Home » These Were Once A Thing In A Tumultuous Turn Signal Era: Cold Start

These Were Once A Thing In A Tumultuous Turn Signal Era: Cold Start

Cs Amber 1
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In the same 1963 issue of Popular Science that I was flipping through when I found the remarkable Corvair-based Lost Cause car I wrote about yesterday, I also happened to see an interesting ad, part of which you see above. It’s an ad that really can only exist in that particular moment in time, early 1963, because that was the point in time in America when it was decided that turn indicators at the front of a car should be amber, not white. Amber signals seem natural and obvious to us now, but it’s worth looking back and remembering what a strangely big deal this change was.

This product is also interesting in what it says about consumers of the era, too; even though there was now a law specifying amber indicators, it wasn’t retroactive; if you had an older car with clear/white indiactors, there was no legal requirement to retrofit them, but people were very interested in at least appearing like they had The Latest Thing, and an easy shorthand to making your car look like it was the latest model would be to make sure it flashed orange/amber when turning.

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Hence, kits like these:

Cs Amber 2

I’m guessing these “conversion sets” were just adhesive amber gels you could cut to shape and apply inside the plastic lens? They do ask for make and year so perhaps they had some pre-cut shapes of some sort. I’d love to see what the actual product looked like, but I never have, and I suspect that these were flimsy and impermanent enough sorts of things that it’s likely precisely zero of them still exist. I guess that’s yet another use of a time machine, after the kill baby Hitler/watch dinosaurs hump/taste dodo expected uses.

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Back in 2020 at The Old Site I wrote about some bizarre controversies going on during the Great Amber Transition, as seen in this article:

Cs Amber 3

“Unexpected Turmoil?” Turmoil? Over the color of turn signals? Oh yes, this is serious business, people, and that’s why Pennsylvania would flapjacking arrest you if you were caught amber-izing your factory-white turn signals. That would mean using the product in the ad I showed you here would be an arrestable offense in Pennsylvania.

Imagine that! Think about what you’d say to the suspected murderers and loiterers and thieves in lockup when the asked you what you’re in for. “I made my turn signals flash amberAnd I’d do it again!” you’d growl, indignant and unbowed!

What I didn’t realize was that there were some fiercely pro-white-turn-signal advocates out there, which is described in great detail in this 2022 article by lighting expert Daniel Stern, which also references the “Unexpected Turmoil” article up there. That article also uses multiple interrobangs, which I find quietly thrilling.

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It seems most of the clear-lens advocacy came from one person, Merrill J. Allen, O.D., Ph.D., who was an optometry professor at Indiana University. It seems his main argument had to do with the quantity of light being produced by an amber bulb was less than a clear one, and to him at least, that’s what matters. The man wrote papers about this, and angry missives to periodicals and other places.

He was doomed, of course, but I recommend reading the whole article, because it’s fascinating to read about how worked up people can get about things. White turn signals became Dr.Allen’s white whale and windmills to tilt at and all of that at once, all for a belief in how turns should be indicated.

Go ahead and laugh, but turn signals mean something, friends.

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Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
26 days ago

Why do Anglos call the middle stop light yellow and turn signals amber? They’re orange.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
26 days ago

“I made my turn signals flash amber. And I’d do it again!” you’d growl, indignant and unbowed!”
This was fucking hilarious!
I also know now know what an interrobang is…and have to add this quote:
“I never heard of a relationship affected by puncuation”
-Jerry Seinfeld
I wonder what Elaine would have thought of an interrobang
Also thought it was interesting in that paper it says that Checker got right on it and changed their turn signals that spring when they used up the rest of the white ones…then later the ’63 models of most cars had similar. I’ve been reading about Checker more lately and it’s so fascinating. I found this article about the only remaining model of a ’39 Checker in existence…such an iconic body style!

Ohgodwhyme
Ohgodwhyme
26 days ago

I have been trying (unsuccessfully) to increase the global use of the interrobang for years now. Goes to show how influential I am.

If you want an easy way to use the symbol, use Text Replacement on your phone (on iPhones, under Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement). Put ?! as the Shortcut and paste ‽ as the Phrase. Then in any emails and message, when you type ?!, it will replace it with ‽

Ian McClure
Ian McClure
25 days ago
Reply to  Ohgodwhyme

I’d like to do þe same with þ, but I suspect þat’s going to be a harder sell.

Shifty McShifterson
Shifty McShifterson
26 days ago

I hated the red rear turn signals on my 07 Elantra, Lola. Interesting part is that, as far as I know, the rest of the world gets ambers. So I bought a pair and popped them in. Strangely though, the overseas taillights has no provision for the side markers, but I drilled the holes and made them work.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
26 days ago

While my ’64 F100 coach-built crewcab went the other way. The original amber signal covers started out (properly and legally) amber in ’64, and then they faded to white. Ah well. Someone or rather something had to rebel, and it was my truck!

Titillating Bustline
Titillating Bustline
26 days ago

I feel WTF is a natural for interrobang.

Black Peter
Black Peter
26 days ago

You just know the author of the article and the typesetter were having a smoke, reviewing the copy and the typesetter said; “hey, fun fact, we have never used the interrobang sorts” (yes, that’s what the metal bits are called).. The author said; “huh, hold my beer. No literally hold onto this beer, I need to tie my shoelace”.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
26 days ago

Still waiting on the US to mandate rear ambers….61 years later

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
26 days ago
Reply to  Shooting Brake

And to jettison the silly rule that the amber turn signal indicators have to be at least four square inches…

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
26 days ago

“[B]ut people were very interested in at least appearing like they had The Latest Thing”
When VW changed from the two-piece rear window (split-window) to the one-piece oval rear window on the Beetle in 1953 there were actually aftermarket kits people would order (probably from J.C. Whitney here in the US, dunno about the European equivalent) to convert their split-window Beetles to oval-window Beetles. In the 90s a VW magazine (either VW Trends or Dune Buggies & Hot VWs) had a regular column showcasing rare and unusual period aftermarket accessories for vintage air-cooled VWs and one time they featured such a window conversion kit where the collectors who had acquired such items all said they would never ever use those kits. They commented that only a philistine would ever even just contemplate using such a kit.

Cerberus
Cerberus
26 days ago

I built a kind of streamliner style custom bike I named Interrobang complete with logo on the hubs. Why isn’t it standard punctuation offered in all typefaces?! Especially today where people sometimes type half in emoji to convey emotions (or full emoji pictograph text that I refuse to engage with). Editors apparently hate them, but screw ’em and the Chicago Style book they rode in on! (Or maybe mine just doesn’t like that they’re in a different typeface, but Highway Gothic—US highway system typeface I write in—doesn’t have an interrobang. Understandable as the punctuation wasn’t proposed until years later, but more modern typefaces also don’t have it, which is a terrible oversight and the ones that do seem to be horrible serif typefaces.)

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
26 days ago

My position on this issue is unwavering.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
26 days ago

Those white supremacists don’t give up easy.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
26 days ago

I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon now with the flash-before-solid brake light setup – it’s not mandatory here in the states, hell isn’t really available from the OEMs yet (?), but it seems to be a mod you’ll often see on, for lack of a better term, “tuner cars” that focus on at least looking like they have the next big thing, esp. if it draws attention.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
26 days ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

I’m not sure about tuner cars.

Around here, it’s definitely what you see on new cars if the buyer accepts the $495 additional charge in the sales contract without objecting.

It’s the new version of pinstripes and Tru-Coat at the dealerships around me. It’s a $3 circuit if you buy it off Alibaba in bulk.

Last edited 26 days ago by PaysOutAllNight
Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
26 days ago

Yep, and I found the official install video online; looks like mayyybe 15 minutes of labor, depending how hard it is to access the CHMSL wiring.

PlatinumZJ
PlatinumZJ
26 days ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

I’ve seen this a few times, and assumed it was some kind of electrical issue resulting from amateur installation of aftermarket light kits. ????

Ecsta C3PO
Ecsta C3PO
26 days ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

I think those are great IF AND ONLY IF they are wired to only flash when the brakes are pressed very firmly or in a panic stop.

El Barto
El Barto
26 days ago
Reply to  Ecsta C3PO

This. I’ve seen a few of these after-market kits fitted to mainly tuner cars here on Kiwi roads and they always quickly flash 3-5 times before the brake light goes solid. But they operate each and every time, regardless of how hard the brake pedal is pushed. I almost guarantee these are Alibaba or Temu specials and having flashing red tail lights is illegal if you’re not an emergency vehicle in NZ.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
26 days ago

No matter the color, I have seen less then 50% usage over the past few years, and as much as I despise smartphoneifying of vehicles, I could accept AI applying the signal (late of course) as a turn is initiated after a stop with a simultaneous shock to the keister to train these dumb-ass heathens.

James Mitchell
James Mitchell
26 days ago

I think the ‘conversion kit’ may have been an amber colored plastic cap that was placed over the bulb itself.

Tbird
Tbird
26 days ago
Reply to  James Mitchell

Bulb condom!

AlterId
AlterId
26 days ago

White turn signals became Dr.Allen’s white whale…

Sadly for him, it never became his ambergris.

Tbird
Tbird
26 days ago
Reply to  AlterId

COTD

Church
Church
26 days ago

The next time my membership comes up for renewal, I am definitely sending a check with the following note:

GENTLEMEN [sic]: I enclose _$70_ for _1_ year of continued amusement from well researched articles about headlights and turn signals.

Balloondoggle
Balloondoggle
26 days ago
Reply to  Church

And educational services. I’d never heard of “interrobang” before now.

Church
Church
26 days ago
Reply to  Balloondoggle

I’m sorry you went this long but I’m glad you are now aware of it.

Balloondoggle
Balloondoggle
26 days ago
Reply to  Church

Hey, I learned something new this morning! Time to call it a day!

JerryLH3
JerryLH3
26 days ago
Reply to  Balloondoggle

Same, today was the day I learned what an interrobang is.

Beceen
Beceen
25 days ago
Reply to  Balloondoggle

yep, “interrobang” sounds like something you type in when looking for interracial, erm, biological clips. Good to know I was looking my friend was looking for punctuation advice.

VS 57
VS 57
26 days ago

This was the one bit of legislation to come out of the House Subcommittee on Transportation During a Nuclear Exchange.

Data
Data
26 days ago

Daniel Stern, actor and lighting enthusiast. A city slicker who probably reads about lighting in “The Red Light District” magazine when he is home alone.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
26 days ago
Reply to  Data

JAFO

Data
Data
26 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

That’s me, just another f**king observer.

Albert Ferrer
Albert Ferrer
26 days ago

What I don’t understand about Americans is why do you insist on not having amber rear turn signals…

Redapple
Redapple
26 days ago
Reply to  Albert Ferrer

Front and rears should be amber on all cars. So says John McElroy -DTW car writer (autoline. tv). I agree. Much safer esp in heavy traffic when you are abreast of another car. You can see instantly that guy wants to turn and is NOT Braking. VERY important. Simple really – why does this take so long?

VanGuy
VanGuy
26 days ago
Reply to  Albert Ferrer

Apparently, it’s for aesthetic reasons–people don’t seem to like the color yellow, and enough people agreed that an exemption exists in the law.

But, safety advocates and much of the commentariat (including me) agree with you– red rear turn signals should be illegal. Hell, I’d love if a correction was retroactive, creating massive recalls.

Zyphane
Zyphane
26 days ago
Reply to  VanGuy

I don’t know what the landscape is now with fancy LED lights, but I did notice when everything was still bulb-based that Asian manufacturers sold their cars here with amber rear signals, but European companies gladly ditched the amber lights even though you know the same cars have those amber turnlights in every other market they’re sold in…

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
26 days ago
Reply to  Zyphane

It is due to the silly FMVSS rule that amber turn signal indicators have to be at least four square inches. If it’s 3.994, then no go.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
26 days ago
Reply to  EricTheViking

I see ambers out there every day that make me think “How in the hell did this pass FMVSS?” The Tesla Model X turn signal is a horizontal row of individual LEDs that is more than 4 inches wide, but only about half an inch high.

So does the rule have a component regarding linear inches? Like how airlines allow carry-on bags whose total dimensions do not exceed 45 linear inches; the rule does not actually state that carry-on bags must be 22 inches in height or less, that is just the most common height that is sold.

Twobox Designgineer
Twobox Designgineer
26 days ago
Reply to  Albert Ferrer

Neither do I, to a point. I think that having red, amber, and white all out back generally looks worse than just red and white. Hell, part of the reason I bought a red car is because red lights don’t look good on a blue car.

But at the same time, it is hard to put aside notions of what is “right” or expected and thus right. For me, in the US, an Audi with part off those cool taillights in amber would look wrong. At the same time, seeing a Lancia with all red and no amber would look wrong.

But functionality and therefor safety should come first, so they should be amber. I think the brain would process the difference between red and amber faster than the fact that it’s a red that’s off-center to the vehicle — or at a minimum there would be an additive, reinforcing effect of the color and the unbalanced distribution

El Barto
El Barto
26 days ago

In other words, you’d get used to it

Tbird
Tbird
26 days ago

I put amber bulbs in the 1962 Corvair I’m fixing for a friend, I felt it was safer as we are conditioned to see amber as front signal/marker lamp after decades.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
26 days ago

If there is ever a movie made about a gang of taillight/turn signal miscreants who are rebelling against a repressive vehicular indicator society, I think we all know who has to be the star.

Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
26 days ago

Check this out, Jason. Notwithstanding the amber turn signal turmoil, I think you may have a new hero.

https://honorsandawards.iu.edu/awards/honoree/8740.html

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
26 days ago
Reply to  Flyingstitch

Yup, his new hero! I liked this part:
“using dark, non-reflective surfaces on the top of dash board panels”
…and now on certain cars we have the damn pop up screens tacked to the dash blocking the view

Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
26 days ago

White or Amber I just want something I can see in the wash of excessive LED headlights

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
26 days ago
Reply to  Lew Schiller

And not mounted so close to bright headlights that it’s hard to tell what’s going on.

Albert Ferrer
Albert Ferrer
26 days ago
Reply to  Lew Schiller

In some cars when the turn signal is activated the DRLs are deactivated.

Tbird
Tbird
26 days ago
Reply to  Albert Ferrer

I have seen that, it helps in the day but not at night. I agree my middle aged eyes have trouble seeing the amber blinker against the white LED headlamp glare.

Redapple
Redapple
26 days ago
Reply to  Tbird

Tbird. That s a design problem. The two are too close together and/or the turn signal is not big enough or bright enough.

Tbird
Tbird
26 days ago
Reply to  Redapple

I think the closeness is the issue. Everyone uses single housing lighting elements with little separation for styling and I assume cost. I’m old enough to remember turn signals/running lights often housed in bumpers or completely divorced from the headlamp assemblies. Some were done well and many poorly.

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