If your taillights are looking pretty bad, it might be time to spruce them up. Here’s a how to step-by-step process you may wish to use to clean them up. This will also work on 1969-1970 taillights. The Eliminator and GT-E models do not have the chrome edges on the vertical grilles, so you save a step. They were all satin black. You can tell if the tail lights look in need of care if the black has worn off the chromed vertical grill portion, and the red tail light lens looks dull.
First thing to check is the condition of the chrome on the vertical grille. If it is dull, pitted, or peeling, you may wish to have it rechromed or find another tail light grill to use. If the chrome looks good to great, start by ordering a tail light housing seal kit and tail light lens gasket kit from an advertiser who supports SSCC. Next, you will begin by unfastening the taillights from the car from inside the trunk. Remove the light bulb housing carefully from the fixture first. It is heavy, so carefully remove each one.
You will want to separate the grilles from the housing by unscrewing the grilles (small hex shaped nuts). Keep all the parts in a safe place for later reassembly. When you are ready, carefully, and gently separate the red lens from the housing. Most likely, it will be stuck from many years of gunk and weather and heat. Take a flat head screwdriver, and work it at the ends, then the middle, gently working it under the seal. Take your time, not to rush, or you may crack the red tail light lens. You want it to pop off. Once it is separated, you may proceed once you have stored the red lens carefully after washing with soapy water and a nylon scrub brush.
After you have removed them, you will wish to remove the rubber gaskets on the rear side and around all the light bulbs, which seal out moisture.
Lightly sand the black front edges of the fixture with fine sand paper. This outside edge will get painted with satin Black. Krylon satin black works great.
Mask off the silver part of the fixture to keep the black where it belongs. After that has dried, remask the silver area. Do not spray where the tail light lens gasket will sit (on the flat 3/8 edge) next to the silver.
The difference in how bright your tail lights are depends on bulb intensity, and how dull the reflective surface is under the red taillight. You can see how many years of dust and dirt accumulate. Wash with soapy water and allow to dry. When dry, check to see if the silver is chipping or not. If chipping, lightly sand with fine sandpaper. A can of silver chrome spray paint will work perfectly. Look at the lower housing compared to the top housing above.
Apply 3M or similar weather stripping adhesive and begin reapplying the new seals (4) around the bulbs, and the perimeter seal. Work the perimeter seal around, and cut the length to fit and butt the starting point of the seal. Do not overlap. This rubber seal keeps water from getting down behind the housing.
This shows where to place the weather-stripping adhesive, which holds the tail light lens gasket in place.
Place the gasket around the perimeter of the housing into the weather strip adhesive. Line up the gasket tabs with the places on the housing. Keep the gasket inside the small lip that acts as a retainer for this.
After washing and fully drying the chrome grille, mask off the small chrome area where the license plate bulbs illuminate the tag. Now, you are ready to spray it Satin Black with Krylon spray paint. Gloss black is too shiny, and matte black looks oxidized. Be certain to make sure that you cover all angles of the grilles when you spray paint. Let dry for about 20 minutes, or longer if the temperatures are cooler.
You may also carefully wipe Vaseline on the edges only of the vertical part of the grill. I have a method I prefer. Buy some steel wool, regular wool. It works better than extra fine steel wool. Using the tip of your finger, wipe the steel wool over the tips of the grilles, avoiding the sides of the grilles. This will remove the black off the chrome. If it does not take it all of, you may change to fine steel wool, which is easier to hold. The 1969-1970 tail light grilles are much easier to do than the 67-68, which are fatter grilles.
The effect is to duplicate what the factory intended sent off the assembly lines. Notice the separation of color between the chrome and black. If you rub off too much black, then mask off a section, and respray. Let dry, and begin again.
After polishing the red tail light lens with plastic lens polish (Eastwoods makes a fabulous one!), you are ready to insert the red lens into the grille, and align it back to the housing. I used Wenol polish on my lens, and it seems to work well, and I have heard toothpaste polishes plastic well. After it is aligned, turn it over on a soft cloth (do not scratch!), and begin fastening the nuts that hold the grille in place. Do this carefully! You are pulling 30+ year red plastic in to a new spongy bed, and it must be done like you would tighten a car tire, carefully tightening end to end, side to side, a little at a time.
Now that you finished this, you are ready to begin fastening the taillights up to your Cougar. Of course it would have been easier to look at faded flat black with chrome on the side of the vertical grille, but then, look at all the fun you would have missed undertaking this project. The grilles on the 67-68s are more the challenge. The sides of the grille fins are painted argent silver, the tips, chrome.
To clean them up perfectly, only separating the chrome from the pot metal is the answer. Cannot be done without grinding off the stamped welds. That, dear readers, is another involved story to be written.