Home » This Is Why Lotus Excel Taillights Get Filthy And Moldy (And Another Weird Fact About The Lotus Excel)

This Is Why Lotus Excel Taillights Get Filthy And Moldy (And Another Weird Fact About The Lotus Excel)

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It’s the end of the day, but if I know you – and our advanced surveillance protocols and digital eavesdropping suggest I do – you’re still desperate to learn something, anything, new about taillights. This vitally, perhaps clinically important fact deals with the Lotus Excel and the unfortunate situation where its taillights tend to get moldy and full of dirt and grime. But how can this be? What miserable set of curses circumstances could result in such a miserable outcome?

Have Lotus owners not suffered enough? All they wanted was a fun, light car that handles like a dream. Is that a crime? Of course not; but, at the same time, nothing is free, not really. In the case of the Lotus Excel, the issue stems from the realities of being a low-volume carmaker, where certain parts that require complex governmental regulatory approval, like lighting equipment, is not easy or economically viable to make independently.

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So, little carmakers like Lotus do the next best thing – they use parts from much larger carmakers!

In the case of the Lotus Excel built from 1982 to 1992, they used taillights from the Rover SD1:

Roversd1 Rear

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The Rover SD1 was made from 1976 to 1986, but I guess there were enough service part taillights made so that the Excel still had taillights for the six years of production the Excel continued past the SD1’s lifespan. Here’s how those SD1 taillights look in the Excel:

Lotusexcel Rear

Now, you eagle-eyed readers may have noticed one crucial thing: in the Excel, the SD1 taillights are flipped upside-down. While this does give the taillights a rakish, inward-leaning slant at the outboard edges, it also means something else: the taillight units’ existing drain holes are now moved from the bottom to the top of the unit.

This means that gravity, which once helped remove water from inside the taillight housing, has been transformed from an ally into an enemy. Instead of letting moisture out, the drain holes now let moisture and dirt and leaves and other crap in, which is less than ideal.

From a retrospective of the Excel:

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Like many Lotus models before it, the Excel relied heavily on out-sourced parts throughout its construction, meaning tracking down spares is easier than usual. Some are obvious – the tail lights are inverted Rover SD1 units, for instance. Naturally the moisture drain holes are therefore placed incorrectly, so they can fill up with dirt and mould.

I mean, its not a shocking thing, but it is interesting to point out. This phenomenon isn’t just limited to the Lotus Excel; there’s other cars that use mass-market taillights in different orientations, and all of those are vulnerable to this, since they upend the original orientation of drainage.

The Invicta SD1 is a good example of this:

Those are VW Passat taillights, rotated 90°, and while I don’t have direct evidence because I’ve never been within a mile of an Invicta S1, I suspect they may have some drainage issues, too.

I promised you an extra Lotus Excel fact, didn’t I? Well, I intend to deliver: I’m pretty sure that the Lotus Excel is the only car ever made whose make and model names are both related to spreadsheet software!

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Spreadsheets

That’s right! Excel is, of course, the name of the well-known Microsoft spreadsheet, and Lotus was the name of the company that made a piece of software called Lotus 1-2-3 back in 1983, as a response to the first really commercially successful spreadsheet software, Visi-Calc, which came out on the Apple II in 1979.

Look how much useless information you now have about the Lotus Excel! Go forth and charm the crap out of everyone you see with this newfound knowledge!

 

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Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
8 days ago

Someone needs to 3D-print housings with new drain holes.

As for the Invicta owners, I imagine that buying new VW taillamps is one of the easier parts of ownership.

Phuzz
Phuzz
7 days ago
Reply to  Vetatur Fumare

Nah, just drill a new hole in the bottom, and stick some tape over the hole in the top. Or silicone sealant if you’re feeling really fancy.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
9 days ago

Does the Aston Martin Vantage have the same problem with its inverted VW Scirocco taillights or do the Germans have better waterproofing?

Greensoul
Greensoul
9 days ago

According to the Mercedes Benz brochures back in the day, ribbed taillights clean themselves. I guess they were lying. Guessing that ribbed condoms don’t work like intended either.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
8 days ago
Reply to  Greensoul

Neither are ribbed on the inside…

Ben
Ben
9 days ago

My dad’s F-150 had this problem and I’m pretty sure they’re not reusing someone else’s taillights. The fix was to drill a small hole in the bottom of the lens, which Ford was apparently too lazy to do in the first place so their lights wouldn’t fill up with water.

JKcycletramp
JKcycletramp
9 days ago

Find: Water
Replace: Air
Problem solved in just a few keystrokes.

Hangover Grenade
Hangover Grenade
10 days ago

So real life blinker fluid is…. bad?

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
10 days ago

Based of this info, I can only surmise that Pontiac built/installed the tail lights on my ’88 Grand Prix the same was as Lotus. I don’t think there was a day of that car’s life where there wasn’t water in the lights.

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
10 days ago

I got pulled over at like 2am one morning as I was driving home from my girlfriend’s (now wife) house in my 02 Trans Am for having water in the tail lights as well. Well I guess technically he pulled me over for rolling a stop sign like 5 miles prior, but he was nice enough to also tell me about the water. I had a full on fish tank in there, it was bad.

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
10 days ago

Would this engineering miss affect the Australian market as well or are they then pointed the right way up?

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
10 days ago
Reply to  67 Oldsmobile

This is possibly the most intelligent question I have seen on this site.

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
10 days ago

Oh wow my Renault 4 does that! The DRL/indicator units do have draining holes in the correct orientation, but moisture/dirt still accumulates in there. So much so that I have to take the lenses off 2-3 year to scrape off the build-up of dirt and mold. It should be noted that these came with a single screw at the center of the unit, which basicaly means the plastic lens and the rubber seal are free to deform around the edges; after a few years there’s no actual seal preventing water from going in.

Does the Excel also grow moss in nooks and crannies at the bottom of the window frames?

Anders
Anders
10 days ago

Maybe the engineers thought fluids behaved differently on the British isles than in the rest of the world? They do drive on the left side after all. I’m curious about the ribs on the taillights, which is similar to the tail lights on the Merceds W123, W124 and many others. I’m guessing it was ment as a safety feature, but curious if it actually worked? Guessing Torchinsky have already written about this..?

Last edited 10 days ago by Anders
I drive a boring SUV
I drive a boring SUV
10 days ago
Reply to  Anders

The grooves on the taillights help the air circulate over the surface and keeps dust, road grime and snow from building on them – an ingenous way of keeping them clean.

Greensoul
Greensoul
9 days ago

Mercedes Benz lied, apparently

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
10 days ago
Reply to  Anders

75 countries drive on the left.

Although some of those are upside down.

AlterId
AlterId
10 days ago
Reply to  Anders

Two fun and absolutely true facts relevant to this:

Had Lotus referred to Great Britain and Ireland as “the British Isles” during the 1970s and 1980s, they would have been blown up by the IRA, Real, Provisional or otherwise. However, had they not referred to Great Britain and Ireland as “the British Isles”, they would have been blown up by the UDA and/or UDF. It was a difficult line to hew.
The song “Let’s Groove” by Earth, Wind and Fire was originally written for an unsuccessful proposal for an advertising campaign submitted to Mercedes-Benz North America to promote the new grooved taillights.

Last edited 10 days ago by AlterId
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
10 days ago

Only the finest engineering.

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
10 days ago

What’s amazing to me is these were put together by hand, so plugging the holes and drilling new ones shouldn’t add that much time or complexity to the building process – it could even be done pre-assembly in batches to save up on time. British automakers sometimes look more like a sub-genre of british comedy than a part of the auto industry (and I love them for that).

Last edited 10 days ago by Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
10 days ago

Monty Python and the Holey Tail (Lights)?

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
10 days ago

Or, since it’s Lotus, leave the top holes and add holes in the bottom to add lightness to the lights.

A. Barth
A. Barth
9 days ago

leave the top holes

Top-hole, bally Jerry pranged his kite right in the how’s-your-father.

Tbird
Tbird
10 days ago

So much this…

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
10 days ago

I’ll just take a wild guess here, and then I’ll scroll back up and read the article to see if I’m right:
They are upside down? Taken from another car (Ford probably) so the drain holes (if any) point upwards?

Added: Ha! I knew it! (except from the manufacturer of the lights..)

Last edited 10 days ago by Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
10 days ago

Also, that rear spoiler on the Rover… could it possibly get any more english? I bet it’s a factory photo! 😀

(I used to own a 1963 Spitfire. The panel gaps and lights placement on that one… But it looked very cool from a distance and drove great!)

Logan King
Logan King
10 days ago

It’s running mascara. The taillights are sad that they are mounted upside down when they weren’t when Lotus also put them on the Esprit.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
10 days ago
Reply to  Logan King

The Esprit also used rear lights from the Fiat X19, Toyota AE86 Corolla and the S2 Elise (unless they were from something else, but I think they were bespoke for the S2 Elise).

AlterId
AlterId
10 days ago

And one more addition to the spreadsheet trivia, which I was about to pounce all over (or all over which I was about to pounce, whichever you and your version of Microsoft Office’s unified spell check and grammar software prefers)¹ before I saw that it was covered.

Excel was first written for the Apple Macintosh² and wasn’t ported to Windows³ until 1987. This, coupled with Microsoft Word, a “word processing” software package that served as an alternative to market leaders Electric Pencil and WordStar, and later Xywrite and WordPerfect (the latter three among the first innovators to DeBut semi-random capitalization within product titles, a GreatLeap forward without which modern computing would be unimaginable) allowed the plucky little Pacific Northwest software to gain a small foothold in the big business of corporate America in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

——————————

¹I was going to ask how something could be simultaneously Lotus and Excel, and defer how it could even have taillights until later, because I am subtle that way. Thanks for screwing that one up for me, Torch. Bastard.

²An obscure derivative of Apple’s famous and both widely popular and wildly popular Lisa computer, introduced one year after Lisa in 1984. I think there was an advertising campaign or something.

³Windows was a product introduced by Microsoft that provided a GUI (graphical user interface) “on top of” the MS-DOS and PC-DOS disk operating systems in common use at the time.

Last edited 10 days ago by AlterId
Knowonelse
Knowonelse
10 days ago
Reply to  AlterId

Just an aside. My parents wrote one of the textbooks for the other other spreadsheet program, Quattro Pro. It is really hard to make up data to use in a spreadsheet, so our names and members of our extended family ended up in the examples.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
10 days ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

I once had to make up names for desk signs to make an nearly deserted office seem populated for a VIP visit (one of the most Dilbert things I’ve ever had to do).

The first few were easy, then I just started messing around with the same basic thing and hoped no one would notice that Andrew Peterson sat next to Peter Andrews, who was opposite Andy Peters who sat next to Peter Andrewson.

No one noticed.

Afterwards we left the signs up and when people came in chasing stuff we’d say Pete Anderson was dealing with it but wasn’t here, and they’d just go away.

Red865
Red865
9 days ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

‘Steve Johnson’ always signed off on the QC labels for stuff production screwed up back at a commercial interiors factory used to work at. Stuff was generally fine to ship but wasn’t per drawings. It cheezed us off for the bone headed mistakes shop made and there was never time to remake/fix before shipment. Totally made up name. No one ever noticed.

Beached Wail
Beached Wail
10 days ago
Reply to  AlterId

to DeBut semi-random capitalization within product titles, a GreatLeap forward

That’s the appropriately named Camel case (AKA camelCase or CamelCase). It was very popular prior to the turn of the century in an era known as The Great Medial Capitalization Scare. Superseded by the iEverything era, itself now nearly forgotten in the face of the latest “AI-all-the-things” naming obsession.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
10 days ago
Reply to  Beached Wail

ACKSHUALLY that’s PascalCase. camelCase doesn’t capitalize the first letter.

Church
Church
10 days ago

I came for the taillight trivia. I stayed for the spreadsheet trivia.

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
10 days ago

What was Lotus thinking? At the very least, they could have drilled another hole on the new bottom of the taillight. AND… it would have added lightness!

Last edited 10 days ago by Eggsalad
FlavouredMilk
FlavouredMilk
10 days ago

I entered this article mostly brain-off, but the moment I saw the photo of that Rover I knew exactly what was going on, and it so hilariously on brand for Lotus.

A. Barth
A. Barth
10 days ago

Now, you eagle-eyed readers may have noticed one crucial thing

Possibly, but I was distracted by the slightly wonky muffler exits.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
10 days ago

It’s too bad we only see the rear of the Rover SD1 – it’s a quite handsome, balanced design that I’ll always remember for its use by British police back in the ’80s.

Last edited 10 days ago by Jack Trade
Cerberus
Cerberus
10 days ago

Damn, when I converted the shitty headlights on my mk1 Legacy to quad Hella 90mms, I considered how the water would drain. Rubber plugs, glued-in or welded-in patch depending if it’s acrylic or polycarbonate, and some new holes in the bottom, maybe put in those rubber breather tubes.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
10 days ago
Reply to  Cerberus

No hot glue?

Cerberus
Cerberus
9 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

I guess we are talking about Lotus . . .

Abdominal Snoman
Abdominal Snoman
10 days ago

How common were / are drain holes in tail lights? In many cars starting with a 92 I’ve had to drill my own 1/16th inch size hole to prevent them fogging up on the inside. All of them seemed sealed except for the bulb holder which usually doesn’t “breath” enough for some cars especially those with clear lenses.

Red865
Red865
9 days ago

Did same for my 89 Mustang….had nice fishbowls going on. Halogen bulbs with sloshing water not a good mix. Also drill tiny holes at top, angled back to ‘extract’ vapor when driving. Never a problem after that.

Jonathan Hendry
Jonathan Hendry
9 days ago
Reply to  Red865

The hole at the top might also help increase smooth flow from the bottom hole by allowing air in. May not strictly be needed because they probably aren’t air tight anyway.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
10 days ago

DOS is some really fine reporting.

Toecutter
Toecutter
10 days ago

…and it has reliability possibly even worse than a Hyundai Excel from the same era!

Bob Boxbody
Bob Boxbody
10 days ago

Interesting about the taillights. I get irritated enough when I see moisture in my headlights, I would have to go somewhere and calm down if I ever saw actual grime in my taillights.

All that said, the old computer guy inside me strongly cringes at the phrase “Lotus Excel.”

Citrus
Citrus
10 days ago
Reply to  Bob Boxbody

Somehow a leaf got in my taillights very soon after I bought my car and, since I don’t know how to get at it, has now been in there for 6 years.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
10 days ago
Reply to  Citrus

That’s unbeleafable.

A. Barth
A. Barth
10 days ago
Reply to  Citrus

Get after it!

If you’re in the US, you’ve probably got a long holiday weekend coming up. 🙂

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