- A Frenched headlight '49 Mercury Kustom. Photo Courtesy of: The Hot Rod Network

Terms from the Garage: Frenched

An explanation of a much used custom car phrase.

Frenching or molding a headlight, tail light, parking light, license plate even antenna into a cars body is one of the oldest custom touches a car can have done to it. When, where and by who the term French was applied to the process is much debated, but not really all that important to understanding what is happening.


Above we see that the headlight rings and headlight housings are removed from the fender. Then a series of rings are welded to the fender in order to build the headlight out from the car. Once the desired profile is achieved, plastic body filler is used to smooth the whole area. The headlight bucket is placed back in the correct area from the rear. A stainless or chrome ring is sometimes added to the inside of the headlight opening. Note: Before plastic body filler was invented lead was used instead. That is how custom cars got the nickname Lead Sled.

Tail lights:

Above: (left) the Frenched tail lights in a Shoebox Ford (center) the Frenched tail lights in a '47 Mercury (right) the Frenched tail lights of a '48 Chevy

The tail light assemblies are removed from the car. Instead of building up metal on the exterior of the car, the area where the tail light ring contacted the car is cut away. This allows the tail light ring to be pushed back or down in the cars body or fender until it's level with the panel or recessed deeper into the panel. Once a level is decided on a new tail light housing is made, or additional material is added to the old housing. Once this is worked out a drain hole is drilled into the newly made housing. This insures water doesn't pool in the tail light causing a wire short and eventual rust forming in the assembly. The tail light housing is then reworked so that there is no need to remove the tail light ring to change the bulb out.

License Plates & Antennas:

Traditionally licenses plates were usually Frenched or recessed by cutting a hole a little larger than the licenses plate in the trunk lid or lower valance panel of a car. A shallow box is made the same size as the hole that's been cut. The box is then welded or leaded into the back side of the panel. Drain holes were often included in this as well. This isn't a modification you see many people performing today as it requires you to cut a large hole into a often hard to find part of a car.

Antennas were Frenched by cutting a hole that was the same diameter of a old steering column. A portion of the steering column exterior cover was then put up from the bottom and welded to the underside of the car body. The bottom of the shaft was capped with metal and a hole was drilled in it to attach the antenna. A drain hole was a must with this custom touch. This is also another custom modification you do not see people performing on cars that much anymore. It's not really that destructive as far as custom modification goes, but it is considered a dated thing to do. Plus, old steering column covers are getting expensive!

Brian Everett's Custom '40 Mercury Coupe. Photo Courtesy of: Kustomrama.com

Brian Everett's Custom '40 Mercury Coupe. Photo Courtesy of: Kustomrama.com

In order for Customs to stay around, there will have to be 11 people who care about Hot Rods. You see, after 10 of them build a Hot Rod that 11th goofball will build a Custom, just to be different!

Dig those crazy headlights!

Think this is all crazy! Think it's all crazy, in a good way? Wish people would stop messing with obviously perfect designs? Have a Custom/Hot Rod term you'd like defined? Tell us all about it in the comments below! And REMEMBER! I'm here to remind you that being a different goofball is a good thing. Oh and to remind everyone, even the squares, they need to Keep on Cruisin'!

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Comments (6)

  • You learn something new every day. Frenching. I know the actual panel shaping and material cutting for pressing is called Lofting (and is a highly specialised form of mathematical torture), but I have never heard the term Frenching. Thank you for that.

      2 years ago
  • I just know it looks good, but now I know what it's called! Shared to the D_TRB USA facebook page Chris!

      2 years ago
  • I've never seen Frenched taillights in person. Those you showed looked great.

      2 years ago