In the Taillight Subculture, side marker lamp fetishists, commonly known as Markies or, sometimes Posties, after the late Night Court castmember Markie Post, are usually treated as second-class citizens. Personally, I think this is unfair, as I’ve often defended side marker lighting as the unsung hero of automotive lighting, and it’s also the form of automotive lighting that bridges both the front and rear of a car, bringing together the Headlamp Community, the Indicator Alliance, and the Taillight Subculture. I realize that most automotive websites avoid writing about side marker lamps out of fear of reprisals from the various special-interest automotive lighting factions, but here at the Autopian, we write without fear. That’s why I’d like to highlight an unexpected hero of the side marker world: Jeep.
Just in case you’ve misplaced your copy of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 108 or SAE Standard J592e or your tattoo of either of these texts has become blurred, scarred, or otherwise illegible, let me remind you about what America requires regarding side marker lighting of cars.
I’ll just paraphrase, to keep things simple: Starting in 1968, cars were required to have either lights or reflectors at either end of the sides of the car, amber for the front, and red for the rear. This would be updated in 1970 to require both lights and reflectors.
If you’re still not convinced of the utility of visibly marking the sides of cars, perhaps you’ll listen to what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said about them in a July 1983 report:
The objective of side marker lamps is to make a vehicle visible from the side to drivers of other vehicles, at night or at other times when there is reduced-visibility including dawn and dusk [sl, p. 5-13]. The advance warning provided by the lamps has the potential to enable drivers to avoid a collision when approaching one another at an angle, at night. The purpose of locating the lamps as close to the ends of the vehicle as possible is to reveal its length; the purpose of making the front lamp amber and the rear lamp red is to reveal the vehicle’s direction of travel.
Mmmm. It’s like poetry, isn’t it?
Early side marker lamps were often small and quite stylish, like the legendary Firebird marker lamps used by Pontiac in 1969:
This marker lamp is still discussed with hushed tones of reverence in the Markie community, and justly so. As I mentioned earlier, by 1970, the rules were revised so that both lights and reflectors were required at each end. Markies generally don’t discriminate between the types of side marking, and while the self-illuminating variety tend to be better known (and are technically the only type to deserve being described as “lights”) the reflector-based solutions are important as well, and are specifically what I’d like to focus on now.
Here’s what I’d like to show you:
See that? That’s a Jeep CJ-5. According to Jeep themselves, it’s a 1965 Jeep CJ-5, but I’m not sure if I think that’s entirely accurate – or, if this is a 1965, it’s been updated to have front side marker lamps in the fender that seem to have been introduced in 1970.
From what I can tell, for front side marking, Jeep started in 1969 with reflectors mounted to the sides of the hood, like this:
While that’s undeniably fascinating, it’s not what I really want to talk about. I want to talk about the rear side marker reflector, this one right here:
Okay, everyone just take a moment to breathe. Stay calm. I understand how you’re feeling: a mix of excitement, wonder, and perhaps a touch of arousal. This is all normal. But we have to focus.
Yes, the red rear marker reflector is mounted in the center of the side-mounted spare tire, and the vinyl cover of that spare tire has a little cut-out just to showcase and expose that reflector. In some ways, you could consider that whole wheel, tire, and vinyl cover as the largest side marker reflector bezel ever produced by human hands. In fact, taken as a whole, this CJ-5 has the largest rear side marker reflector of any car of any kind, ever.
This unique marker reflector solution becomes even more interesting because a little bit of research shows that, somehow, Jeep has been an unsung pioneer of red rear side marker reflectors, with even the earliest WWII army Jeeps featuring red rear side marker reflectors and rear-mounted versions of the same wheel-mounted red reflectors.
From what I can tell, Jeeps have been marking their sides at the rear with red reflectors since 1941, making them in all likelihood the first automobiles to have deliberate and obvious side marker hardware of any kind!
Jeeps are hardly rare and are some of the best-recognized vehicles of all time, so the fact that they haven’t been singled out for this important milestone is a bit baffling to me.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that the CJ-5 with the side-mounted spare tire would take such pains to be sure that red reflector was visible; this has clearly been a quiet but consistent priority for Jeeps for decades.
It’s amazing how, sometimes, you can realize something new about a familiar car that makes you see it in a whole new light. I’m surprised Jeep has been sleeping on this milestone, and I sincerely hope that soon we’ll see a special edition of the Jeep Wrangler that really celebrates this with some sort of oversized or enhanced rear side marker lights. Maybe a special Wrangler Rear Side Marker Pioneer edition is in order?
Stellantis and Jeep, you know how to get ahold of me.
Hey! While David isn’t here, I can fill in. That would be a 1972 or 1973 model, MAYBE a 1974. It has the fender extensions to fit the I6/V8 vs the shorter nose for the I4/V6 models. That explains the V8 badge. The other giveaway is the black windshield frame, phased out during the 1974 model year. My ’74 Renegade had a body color window and it was built 6/19/74. IIRC these pics came out for the 75th anniversary so 2016 or so.
I agree. My ‘73 cj6 had that marker light in the side spare too. It was mounted within the center cap hole on the tire itself. I don’t remember how it was held in place now, but it seems to me that it was part of the spare tire mount and not mounted to the tire itself. The spare slipped over the reflector extension and was held in place with three studs that were positioned around it. I do remember having to reinforce the hell out of the wheel well to make sure it could support the weight as the original steel and wood block behind it had rotted away.
Am I the only one who NEEDS to know what the reflector on the other side looks like?!?! Without a spare on the driver’s side, what in god’s name could it possibly be?!
That is NOT a ’66 CJ5. The front fenders with marker lights were not made until 69 or 70. My 1967 came with fenders that did not have cutouts for the marker lights and has no rear marker lights or reflectors.
First, you totally neglected to show how that spare tire marker is attached to the wheel or mount. Inquiring minds want to know.
Second, I am assuming that the markers must be attached to the vehicle body. This would preclude the clever and cheap idea of reflective center circles in the center of the hub caps or wheels.
And brake indicator on rear mounted spare.
Some with LEDs , angry faces, fog lights, driving lights, as well as it’s a jeep thang???
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Torch: you mention “the Headlamp Community, the Indicator Alliance, and the Taillight Subculture” — but no nod to the Back-up Brotherhood? At which auto lighting clubs have YOU been hangin’, hmmm?
What about the sacred order of the “Maplight Mennonite’s”?
“On my honor I will do my best to drive this beauty all over the country and to obey the roads law.
To help stranded motorists at all times.
To keep my car in good condition, my eyes on the road and all safety features functioning”.
Hazar! Hazar! Hazards!
Us Maplighter’s don’t look too kindly on smartphones and GPS . Not directing yourself to your destination is the devils hand on the wheel.
Now on to business.. which car has the best map lights? For without following their light we shall never reach our planned final destination.
We maplighters remember a bygone era. A time of self reliance. A time of phone books and maps hanging there for the taking from phone booths at every gas station.
how is “oversized or enhanced rear” not a nod to the Back-up Brotherhood?
For my fellow maplighters; DAMN I miss the old A pillar mounted pivoting map light from that Capri back when….
Seems odd that they would sink the reflector so deeply into the spare. Wouldn’t flush mounting have been more visible?
I imagine if it was mounted to the tire cover it wouldn’t be compliant as it could be removed without tools.
Wasn’t 1968 the year side marker lights were mandated in the US, if you look at most US 1967 models there are no side marker lights but in 1968 they have them, although my 68 Commando didn’t any unless it was an early 68 production model. It seems odd that a military Jeep would have reflectors, MB had the set back headlights to prevent light spread so why have something to reflect. A later article you can talk about the transition from one tail light to two, for example 1940 Ford standards only had one tail light and the deluxe had two. The 1946 Jeep CJ2a had one tail light but a reflector on the other side.
Yeh the FMVSS took effect for 68. Tangentially this led to US market Series IIa and Series III Land Rovers having unique larger diameter turn signals and tail lights to meet the Federal lens area specs. This is also why the 93 and 94 US spec Defenders had Oval turn signals in the front bumper and what look like Isuzu NPR taillights. The FMVSS also required illuminated heater controls which resulted in VW Beetles having a spotlight in the dash aimed at the heater levers down by the hand brake.
Also since I can’t edit, the reflectors on the early military Jeep make it easier for the following vehicle in a convoy to see it. Night driving lights on military vehicles are often more to be seen under controlled circumstances than to see with. British military Land Rovers had a light mounted over the rear differential cover which was painted white for better visibility
That’s interesting. Makes sense.
Probably makes the Jeeps easier to hide should the need arise.
Can you imagine, daytime running lights or worse, automatic headlights on a military vehicle? Oof!
“(guy looking through binoculars) I see the convoy sir.
We all do.
If you ever need material for side marker topics I’d love to know why VW Beetles sold in Italy in the late ‘70 had them. I’d gladly let use mine as a reference.
Great article as always!
The entire opening paragraph is pure writing genius.
Never change, Torch. Ever.
Any paragraph that references Markie Post has my vote!
Thinking of Markie Post’s “Christine” today, the day that The Queen has died. I’m sure she’d buy a commemorative plate to mark this momentous occasion.
Maybe a Jeep with a body made entirely from faceted translucent plastic for an overall reflective signature, dazzling and confusing other drivers in the dark.
I like this idea. But instead of the whole body, perhaps a racing stripe that does the whole gradient transition thing so it fades from amber to red as you go rearward. Perhaps slanted slightly upward from back to front to resemble an uphill climb. Then have a little Jeep outline (that they seem so fond of lately) at the rear, so it looks like a Jeep going up a trail, while giving a little nod to the aforementioned ’69 Firebird reflector?
I’ll start working on my Markie of The Year acceptance speech now.
Count me as a Markie! I’ve always been fascinated by side marker lamps, maybe because our cars did not get them in Europe. I remember the excitement when Volvo introduced the first generation S40 and V40 – it had orange side marker lamps front and rear! In Europe!