Question of the Weekend – What is the best Tail Lamp Design?


I haven’t had a Question of the Weekend for some time now, and I thought it was time to bring it back. I was thinking a lot about rear lamps on cars recently, as I almost ran into a car without any lamp illumination recently. With this incident, my thought process centered all about tail lamp design, and which design property is the best.


Tail Lamps – they are a necessary design evil to warn the car behind you that your are braking, or you are signaling your intent to turn. Some of the designs have been successful, while others are quite horrible. And the designers either try to accentuate them, or hide them completely.

American car makers seem to be stuck on all red tail lamps, with the units doing double duty as turn signal indicators and stop lamps. The European and Asian makers use an amber turn signal indicator separate from the stop indicators, or at least they used to. Tail Lamps are undergoing a design evolution currently, with LEDs as the preferred style now.

The question is this: What would you say is the best Tail Lamp design, and why do you think it is? Remember, if you are posting pictures, make sure your width=500.

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  1. Maxichamp Avatar

    Maserati Boomerang.

    1. skitter Avatar
      skitter

      Simple rounds aside, that would be in my top five along with the Porsche and NSX light bars:
      <img src="http://i615.photobucket.com/albums/tt237/jskitter/hooniverse/LightBars.jpg&quot; width="500">
      Variations on the Aston Martin cutouts:
      <img src="http://i615.photobucket.com/albums/tt237/jskitter/hooniverse/One-77.jpg"&gt;
      And the CTS Wagon's light stems:
      <img src="http://i615.photobucket.com/albums/tt237/jskitter/hooniverse/CadillacCTS-V.jpg&quot; width="500">

  2. ChuckyShamrok Avatar
    ChuckyShamrok

    well, I know I HATE the LED tail lights. with the blinker, Brake and Headlight on(as in, behing behind another motorist while he's trying to take a left turn at night) the damn things blind you.

  3. $kaycog Avatar
    $kaycog

    Sequential tail lights would get my attention quicker. (And they're pretty). [youtube IdPD8KLPmPc http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdPD8KLPmPc youtube]

    1. Van Sarockin Avatar
      Van Sarockin

      No question at all.
      The judges would also have accepted sequential T-Bird tail lights.

      1. $kaycog Avatar
        $kaycog

        Now you tell me! I almost posted a pic of a vintage tail light that said 'eff you', but I chickened out.

      2. west_coaster Avatar
        west_coaster

        Not to mention '67-68 Shelby GT350/500.

        1. vwminispeedster Avatar
          vwminispeedster

          and the current Ford Mustangs. I would get one over a Camaro just for that.

  4. BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ Avatar
    BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ
  5. Jeff Avatar
    Jeff

    No love for the '59 Eldorado lamps?
    http://images.veer.com/IMG/PIMG/TSP/TSP0000448_P….

  6. TurboBrick Avatar
    TurboBrick

    I'm a sucker for all of those early 60's space ship designs like these on the 1963 Ford Thunderbird. Beautiful, but not very practical:
    <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3014/2953775836_44a0393cbd_z.jpg&quot; width="500/">
    If we have to be grownups about it, and take things like "visibility" into account, then the Volvo 850/V70 series station wagon lights.
    <img src="http://www.vandsautodismantlers.com/new_arrivals/320×240/090350_pr.jpg"&gt;

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      Mega Thumbs Up on the slope-back Vette!

    2. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
      Peter Tanshanomi

      I love how the space-ship look was transmutated on the late Galaxy 500s from round to nearly square, but still spacey.
      <img src="http://www.pictures.musclecarjungle.com/d/2599-3/1966-ford-galaxie-500-taillight.jpg&quot; width="500">

  7. njhoon Avatar
    njhoon

    There are two that I like.
    Exhibit A) 66 Grand Prix
    <img src="http://www.classicautoair.com/thumbs/cars/gm/grandprix/66grandprix/66grandprixrear.jpg&quot; width="500">
    and Exhibit B) The TVR Sagaris because it is bat poop crazy
    <img src="http://pinje.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/tvr-sagaris-back-3_87.jpg&quot; width="500">

    1. Smells_Homeless Avatar
      Smells_Homeless

      I came here to make sure the 66 GP was represented. Well done.
      /The 67 Pontiac boomerangs are prettier than the TVR's, BTW.

    1. west_coaster Avatar
      west_coaster

      Bravo on the T-Bird. The instant I saw the question, the first thought that went through my head was "1966 Thunderbird." Then, "1966 Charger."

  8. citroen67 Avatar

    Simple in design, but both examples are probably the most recognizable tail lights in truck history. For that, they are the best two designs that I can think of.
    <img src="http://image.truckinweb.com/f/8111045 w750 st0/0513_02z 1968_chevrolet_pickup rear_side_view.jpg width=600">
    <img src=http://image.fourwheeler.com/f/9280702+w750+st0/129_0706_07_z+1990_chevy_k5_blazer+rear_view.jpg width=600">

  9. fede6882 Avatar
    fede6882

    Facel Vega
    <img src="http://www.berlin-classics.de/images/FacelVegaHK500-B.jpg&quot; width="500">
    and the cadillac cts coupe, that is kind of like the facel
    and of course,
    <img src="http://www.autodrome-paris.com/288_gto_1985.jpg&quot; width="500">
    (i think it's impossible for anybody not to love the sight of the gearbox there…)

  10. facelvega Avatar
    facelvega

    On the minimalist front, the Studebaker Lark Daytona Wagonaire. Those little chrome details at the beltline? That's them. Maximalist: Dick Teague's AMX2.
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/e/ee/Studewagonaire63.jpg"&gt;
    <img src="http://www.lotusespritturbo.com/Amx_2.jpg&quot; width="600">

  11. jjd241 Avatar

    I'm surprised no one has gone olde school yet…
    <img src="http://www.mtfca.com/discus/messages/118802/119371.jpg&quot; width="400">

  12. Kris Avatar
    Kris

    Kaiser Manhattan (53-up). No mistaking those lights.
    [img ]http://my.stratos.net/~jimkf/rear.jpg[/img]

    1. Kris Avatar
      Kris

      And by that I mean:
      [img ]http://my.stratos.net/~jimkf/rear.jpg[/img]

    1. ChuckyShamrok Avatar
      ChuckyShamrok

      Let me fix that for you
      <img src="http://my.stratos.net/%7Ejimkf/rear.jpg"&gt;

      1. Kris Avatar
        Kris

        Many thanks, good sir. Mastering the many mysteries of the Internet is a skill that will forever evade me.

  13. Kris Avatar
    Kris

    Good god!
    [img] http://my.stratos.net/~jimkf/rear.jpg [/img]

  14. RichardKopf Avatar
    RichardKopf

    I love the tail lights on a Saab 900. The pre-GM ones. Second gen Jettas are nice, too. As a kid, I loved the tail lights on Plymouth Volares and Aspens. No idea why, but I thought they were cool, as were the tail lights on the `80s C/D Body Sedan DeVilles/Fleetwoods.

  15. Black Steelies Avatar

    By about 1962 Cadillac started to get tailfins RIGHT. Very sleek and I prefer them to the bullets.
    <img src="http://de.academic.ru/pictures/dewiki/49/1962_Cadillac_Series_62_Convertible.jpg&quot; width=600">

  16. Black Steelies Avatar

    My grandparents' had a New Yorker way back when and my mom said she wised it had the cool translucent lenses instead of its regular ole red ones.
    <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2610/4128250440_dc4959cb52_z.jpg?zz=1"&gt;

    1. tonyola Avatar
      tonyola

      Only the early '65 New Yorkers had the silver lenses. Apparently the defect rate from the supplier was so high that Chrysler gave up and went back to red lenses.

  17. rt_pittman Avatar
    rt_pittman

    The '61 Dodge taillights were designed to be seen from the side and rear simultaneously at the same time.
    http://www.moparts.org/moparts/picture/oldweb/4fo

    1. jeremy![™] Avatar

      damn, i did not even know dodges looked like that at one point.
      nice.

  18. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
    mr. mzs zsm msz esq

    Probably the 1952 Volvo PV444 tailights. I like amber turn signals that are separated from the tail lamps by some distance. I can't think of another car that go this quite like this, though maybe some more red reflector would have been nice.
    <img src="http://a6.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/200617_629703941120_2912893_34893217_4383077_n.jpg&quot; width="500">

    1. tonyola Avatar
      tonyola

      It wasn't unusual for 1940s cars to have widely separated lights. On this 1949 Chrysler, the regular taillights were on the fender pods but the stop and backup lights were near the license plate.
      <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2733/4540803066_51775bcc32.jpg&quot; width="500/">
      Also check out this 1947 Buick. The stop light is on the trunk lid.
      <img src="http://californiaclassix.com/images3/c351-rear-remote.jpg&quot; width="500/">

  19. CptSevere Avatar

    '56 Cadillac. Simple and classy, and the left taillight flips up to reveal the gas cap. Hardly anybody knows this, so your gas will never be siphoned.
    <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3573/3658380626_47f027ab55.jpg"&gt;
    (found on Flickr via Google)

    1. west_coaster Avatar
      west_coaster

      Ah yes, because it's a great idea to have an electrical connection right near where gas fumes are wafting up! 🙂

    2. longrooffan Avatar

      I guess I'm in another minority.

  20. longrooffan Avatar

    Tail lights are sweet!! I can't wait for the Headlights post.
    <img src="https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/-FGT5zwKXM94/TYVd1EfHa-I/AAAAAAAAO_k/E9DH3u_DZjQ/s1600/carcrazy_rad6A75_large.jpg&quot; width=600 end>

  21. From_a_Buick_6 Avatar
    From_a_Buick_6

    Any Impala from '60-'65. Instantly recognizable and a middle class status symbol.
    <img src="http://www.misterw.com/Chevrolet/64Chev2Dr10.jpg&quot; width="600">

  22. tonyola Avatar
    tonyola

    Here's a really odd but cool taillight treatment from a 1961 Meteor – a Canada-only variation of the '61 Ford.
    <img src="http://i56.tinypic.com/6fpn2r.jpg&quot; width="500/">
    The US Ford for comparison.
    <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2160/3540728964_27c92fe20c.jpg&quot; width="500/">

    1. Mad_Hungarian Avatar
      Mad_Hungarian

      I have to wonder, looking at that Meteor, if any preliminary sketches of a '61 Edsel design had been made at Ford Styling before the plug was pulled on Edsel. Because that sure looks a lot like what you would get if you set about to design an Edsel off the '61 Ford body.

      1. tonyola Avatar
        tonyola

        Hard to say. The front styling of the 1961 Meteor was even odder than the rear, but it wasn't very Edsel-like.
        <img src="http://farm1.static.flickr.com/124/341356987_09b53f5b0e_z.jpg?zz=1&quot; width=500>

        1. Mad_Hungarian Avatar
          Mad_Hungarian

          hmmm, actually, on the other hand, that could be what you end up with if you took a design intended for Edsel with a strong central theme, and replaced the central styling element with that very horizontal piece in the middle that doesn't quite seem to match the rest of the grille . . .

  23. OA5599 Avatar
    OA5599

    Late 70's Trans Am with the blackout treatment.
    <img src="http://www.collectormotors.com/77ta/16.jpg&quot; width=500>
    People used to put silhouette messages inside the lenses, but I haven't seen that done recently.

      1. skitter Avatar
        skitter

        I see the S-Type that should have been and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

  24. owlman Avatar
    owlman

    Original Mk 1 E-Type – XKE to some of you
    Alfa Brera
    Fiat Bravo first generation – and Fiat Coupe too

  25. Johnny Dixon Avatar
    Johnny Dixon

    I prefer the simplicity of just two round brake lights. It even works on early post war cars like this Austin Healey 100 BN1. http://bringatrailer.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/

  26. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    This is the most awesome tail light design in the world.
    Why? Because I designed it. (Really!)
    <img src="http://www.petersoneurope.co.uk/products/images_products/oval/1223a_r.jpg"&gt;

    1. coupeZ600 Avatar
      coupeZ600

      That is really, really, cool.
      Just as a side note, a lot of trucking companies that went over to the L.E.D.'s as a higher vis/longer-life cost-cutting measure have started going back to incandescents, because the little rubber grommet-thingie that made the failure-prone incandescents easy to change also made the L.E.D.'s very easy to steal and therefore really expensive to replace.
      Nobody is going to risk getting their head caved in for a three-dollar incandescent that nobody really wants anyway, but a couple of $40 L.E.D.'s might just get that crack-head his next fix for only a few seconds work.

      1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
        Peter Tanshanomi

        That's why the company I work for sells a lot of flange mount LED lights that get riveted on with theft-deterrent stainless-steel rings.

        1. coupeZ600 Avatar
          coupeZ600

          I've seen those for the round but never noticed them for the ovals, but it makes sense that if you don't need to change them that often you'd be able to rivet a cover on. Can you drill the rivet holes into the existing housing, or do you need to drill into the truck/trailer/whatever?

          1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
            Peter Tanshanomi

            The flange mount lights already attach to the vehicle with screws or rivets. The anti-theft ring is just a steel plate that covers the plastic and makes it harder to pry it off.
            <img src="http://www.tanshanomi.com/temp/oval-flange-w-antitheft-bezel.jpg"&gt;

  27. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    I also dig the Mustang II's taillights. And no, I'm not trying to be ironic.
    <img src="http://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/12/2007/11/medium_76_Mustang_Taillight.jpg"&gt;

    1. ZomBee Racer Avatar

      Always been a fan of them myself. (And secretly like the rest of the car too, but don't tell no one)

      1. coupeZ600 Avatar
        coupeZ600

        (me too….)

  28. The Dude Avatar
    The Dude

    Not trying to be a Ferrari fanboy, but I have always liked the 'exposed' look of the Enzo's taillights.
    (I don't know how to post a pic, so here's the link)
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/imagetaker1/36873842

    1. longrooffan Avatar

      I clicked through and recognized that I had seen one of these busted at the Rolex24 practice in January.
      <img src="http://hooniverse.info/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/1-0251.jpg&quot; width=600 end>
      Not sure if it's an Enzo or not but a very similar design.

  29. smokyburnout Avatar
    smokyburnout

    Thought I posted this last night…
    You didn't specify brake lights, so these count.
    <img src="http://assets.autopendium.com/photo_images/4139/Citroen_Rear_Tail_light_roof_001_large.jpg"/&gt;

    1. longrooffan Avatar

      Citroen DS series FTW!!

  30. dukeisduke Avatar
    dukeisduke

    The '64 Grand Prix (I had one). Taillights behind chrome, and the backup lights on the end (where the taillights were on the other full-size '64s).
    <img src="IMAGE URL" width="600">
    <img src="http://www.markeeautosales.com/ebay/64grandprix/images/64grandprix05.jpg"&gt;

  31. Lotte Avatar
    Lotte

    The light bars on the Dodge Challenger are definitely a defining element on these cars' rears:
    <img src="http://image.moparmusclemagazine.com/f/9346184/mopp_0701_3_z+1970_dodge_challenger_dean_skuza+rear.jpg&quot; width="500">
    But the most intriguing are the ones on the Range Rovers; it's laid out amber-on-red but the brake lamps light up red on the amber lens, and if I remember correctly the flashers are the red ones, yet they light up orange. So confusing!…
    <img src="http://image.motortrend.com/f/2003_land_rover_range_rover/2309430634646708421+ppromo_mt_large/tail_light.jpg&quot; width="200">

    1. smokyburnout Avatar
      smokyburnout

      If you want confusing Land Rover tallights, look not further than the Freelander. The brake lights are the ones in the bumpers… Why?!
      <img src="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_rpYRP2RD_04/TEi2G-7AbvI/AAAAAAAAA8c/iw4g43txNdY/s1600/freelander2.jpg"/&gt;

      1. Lotte Avatar
        Lotte

        Funny you mention that; had a new Infiniti EX35 back out of a driveway at me nonchalantly. But actually, his signals were on, they were just in the bumper. Took me about as long to see them as saying "assho…"
        Also, this seems like a topic for Encyclopaedia Hoonatica…

    2. OA5599 Avatar
      OA5599

      The D-O-D-G-E on the reverse light was the first use of lettering on a lens.

  32. ptschett Avatar
    ptschett

    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7a/Chrysler_Imperial_Crown_Cabrio_1962_2.jpg&quot; width="500"/>
    '62 Imperial. They probably aren't great at their function, but man they look cool.

    1. Lou Hall Avatar
      Lou Hall

      You beat me to it, my first car was a 62 Imperial Crown and I'll never forget what it was like to have other cars DIVE out of my way when they seen me coming 😉

  33. tonyola Avatar
    tonyola

    Duesenberg's illuminated "STOP" light.
    <img src="http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1303/616781363_5a4957b36c.jpg&quot; width=500>

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