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).
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..