping with a spare if the seller has them available.  The least expensive bulbs, lack the blackout painted end however this is easily replicated with some spray enamel.

The following are the Helphos installation instructions, explaining the mounting of the ring to the windshield, basic operations, and bulb replacement.

This article requires a couple acknowledgements.  First to Elliot Alder for the lead photo of our Fintail, one of our absolute favourites. 

Second a special thank you to Mercedes Benz that permits access to and use of the historic racing photography you see in the article.  

© Daimler AG.
All data and content are protected by copyright. Use of the data and content requires the source to be stated.
The global copyright remains the property of Daimler AG.

As always, comments and questions are welcomed.  We strive to provide accurate info however if you have spotted a mistake, or simply have more to add please let us know.  All our articles are perpetually updated and revised as needed.  

We’ll leave you with another historic Fintail rally photo – cars complete of course with Helphos lights.

 


For the past two years, a humble but hugely fun auto event has been foremost on our driving itinerary.  We have attended the Cobourg Lions Club annual poker run – car rally two of the three years they’ve held the event.  This year marks the 4th and it is fast approaching.

The “humble” part comes through the fact that these are just some good folks enjoying their vehicles and taking in the countryside.  This is truly a run-what-you-brung event, no pretense to be found. 

 

Each year while remaining beautiful, the route changes and some new ideas are presented to challenge and delight not only the driver and navigator but even the crew in the backseat.  This is truly a fantastic family event.

So what is a poker run?  Like a navigational rally each team is presented with a route book that provides written directions that often require diligent attention as not every instruction is straight forward.  It’s during events like these that you realize how many intersections aren’t properly marked!

 

Along the way, you will be presented some challenges to prove that you have accurately stayed on the prescribed route.  These challenges provide an opportunity for the whole family to get involved as you all pile out of the car to search for a hidden cache of treasures, or perhaps record dates or details from a roadside historic plaque!

The poker run is about accuracy not speed, so these challenges offer a great opportunity to not only stretch the legs but grab a coffee, and a snack from a local bakery, hit the washroom, or grab a bit of gas if you left the house a little rushed.

 

The route will cover stunning landscapes, charming towns and villages, rolling hills and fun driving roads.  You will find no shortage of camera worthy views, it was a challenge to narrow our collection of photos down to just those in the post.

Along the roughly 150 kilometers, if you accurately stay on route you will encounter 5 checkpoints along the way.  This is where the poker comes in!  At each checkpoint you will choose a card that will make up a hand which back at the hall might score you one of the many shockingly impressive prizes.  Don’t worry, if your hand is looking light, there are chances to do some wheeling and dealing at the end!

The route leads back to the Lions’ Hall where a wonderful hot lunch awaits, with enough choices to please even the pickiest of eaters.  Here among the laughs, the war stories, and finger pointing (it’s always the driver’s fault) take the time to enjoy the warmth that stems not only from living in a small town, but being part of a COMMUNITY like that of Lions.

 

All that while you are supporting the countless community projects that the Lions are actively engaged in.  A truly worthwhile event for all!  This year the 4th Annual Cobourg Lakeshore Lions Club Poker Run is on October 20.  Email cobourglakeshorelions@gmail.com or call Christine Bayer at (905) 269-8505

 

It is truly with a heavy heart that we have to miss this years event. Please help us live vicariously through your adventures. Post up any photos of the event on our Facebook page.

The F-Bomb Studio Presents


Adding a Fire Extinguisher and Driving Lights to the Mercedes Fintail

You have entered the F-Bomb Studio, where the craftsmanship applies as much to unique combinations of curses, as it does the cars we work on.  We recommend all children and sensitive types don ear protection until work completion.

Truthfully there wasn’t a lot of swearing on this small collection of projects, some very straight forward brackets to mount a fire extinguisher and driving lights to a Mercedes Fintail.

The Mercedes W111 Fintails have a rich history in Rally competition especially going back to the early 60s. The intention with this car was always to present it as a survivor car of some local rally competitor that modeled their car after those of the big boys in Europe that they read about in “Canada Track & Traffic”.  Probably some proud owner with one car, that drove it to work during the week and flogged it in competition on the weekends.  Perhaps it was retired when, finally it just wasn’t competitive any longer, or perhaps a new addition to the family showed up and racing weekends just weren’t practical any longer.  Either way our story sees the car relegated to more pedestrian use maybe even right up to the point that the ‘new addition’ inherited it as their first car on their 16th birthday.  Eventually as happens the car is finally carefully stored away in the garage, left to slumber until we stumbled upon it decades later.

“Fintails have a rich history in rally competition especially going back to the early 60s.”

The car itself is pretty solid, and running well, so most of the effort is being directed at adding period rally equipment that will still be functional and serve our modern campaigning needs.

While we invested grueling months researching the actual competition cars and searching for the correct vintage equipment, the actual garage time is thankfully, pretty simple and rewarding. 

We searched long and hard for the right car when shopping for the Fintail, and an important trait of this particular car is its solid but bumped and bruised appearance adding to that aura of a life of competition. With that in mind the last thing we want is to bolt on a bunch of fresh shiny parts.

 

While authentic vintage fire extinguishers can be found easily enough, no respectable shop will refill them as their safety expiry will have long passed.  While we could have opted for a vintage extinguisher for the car shows, and a modern one for regular use, the thought of suffering a fire with the wrong extinguisher at hand was sobering. Instead we opted for an extinguisher with a vintage chrome appearance and modern effectiveness.  The extinguisher and extinguishing agent were carefully chosen but we will cover that in detail at another time.  With the extinguisher finally chosen the next task was mounting it securely.

 

 

 

The transmission tunnel was chosen as a mounting location for it’s accessibility to both driver and co-driver alike.   Using the seat belt attachment points rather than drilling new holes was a no-brainer.

First a cardboard mock up was made to accurately locate the seatbelt threads, and bracket holes, then it was transferred to aluminum sheet.

Cardboard, especially press board like that cereal boxes are made of is a great tool for templates.  The cardboard is stiff enough to keep shape but unlike the corrugated version, bends easily, and cut edges are clean and accurate.

Some templates for projects coming soon to the F-Bomb Studio

A large washer was used to form a radius on the ends both to protect the carpet, and for a cleaner appearance.  The aluminium was cut with a fine blade jig saw, and cleaned up with a drum sander on a die grinder.  

A step drill makes drilling various sizes quick and simple

While simple rivets connect the mounting strap to the extinguisher mount, we felt that the connection needed to be more secure for occupant safety so the strap was placed over the bracket.  While this is perhaps less attractive it is hidden once the extinguisher is in place, regardless function first on a ‘race’ car.

The stickers were peeled off the extinguisher as they were too painfully modern.  They may even be replaced by faux vintage stickers at a later date.  Both the extinguisher and the bracket were subjected to some forced weathering – a close look at the bracket will reveal some peeling paint and rust on it despite being brand new. Efforts to dull the bright white strap ends are planned, or they may be replaced altogether.

 

No vintage rally car is complete without some auxiliary driving lights.

For the Finnie we went with some vintage well used Cibie Super Oscars that were sourced after lengthy research.  Finding these locally, already with a convincing patina helped the decision making. As a big plus they were sold as a set of 4, so we have spares if needed (every minute the car sits in a parking lot is sheer anguish).  

As we did with the extinguisher mount, we wanted to avoid drilling any holes to mount these lights.  Using the existing bumper mounts was a no brainer here however a cardboard template had serious limitations. As such the first one made was truly a test run.

A chop saw was used to cut four lengths of steel.  Each was cut the same length for simplicity, and if a mistake was made at any point, the bracket could be flipped in hopes of salvaging the bracket.

Like we did for the extinguisher mount, a large washer was used to mark a radius – a curved end just makes for a cleaner look.   The radius was rough cut with an angle grinder and finished with a flappy wheel replacing the cutting disk.  

A couple of quick beads, and flat stock becomes a bracket.

Again with redundancy in mind each piece was rounded even though one end is hidden from view when installed.  We have been known to make mistakes…there IS after all a reason the garage is called  the        F-Bomb Studio.

 

 

Granted adding some very straight forward brackets to mount a fire extinguisher and driving lights to a Mercedes Fintail is by no means a big project , but with safety AND appearance covered, it is one with a big impact.

Here the large 7 inch driving lights can be seen in place but still awaiting support rods, and wiring.  Stay tuned to the F-Bomb Studio for more on that project.

 

© Daimler AG.

The global copyright remains the property of Daimler AG.

I want to thank Daimler AG for making the historic photos available to all enthusiasts, visit their archives for some spectacular views into their competitive past.