Trick Your (1970) Pickup Truck

[Dave] wanted an old pickup, and he found a GMC Sierra Grande truck vintage 1970. While it had an unusual amount of options, there weren’t that many high-tech options over 50 years ago. The five-year-long restoration work was impressive, as you can see in the video below, but we were really interested in the electronics part. As [Dave] mentions, the truck was made when the Saturn V was taking people to the moon, but after his modifications, the truck has a lot more computing power than the famous rocket.

He was concerned that the taillights were not up to modern standards and that it would be too easy for someone using their cell phone to plow into the rear of the truck. So he broke out an ESP32 and some LEDs and made an attractive brake light that would have been a high-tech marvel in 1970.

The biggest problem was not significantly modifying the truck. The tailgate conceals an LED strip and the rest of the gear attaches to the trailer connector. By the end of the project, the truck will have a full-width brake light, special turn signals, and a bright white backup light.

If you read Hackaday, you can probably figure out how the project works. But it is a great implementation and a very good adaptation to a vintage vehicle. If you aren’t a car person, there is an obligatory appearance of a TRS-80 computer towards the end.

We’ve seen many projects like this for bicycles. Before you tell us that you can blink taillights with a 555, we’ll mention that we know that.

24 thoughts on “Trick Your (1970) Pickup Truck

    1. Gorgeous truck, it was perfect since the day it came off the line in Detroit. It doesn’t need LEDs. Leave it alone, they don’t make sculpture like this anymore. Great interior, that has to be custom and it’s a good job. Didn’t lift nothing and left the good old hubcaps on it instead of going for awful big alloy rims, i appreciate that. At least the LEDs are discreet and simple.

      There was once a time in the life of everyone I’ve known when a truck like that was like a vehement chariot on the hilltop, you’d see one at every swimming hole with young people draped all over it like Dionysos and his followers. She could have been an idol or an oracle. You can’t know what feelings have been felt in that cab.

  1. Sweet truck.

    But I don’t like LED tail lights, although I do appreciate that he used a fade bring them on and off. I feel most modern cars with LED tail lights are a bit harsh, coming on to full brightness instantly, then instantly off, is a bit hard on the eyes on a dark night.

    1. The brightness can be addressed, but the instant on is a feature, not a bug! This came up from a college website:

      Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) illuminate 200 milliseconds faster than incandescent bulbs – For an automobile this means a faster braking distance response time, about a full car length of extra stopping distance at 65 MPH.

      1. Agreed on the instant-on being a feature.
        I got wary and tired of Detroit tailgaters, so put in a pair of LARGE custom-made high-intensity narrow-beam LED panels in my sedan’s rear window. They were wired in parallel with the (tungsten) brake lights, but had a boost circuit that drove them a 4x normal current (12 amps) for 100 milliseconds, before dropping down to sane drive levels. For those 100 milliseconds they put out more lumens than the headlights.
        Following cars were VERY prompt at applying their own brakes when I used mine.

        I did check the regs before doing it: It was legal. Had them for several years, never got questioned about them. Now, new car, new city, don’t need them.

        1. I am curious which “regs” stay it’s legal to make you tail lights brighter than headlights as long as it’s only 100 ms?

          Did you turn it off when you are not being tailgated? Or are you just a major problem for all drivers…

          1. I knew an idiot in college that thought it was fun to run from the police.

            He put a light airplane landing spotlight in the back window or his car. First time he used it, the cops were waiting for him when he got home. Rural area, it was all fun and games, until he tried to kill them. Beat his ass, then wrote a book of tickets. They really didn’t like being blinded going 100mph. He was a full idiot.

      2. I agree that 200 milliseconds extra braking time is a good thing. But if the person behind you is dazzled, or has taken to putting their hand up to shade their eyes and protect their night-vision, from your instant on at full brightness LEDs, then you are loosing any safety you gained from the extra time….

        LED brake lights have been around for a while, and (ignoring the people customizing their lights to be bright….) it only seems to be recent model years have this super brightness problem.

        Also, you could have instant on at 50% brightness, then ramp up over the next 200ms (or what ever makes sense) to full brightness.

        Anyway, a quick “LED brake lights too bright” search shows a number of articles on this, some complaining of possible eye sight damage. So I’m not alone here.

  2. “As [Dave] mentions, the truck was made when the Saturn V was taking people to the moon, but after his modifications, the truck has a lot more computing power than the famous rocket.”

    Removed core memory.

  3. CHMSL. I learned this when I trained to be an ASE technician. Center High Mount Stop Lamp. Most drivers wait to see that. I hope he made those LED Addressable. AND diffused them better.

  4. I remember riding with my dad in a few trucks of that vintage he borrowed from time to time. I remember hearing the gasoline sloshing around in the tank behind the driver’s seat. Even at my young age I remember thinking that was a terrible idea.

    1. Gas tank positioning will always be a problem. If you put it at either end of the car, it’s more vulnerable in collisions and thereby a risk of explosion or fire. If the body of the car is used to protect the gas tank, that puts it near passengers.

  5. I have absolutly no use of this, but I want one, too. :-)

    However the problem with developing electronic for cars is not to make something shiny and blinking. It is to made something that can survive in automitive enviroment with ugly power supply, high vibration, moisture and huge temperature difference.


  6. Just because you CAN put a strip of lights under the tailgate doesn’t mean you SHOULD. This practice absolutely ruins the aesthetics. Worse, if you use the truck for truck things, it will be broken and buck-toothed in no time. Hard pass.

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