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'Halo lights' woo car customizers


IRVINE, Calif. — Like lurking tigers peeking through the darkness, more muscle cars are getting their own sets of piercing eyes.

In this case, the halo-like glow emanates from colored LED lights that rim their headlights like irises surrounding black pupils.

At a recent Dodge and Chrysler car gathering on an abandoned airstrip here, owners treated these so-called halo lights as automotive must-haves for those who want to turn heads.

“It’s for the show,” said Jason Vita of Canoga Park, Calif., showing off the glowering green halo lights around the headlights that matched his lime-colored, tricked-out Dodge Charger. He had a prime display spot at the Spring Festival of LX’s, a reference to Chrysler’s code-name for its big rear-wheel-drive cars, including the Charger, Dodge Challenger and Chrysler 300 and the discontinued Dodge Magnum.

The lights sell for as little as about $200 a set, but Vita says installation can be difficult in some cars. He says he charges about $1,000 “and I still wonder if I’m doing it too cheap.”

The popularity of the lights among owners fixing up their Magnum wagons or Chevrolet Camaros is another example of how car customization crazes continue to take hold. Like the bold body graphics or spinner wheels of the past, all it takes is for one owner to show up with something new at a rally and others soon follow.

Automakers aren’t missing the trend. BMW has had a white-light version of the halo light effect on many models for years. And Audi has made a brand signature out of an LED-bulb swish of lights like eyebrows on its headlight pods.

When Chrysler officials pulled customizers aside at the meet to hear ideas for future generations of the Challenger or 300, several mentioned halo lights, says Chrysler marketing executive Bruce Velisek.

Some colors may attract tickets

But there are legal issues. Amber (the color of turn signals) or white ones are legal. But cooler hues — the ones most popular at the meet — might be illegal in jurisdictions that restrict lighting other than amber or white on the front end.

Still, customizers are flocking to them as a way to stand out where auto fans gather. “Every city pretty much has that Friday night spot where everybody goes,” says Justin Hartenstein, product development director for Oracle Lighting Technology, one of the manufacturers. Muscle-car drivers “go into the parking lot and flip on the halos,” then watch as the crowd gathers.

He says Oracle, part of AAC Enterprises of Metarie, La., started in a garage and was almost wiped out by Hurricane Katrina.

Although it carries many kinds of auto lights, halos remain the big sellers. “Halos are what we’re known for,” he says.

Hartenstein says Oracle’s kits are designed for do-it-yourselfers and come in single colors or a rainbow of continuously changing colors.

While the lights have proved most popular with owners of big, powerful cars with round headlights and sinister-looking front-ends such as Chrysler LX vehicles and the Chevrolet Camaro, his company makes them for other brands — from the modestly priced Toyota Scion tC coupe to the plush, pricey Bentley Flying Spur.

Car parts business thrives on fads

The trend is just the kind of fad that drives business for the car-customizing industry.

“It does play a dual role of form and function,” says Peter MacGillivray, vice president of the Specialty Equipment Market Association, a trade group for aftermarket parts makers. “These clearly have that sex appeal.”

A SEMA study has found that more than a million car buyers a year are influenced in their purchase choice by how they plan to customize it — from aftermarket audio to racing tires.

Lights certainly fit into that. “Clearly it is something that is unique,” MacGillivray says.

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