Can a safety device do more harm than the good it was designed for? I’ve been trying to catalog instances of automotive lighting fixtures that were essentially pointless. I’ve found plenty that I could share, but one that I discovered was rarely used as a safety feature for most of the car’s life. However, this light was rather successful in inflicting injury onto passengers. The object in question is found on a very fascinating car, and I think that I’ve found a way that could have legally removed this ‘safety’ device and improved the whole concept of the car tremendously. Of course, I’m like thirty-five years too late.
source: Mecum (car for sale)
The car I’m referring to is the 1987 Nissan Pulsar NX. This t-topped coupe was a rare modular concept car — the kind of thing you see often on show vehicles but never in production.
source: Barn Finds (car for sale)
The rear hatch area was reconfigurable with different ‘modules’ available from the dealer to allow you to turn your Pulsar into a variety of different body styles. By simply bolting on or off different parts, it could be:
1.) A notchback hatch coupe
2.) A ‘shooting brake’ style mini wagon with an optional ‘SportBak’ that fits in place of the original hatch
3.) An ‘open car’ by removing the roof panels and any form of hatch at all for warm weather motoring
4.) A sort of ‘convertible’ where the open hatch area is covered by some kind of canvas tonneau with like six thousand press-the-dot fasteners (I’ve never seen one of those in use) so you aren’t stuck getting doused by sudden showers.
source: Nissan via Car throttle
Considering that I am always drawing modular and reconfigurable 1980s car concepts, it should come as no surprise that I love this product of Nissan’s golden age of design. Even if it didn’t have the modular rear hatch, I’d love it for the angled-slot taillights alone (and the rear radio speakers that copy the pattern). Let’s look at the various body configurations, and how Nissan dealt with the CHMSL (center high mounted stop light) situation on each.
For the hatchback format, there is a brake light under the spoiler, and on the ‘SportBak’ version with the optional (one year only) wagon roof there is a CHMSL in the back window. However, there was a special CHMSL that ONLY ever worked when the car was in the open mode where you completely removed the hatch or SportBak. You can see the light hanging down from the headliner in the photo of the open hatch below. I am guessing that the door jamb switch opens the circuit to allow the light to work only when the hatch was off (it would bathe the interior and blast the rear window in red light if it worked all the time).
sources: Craigslist via Barn Finds, Bring A Trailer (car for sale)
Remember that the ‘open’ mode required unbolting the hatch and struts with tools, lifting the heavy thing off with another person, finding a place to put it, and praying that it didn’t rain while you had it removed. That temporary canvas ‘convertible’ top offered looks a bit cumbersome:
source: Nissan (youtube screen cap)
Also, with the hatch removed, the cargo area is exposed to the world (plus won’t that stuff blow out of the car?) and the whole thing looks very unfinished, like you just ripped a big body part off the car, which you essentially did.
source: Nissan via Ebay
My guess is that few owners ever removed the hatch and drove with it off; these cars might have gone to the junkyard with that extra CHMSL never having illuminated even once in the life of the car. However, in reading deep into the comments of some Pulsar NX posts I discovered something worse. Despite this CHMSL barely (if ever) coming into use it did serve the function of injuring rear seat occupants.
As you fall into the tiny rear seat (no way to get into it gracefully unless you’re a kid), naturally your head initially moves rapidly towards the center of the car. At this point your dome painfully encounters an unseen fixed object…that brake light. Former owners claim that it was VERY easy to hit your head on the light; some remembered that a few friends probably incurred concussion levels of blunt force trauma as a result of a sharp turn or short stop. I bet it even severely blocked the view as well just for good measure since it was in the line of sight of the rear view mirror.
Honestly, there was a simple fix that Nissan could have done that would have eliminated this light AND improved the whole useability of the car itself. What I would suggest would be the Flip-Lite.
source: Top Classic Cars For Sale
You want to go open topped? Open the hatch to put in the roof panels once you remove them. Next:
1.) Release two catches at the top inside of the rear window.
2.) Pivot the rear window glass all the way around
3.) Latch it onto the bottom of flat, rearmost part of the hatch lid
4.) Close the hatch and drive away.
The cargo area is still covered, but you have essentially as much open air experience as before with the whole hatch removed. The existing CHMSL is still in place on the hatch lid so the hanging light of death is not needed. Best of all, if you get a quick rain shower, you can pivot the rear window closed faster than you can add the roof panels (or even drive with the windows down and the Flip-Lite open for buffet-free cruising). A simple fix that would make the ‘open’ option of the Pulsar that much more accessible.
Can any current or former NXers out there confirm the dome-denting brake light? What about other examples like this? Has a ‘passive restraint’ attempted to strangle you? Have you ever been injured by any other automotive ‘safety’ devices? We need to know..
This Could Be A Fix For The Stupid Little Arcs So Many Rear Window Wipers Make – The Autopian
Researchers Have Been Talking About Front Brake Lights For Decades. Here’s What I Think – The Autopian
How The Indian Carmaker Tata Could Hypothetically Revive The Honda Element As A Sub-$20,000 EV – The Autopian
I owned one of these in the early 90s. Putting adult humans in the back seat of a Pulsar NX is punishment enough without the headbanging taillight. I rarely had anyone back there.
For a short time while my wife’s Nova was getting a head gasket, this was our only car. We put a small rear facing infant seat in the front passenger seat and my 4’10” wife road in the back. Thankfully that was only for a few days.
I did take the hatch off once for the full convertible experience, but it wasn’t really different from the T-Tops off experience so I never did it again. Interestingly, the SE model came with a kit (prop rod, tools) for removing the hatch, the XE owner was on their own.
Reference the push the dot connector: Perfectly designed to dislocate the thumb of the operating hand when attempting to utilize, ie, on the convertible top or tonneau cover on a Triumph TR3B. I suffered multiple examples over a period of over 20 years.
A former college girlfriend had a pulsar. It was… ok?
I don’t recall ever getting into the back seat, but I’m 6’5″. As a car, it was basic 90s Nissan. I remember it being easy not-the-average Civic transportation, but nothing special outside the polarizing styling.
At the time, a buddy of mine was daily’ing a Bertone X1/9. If you squint at the Pulsar from a distance, there are a lot of design similarities. The Bertone was a lot better (i.e. more fun) as a driver, but with typical Fiat build quality. The Pulsar was more likely to start and didn’t mark its territory with mystery fluids. Driving either car on the freeway with big trucks and SUV’S was an exercise in defensive driving and truck bumpers in the rear-view mirror.
Given the choice, I’d take the Bertone X1/9 over the Pulsar, but only as a weekender.
I sold quit a few of these back in the day. I couldn’t sell anyone on one of the optional roofs.
My spouse had a Pulsar when we married. It was in Seattle, we temporarily lived in Phoenix and we needed it, so I flew up and drove it back on two tanks of gas I think. My spouse worked for Motorola Corporate and had to wear the full suit get up. We lived 14 miles way from work, but it took 45 minutes to get there. Well, the Pulsar was purchased in Seattle without air conditioning and it was black. Summertime with that sloped windshield in Phoenix provided the incentive to sell it quick. So, we went to all the major dealers all day long when it was 116 degrees F. It took us 20 minutes at each dealer to cool off enough to talk to them. All day long we did this. Ended up getting a 300zx, so there is an up side!
Motorized mice passive shoulder belts. Do NOT open window, stick head out then open door! Always open door first before sticking head out of opening. DAMHIK
Is a Pulsar with the rear hatch removed a pickup…?
amberturnsignalsarebetter- it really is. That is really the issue- things look like they’d just blow out if you went at any speed.
But somebody actually made one into a pickup:
“…instances of automotive lighting fixtures that were essentially pointless.”
If it’s not already on your list, ask Jason about the tiny under-dash “spot light” in VW Beetles that is supposed to, yet very much fails to, provide a regulatory-compliant level of illumination for the heater levers that are on the floor between the seats. Utterly useless. Its approximate location is indicated by the number 18 in this figure:
mdharrell- oh, I don’t need to ask. We had a 1973 VW 412 from new and a Squareback before that. As a young kid that was into cars, did you think I wouldn’t notice that? It did throw some nice illumination on the gear shift shaft but that’s about it.
How about this one: The Continental kit for the 1958 Ford Skyliner differs from the kit for other ’58 Ford cars because it doesn’t need to incorporate a mechanism for swinging the tire out of the way in order to open the trunk, which means the tire can sit closer to the rear of the car. To accommodate this properly, the two inner taillight lenses are replaced with lenses which are “shorter” in that they don’t project as far rearward. Strictly speaking, these positions are supposed to have their bulbs removed because the bulbs would otherwise be too close to the ends of the plastic lenses, leading to a significant risk of melting. The lenses are still somewhat visible around the edges of the Continental kit but are now useless, as per Ford’s instructions.
Not every example adheres to this, particularly in the case of aftermarket Continental kits installed years later (as is true of the majority of such kits), but that’s how it is supposed to be done.
mdharrell- we should tell Jason about this right away! Actually, no, he’ll get sidetracked and we’ll never see another article from him today.
He wrote and article about it!
Re “taillights that could hurt you”: First thought was “yup, those two taillights look like hazardous cheese graters”… Enjoyed the article.
My god what a gorgeous car. I never owned one, so I can’t speak to the reliability, but looking at one of these as a kid in the 80s was like looking at a prop vehicle straight out of Back To The Future II or Blade Runner. Just so futuristic looking. Now I want to get one of these and put a KITT dash in it…
If you’re going to go that far, you may as well convert it to electric too.
I remember being a little kid and having just seen one from the back in full delivery wagon mode, thinking it was a time machine.
The canopy config is a gateway drug to all sorts of bizarre automobile ownership decisions
I really loathe how much the alt car community loves the Pulsar. The love for the Pulsar sprotbak is so so so so very misplaced. As someone who owned one it was by far the worst car by any number of metrics: fit, finish, usability, comfort, handling, controls, power, sound, heating/AC, water tightness and just having things break off in your hand at all times. I say this as my new Pulsar replaced a 1979 CVCC station wagon with three different colored doors and a roof that collapsed when you went over 58 mph yet was still a far better car. I would put any paper-constructed car from East German powered by a knock-off vespa engine as a better investment. Driving the pulsar was so rough, cold, loud and plastic-y that I made a 15 minutes drive to have a three hour functional MRI scan and the drive was the by far the worst part.
My wife had one, briefly. It was such a fun little car and I thought it really matched her personality but I was constantly going out to rescue her. Usually it was just a dead battery, that thing had charging issues that we never managed to remedy. Eventually it broke down on a busy street with no shoulder and no businesses and we ended up walking 2 miles with cars whipping past us to get to a payphone and that was the end of it. She got a Corolla the next week and drove that for the next 17 years with no problems.
Steadyman- I was really referring to the design, and not the integrity of the car. I never owned one; I will say that the 1990 Z32 that my dad bought was a great car and hardly gave 928-level trouble BUT it had far more problems than the rusty-but-painfully-trusty 1977 S30 Z that it replaced (which had nearly twice the mileage on it when we got rid of it). It started in -20 degree weather and the A/C worked in 110 degree summer heat; tight as a drum.
Buddy had one new in highschool, don’t remember this at all but it was a Canadian model, it may have been different, he had the extra top too which I assume was an option
Sklooner- the extra top was indeed optional. Reportedly only available for the first year but cannot confirm. I also don’t know if you could order the Sportbak WITHOUT the standard hatch. The whole modular thing just never seemed to take off but I think that it could have if it were managed better from the start. Who knows- I just think it was an especially cool idea.
This is making me SO nostalgic for the sport coupe era and its primary goal of fun on a budget.
In a JS Mill/utilitarian sorta way, what could be more enjoyable for more people? Such a contrast with today where you often have to pay to NOT have an appliance driving experience.
That’s Sportbak without a C. Because why would a car like this have a normally spelled option.
What’s funny is that Nissan obviously had LED technology by then based on the trunk mounted CHMSL, so they could have used that for the one mounted in the roof as well and taken up much less headroom. But at that point LEDs were still novel and probably expensive.
LTDScott- knowing the skills of the Nissan designers during this era, I seriously doubt that they wanted a solution like this. I really, really think that this was an 11th hour thing from the NHTSA where they said ‘wait, you can DRIVE the thing like this?’ and they needed a fix fast.
But at least a little impressive when you consider how some of the domestics took years to integrate the light into their designs in a good way. My ’90s Chevy Beretta had this chintzy one bolted onto the rear package shelf.
Jake Trade- My favorite was the one on the back of late eighties 911 Convertibles that looked a bit like the ‘engine’ on George Jetson’s space car.
It always looked so incongruously fragile on an otherwise stout-looking vehicle!
My ’90s convertible has the hoop stretched across the rear hatch version. I’ve yet to decide if I like it or hate it.
I was thinking something tacked on right above the license plate, like the original Saturn S-Series wagon would have been less trouble. I also thought about tacking it on the bit of roof there was, but that would have been too far away for visibility with the full wagon back in place.
Speaking of imports and CHMSLs, in the 90s if you added a spoiler to a Camry or Accord it was a dealer-installed accessory with the light included, and it always bothered me they’d leave a blank CHMSL still sitting in the package shelf. I think Nissan however instructed to take it out and included a little carpet mat to plug up the spot on an Altima or Maxima.