These 10 Taillight Designs Were Truly Ahead of Their Time

Image:  BMW
Image: BMW

If you ask me, we’re living through kind of a fallow era for taillight creativity. Oh sure — with the ubiquity of LEDs, you’d think automakers might be inspired to get more creative. Instead, they’re all doing the same car-wide strip thing now, which was novel once upon a time but has been absolutely done to death over the last handful of years. Where’s the originality? We asked you what taillights in automotive history were truly ahead of their time, and you delivered, as you always do, with a range of answers spanning decades. Some of these ought to make a comeback. Let’s get into it.

The Altezza Lights Inspired a Litany of Pretenders — For Better or Worse

Image:  Lexus
Image: Lexus

The clear taillight covers on the late 90's and early ‘aughts Toyota Altezza/Lexus IS300, from which the “Altezza” style derived it’s name. It ended up making it’s way into everything from the Impreza hatchback to the 4th gen Altima (which is actually one of my favorite interpretations of this style, despite it adorning a car the equivalent of taupe), and countless tuners during the Fast-and-Furious mod craze. I still think it looks good to this day and pairs well with any car color; especially red, when taillights can sometimes get lost amidst the paint.


Suggested by: paradsecar

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You Could Go Even Further Back, To the OG XC90

Image:  Volvo
Image: Volvo

This is going to sound weird, but I’d like to think the gen1 XC60 somewhat previewed everyone’s race toward developing those ‘frosted’ style LED taillight signatures when it came out in 2008.

Sure, there were LED taillights before, but this was the first to really make the running lights a piece of the styling; now everyone’s doing it.

Suggested by: Amoore100

The Cadillac Series 62 Could Do It All

Image:  Stephen Foskett via Wikimedia Commons
Image: Stephen Foskett via Wikimedia Commons

1962 Cadillac

Three-Phase Rear Lighting System developed by the Guide Division of General Motors for the 1962 Cadillac. These rear light clusters not only incorporated clear lenses, they were also bi-color, a novel execution that has been revisited only recently by using dual-color LED technology.

The transparent lenses on the bumper-mounted lamps emitted both white and red light, thus serving as tail, brake and reversing lamps; all transmitting light energy through a single clear lens. The secret was a concealed red glass filter enclosing the dual-filament tail and brake lamp bulb combined with a second unsheathed bulb producing white light for reversing, both contained within a common reflector housing.

And from David Flamer:

2nd on the Cadillac clear tails of the 1960's. I thought they were magical when I was growing up. Really available a short time. By 1969 they were gone. My mom’s 68 Sedan deVille had them and I took them apart to see how they worked. Simple but very smart. Others tried to copy this but not as successfully (68 Dodge Coronet is an example)

Of course, our old friend and taillight maven Jason Torchinsky covered this one some years back.

Suggested by: Knyte

There’s a Joke In Here Somewhere

Image:  Mercedes-Benz
Image: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes ribbed tail lights! It keeps the lights visible even they’re covered in snow or dirt. That is brilliant!

Not kidding, I had no idea this was the purpose of this design. The trick is that the recessed portions in the plastic wouldn’t pick up snow or dirt as easily.

Suggested by: YellowFlash

Still Sobbing Over the Last Saab

Image:  General Motors
Image: General Motors

2011 Saab 9-5 obviously


I came here to say this as well. LED lightbar across the entire trunk? In 2011?!? Saab was too pretty to die. Thanks, GM.

Suggested by: Nick

A Good Thing About Edsel

Image:  Redsimon via Wikimedia Commons
Image: Redsimon via Wikimedia Commons

The Edsel. It is the first car I can think of that encompassed two pieces of body panel (quarter & truck) with the look of one lens. Very popular now, but in the 50's, they were mostly vertical, or sometimes weirdly, in the bumper.

Suggested by: drock87

Sequential Style

Image:  Ford
Image: Ford

Late 60's Mercury Cougar with those sweet sequential turn signals that are now commonplace on mustangs.

As other commenters noted, these also appeared on the Thunderbird a few years earlier. But klone121 called attention to the metal grille over the Cougar’s lights, which makes them better.

Suggested by: klone121

One Heckin’ Blende

Image:  Ford
Image: Ford

I had a passed down 1998 Lincoln Mark VIII in college and the neon rear bar was (and still) great looking. Now cars are going back to the lightbars like we had on many in the 80's as well.

Suggested by: langadamd

More Final-Gen Celica Love Please

Image:  Toyota
Image: Toyota

7th gen Celica taillights. Compact, distinct, and probably helped lower manufacturing costs (the liftgate is nice and square, requiring no cutouts for the light, and no additional lighty/reflective bits)

Suggested by: dhj

Why Isn’t Anyone Trying This Now?

Image:  Stellantis
Image: Stellantis

Maserati Khamsin mounted in the glass. Except for US market versions. I won’t post that atrocity.

Meanwhile in North America...

Suggested by: GodDamnTheseElectricSexPants

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