The World’s Quirkiest Car Museum Takes You On A Magical Tour Of Taillights And Indicators

Lane Taillights

Last week, I took you on a tour of some of Lane Motor Museum’s plethora of trafficators and pre-war turn signals. This week, let’s look at a few more turn signal designs from around the world.

While there were a few people involved with the development of the flashing turn signal, only one gets the credit for getting to the patent office first: Oscar J. Simler. According to the National Museum of American History, Simler’s patent in 1929 was for a rear-mounted device that would signal both for slowing when the brake was pressed, and signal a stop when the brake and clutch were both pressed. It also had signal arrows for turn indicators.

                     Lane Simlersignal

By the late 1930s, Joseph Bell had filed a patent for blinking turn signals, with Buick introducing the first flashing light turn signals in 1939.

“The Ear”

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Used on multiple low-cost cars throughout the 1950s was what I call the “ear”. This single unit was mounted atop the B pillar usually, and like the mid-mounted trafficators from earlier, could be seen from both directions of travel. These two examples come from a prototype Daus German truck and a Kleinschnittger microcar.

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This British Scootacar MKII features one mounted high up on the A pillar. These ear-style units were found on everything from 2CVs to various microcars through Europe well into the 1960s.

Auto Union Monza

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Check out this dainty rear red taillight/brake light/turn signal combo on this Auto Union Monza. The front turn signals are prominent and amber-colored.

[Editor’s Note: These units are extremely similar to what Porsche 356s were using, though I think the Auto Union’s taillights are a bit smaller. I suspect these are Hella units. They made so many kinds of these things! – JT]

East German IFA (DKW clone)

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This East German IFA convertible has VW Beetle-like fender-mounted turn signals. [Editor’s Note: Though very similar, these are not the same as the units used on the Beetle, as these are a bit more bulbous and tapered. It’s kind of funny just how close they are, though. – JT]

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Again we see a rather petite rear taillight/brake light housing on the IFA.

Auto Union 1000SP

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Yet another Auto Union, this time a 1962 SP, with familiar-to-American-eyes tailfins. You see, in post-WWII Europe, many Germans wanted American cars, but couldn’t get them imported easily. Many German car companies simply copied the styling of famous American models…thus these lovely Thunderbird-style tailfins.

[Editor’s Note: Look how much these things looked like Ford Thunderbirds overall, not just the fins and taillights:

Autounion1000sp– JT]

Matra D’Jet V

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I like this meaty brake/turn signal combo on this Matra D’Jet V, the first mid-engine production car.

Peel P50

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This arrangement is on the back of the world’s smallest production car ever made, the Peel P50. Production P50s would have just the red taillight/brake combo, and I’ve seen a few with the ear-style turn signals. We think the museum’s P50 seen here is a continuation: a replica made from the same body molds soon after the initial run of around 50 cars. Someone may have added the amber turn signal at a later date.

Mercedes-Benz 280S

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I love this mini-Dagmar style turn signal on our 1969 Mercedes-Benz 280S.

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I’ll bet this pre-ribbed Mercedes-Benz rear taillight clusters got filthy fast.

Omega Alpha

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This odd pairing shows the rear-ends of an early 1980s American electric car known as an Omega Alpha, with the ubiquitous utility taillights found on many startup models, alongside a Tata Nano.

[Editor’s Note: Those “utility taillights” are the legendary Box Taillights, which I’m now going to make you watch me rant about:

– JT]

Nissan Pao

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This is perhaps Torch-nip, but I just really like the stoplight configuration of the Nissan PAO’s taillights. Simple and aesthetically pleasing.

VAZ Oka

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This 1991 VAZ Oka is one of the last cars made in the Soviet Union. The front has that very basic, 1980s “face”, and the rear also contains an un-fussy and simple taillight design.

Fiat Multipla

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Love it or hate it, the 1998 Fiat Multipla has a fantastic fried-egg taillight cluster.

[Editor’s Note: Rex, if your eggs have this much red in them, I think you may want to find a new source for your eggs. Ew. – JT]

Volkswagen XL1

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Jumping ahead to more-modern times, this 2014 Volkswagen XL1 diesel-electric hybrid has a great LED rear taillight/turn signal arrangement.

I truly believe an enterprising automotive history student could write their doctoral dissertation on various car manufacturers’ taillight designs just using cars from the Lane’s collection of 550 cars.

I’ll be sure to do another run-through of interesting lighting sometime in the future.

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18 Responses

  1. Great installment. Now do it with GIFs of the taillights blinking! ;^)

    And as long as I’m suggesting Million-Dollar Ideas Which Require You to Hook Up a Battery, how ’bout an article on HORNS?!

  2. “I truly believe an enterprising automotive history student could write their doctoral dissertation on various car manufacturers’ taillight designs just using cars from the Lane’s collection of 550 cars.”

    Torch, I know where this is going. Do you hear a little voice in your head saying…

    “Dr. Torchinsky you are needed on Interstate 95 for taillight identification, Stat!”???

  3. Great and thanks for sharing – one remark though; could you please invest in some better camera (or smartphone as I believe these shots were taken with a phone camera)? The photos are grainy and pretty low quality, and that’s a pity when showing such interesting details. Thanks!

  4. Lovely stuff, please keep them tail light/headlight articles coming 🙂

    Small correction – and please excuse my OCD re: any Renault-adjacent detail: the proper spelling is Matra Djet, not D’Jet. Fun fact – sorry for the tangent here: the French government sent Yuri Gagarin a Djet in 1965, after he toured the country in the wake of his ground-breaking space flight. I’ve read that he’d seen a Matra-Bonnet Djet V at the Matra booth in an aerospace fair he visited and he really liked the car, which prompted Matra and the government to surprise him with one as a gift they shipped over to the Soviet Union (not just any Djet, it was a Djet V S, with a souped-up version of the tiny Cléon-Fonte 1.1L engine that made almost 100hp – I daily drive a 34hp version of that engine and the idea of it delivering 90+ ponies is terrifying).

    Not sure how apocryphal this last bit is, but the truth is that he really liked the car and even took it to a famous photoshoot (and made sure the car featured prominently in the photos) in front of the Monument to the Conquerors of Space in Moscow. He refrained from driving it much though, as he reportedly found it too ostentatious.

    https://preview.redd.it/4frnsp8amxq41.jpg?width=960&crop=smart&auto=webp&s=eac7865171b18b0ddd01877b42576248039d9e7b

  5. Hang on a minute! The VAZ Oka looks almost identical to a Daihatsu Handi (L80).
    Surely they weren’t developed separately?!
    …Ok ,with a bit of digging i’ve found the facts.The Oka was indeed developed in russia but the styling was modeled on the Daihatsu Kei car.So not a licensed copy as i first thought.

    Also,the museum has VW XL1? That’s awesome.

  6. I had no idea the Volkswagen XL1 was actually ever a production car, even if it was a limited production. I remember seeing a few articles about it back in the day. I guess only being released in Europe meant the news here didn’t bother covering it beyond the prototypes.

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