This Official Photoshoot Of A Volvo Designer And His Beloved Taillight Is Proof I Didn’t Make Up Taillight Fetishism

Taillightlove Top

I know there are a lot of you out there who believe that I have, somehow, just concocted the very idea of a rich, thriving Taillight Subculture out of the dank recesses of my depraved mind. That, somehow, there are no taillight bars and clubs and taillight-themed restaurants and cruises and erotic lifestyle events, that taillights are merely a government-mandated signaling device used on cars, and not humankind’s purest form of technical and artistic expression. I understand why many of you believe this, but, if so, then I ask you to explain the existence of these 2006 official Volvo photos of Studio Chief Designer Simon Lamaare and a beloved taillight from a Volvo C30. You can’t explain it without a vibrant taillight culture, so don’t even try.

I need to thank fellow autojourno Rob Stumpf for stumpfling across these images and posting them to Twitter, which is where I was alerted to their existence:

Man, you really need a moment just to really drink these images in. Ostensibly, the whole press 2006 release is about highlighting Studio Chief Designer Simon Lamaare’s Quebecois heritage, but the pictures tell a very different story. I mean, look:


There are a lot more than being from Canada going on here, unless maybe you’re telling people at your middle school you have a taillight in Canada you’ve been seeing.

The taillight is from a car Lamaare worked on, the Volvo C30. Lamaare discusses the C30’s design in the press release:

This time, Lamarre has taken Volvo Cars in the other direction: to the premium compact segment. The four-passenger C30 is a full 22 cm shorter than the five-passenger Volvo S40 sedan.

“I definitely enjoy working on something that isn’t mainstream,” says Lamarre. “But the C30 was extra fun because it was stepping away from what people would normally perceive as a Volvo.”

Lamarre explains that Volvo Cars has typically been a family-focused company with vehicles designed to accommodate both parents and children. The C30, on the other hand, is designed to appeal to the single crowd or couples. He says this new direction not only created excitement and high expectations for the car within the company, it also fed his enthusiasm for the project.

“I wanted to create something that’s different, but would still be perceived as a Volvo,” he recalls. He says it was a mandate that required a delicate touch and adds it’s a reason why he feels the automobile represents the ultimate design challenge. “Designing a car is all about finding a balance between many different aspects,” he says. “You have to consider manufacturing capabilities, it has to look good, be useful and be economically viable. On top of that, you have government regulations to consider.”

But the biggest challenge to automotive designers is how people interpret their work. “You can quantify engineering, but you can’t quantify design,” he says. “To me, good design makes a statement without screaming at you. So I try to keep my design work simple with simple shapes, no excessive folds in the sheet metal and no ornamentation.”

And, if you look at the C30, with its Volvo P1800ES-like glass rear hatch, you can see that the taillight design plays a huge role in the car’s dramatic look:


They effectively are the C-pillars of the car, framing the showcase element, the glass hatch, and emphasizing the “shoulders” of the car as well. These taillights are Big Deal to this design, and, based on these photos, to Simon as well.

Simon Lights2

Look at those pictures up there. They’re not the usual publicity photos of an all-powerful designer and the Art that they breathed into being; this is a photo of partners, the designer and the designed, equal participants in the demanding game of translating metal and plastic into something that stirs people, deep inside.

There’s love in these pictures, and if you can’t see that, then you have my pity, as you live in a dark, joyless world.

There’s confidence, too, born from a security that only comes from genuine respect given freely, openly, from all parties. How else can you explain this image, where the taillight is given center stage, and the designer is happy to recede into the background, proud of his creation and confident enough to let it exist on its own merits?


This isn’t really a press release about Quebec or Simon Lamaare or Volvo. It’s a love letter masquerading as a press release, a bold, unflinching reminder that taillights are red because they pull their essence from deep within us, from the CHMSL-red blood that pumps in our hearts, and the pride of someone who helped bring a new taillight into the dark world, to illuminate reverse progress, to pulsate amberly as a turn is indicated, to glow a crimson warning of an impending halt – this is what matters.

It seems that at least once in 2006, Volvo and at least one of their designers understood this, deeply.

I hope Lmaare and his taillight are still together and happy to this very day.

UPDATE: A commenter, Jack Trade, thoughtfully pointed out something I neglected to mention: the setting. This isn’t a studio shot. This isn’t by the car. This isn’t in the design studio. It appears to be out on a…hiking trail? The base of a mountain? It’s not just posed photos with a beloved taillight, it’s photos of a lovely day out in nature with a beloved taillight! It’s so much, so good.

(Photos: Volvo, incredibly)

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59 Responses

  1. I always thought the C30 was a pretty sharp mid-aughts re-interpretation of the 480, and the taillight treatment caps it off. In my head at least, when they’re serving as the C-pillars they seem like an extended hat-tip to the hockey-stick kick on the old 480 taillights.

    However, when taken off the car and held lovingly in the arms of their designer, for some reason the only thing I can see is the head of a cute cartoon ant that tragically succumbed to that parasitic fungus that turns them into zombies. Simon’s smile is bittersweet as he remembers the good times they had together, before the inevitable cordyceps-inflicted decline takes hold.

        1. That is my main qualm with modern headlight/taillight designs: they’re designed to be expensive to replace. When I had to replace one of the taillights in my Renault 4 I was really happy to find out they’re still being produced, and that a new, domestic-made plastic housing would cost €27. I would later grab a brand new passenger side DRL/indicator (the whole headlight, not just the plastic reflector) for €7. If I were to replace all headlights/taillights, including separately sold rubber seals, that would set me back about 1/3 of a C30 taillight.

          1. If they build enough of something, the aftermarket will come through with cheap parts. I had a leaking headlight housing on a minivan, and bought both headlights and tail lights for ~$150. I was only planning on the one, but for that price I figured I could have everything match.

            Material-wise, there’s no reason this tail light should be any more than any other (maybe a little more – that’s a lot of plastic)

            1. But somehow they’re much more expensive. Maybe they’re designed to look expensive and justify the crazy prices. If I were to replace a taillight in my ’98 VW Polo with a matching brand new one I’d be spending a little over €100 (although for that one I never go with brand new anything apart from mechanical suff, since used, good condition parts are abundant and cheap; I once had to buy a front bumper, grille, hood, both fog lights, driver’s side headlight, indicator and fender; paid €145 for the lot and as a bonus, everything fit into the Renault 4 just fine).

  2. Ok now surely, SURELY, someone on here has the ability and proximity to Torchinsky to do one of those great, awkward 90s style photo shoots with him and his nearest and dearest light right? I’m talking the colored background, slightly blurry quality, probably a sweater and some ultra-thick, oversized glasses.. now that would be a press photo if I’ve ever seen one!

  3. I mostly enjoy the surreal incongruousness of the backdrop.

    He’s not standing close to the taillight on a a car just rolled off the line or displayed on an autoshow style pedestal, he’s taking the light itself hiking in the woods. No doubt followed by a picnic.

  4. They’re playing up his Quebecois heritage, but he’s not wearing an inverted C30 taillight as an homage to the toque worn by Bonhomme Carnaval? He’s not using it to bake up a tourtiere? The press release isn’t released exclusively in French, no matter the audience?

  5. This is awesome, and it’s definitely an achievement to be celebrated. The C30 is one of the best looking modern Volvos in my opinion, and I recognised the tail light before I even read the title of the article. Truly an outstanding design for all the best reasons, and an outstanding photo shoot, also for the best reasons.

    Reminds me of one of the funniest band promo photos ever, put out by stoner rockers Sleep back in 2012

  6. As much as I love this story about a Volvo designer taking a taillight out on a date on a hiking trail, something really irks me. It’s this:

    “with its Volvo P1800ES-like glass rear hatch”

    There was never such thing as a P1800ES. You should know wince you owned a P1800! The letters represent which series of production the car falls in and the ‘P’ designation was just the early ones. The shooting brake 1800 was called the 1800ES.

    I understand it’s difficult to run a website on your own but the constant readability problems in the articles are getting to me. For instance:

    “There are a lot more than being from Canada going on here”

    This was one of the small issues that won’t be picked up with spellcheck but can easily be discerned by having a human read it over before print. I don’t expect even close to perfection but these errors seem to be increasing. Either way, good luck with the Autopian!

    1. While your pedantry is appreciated (sort of), this article could be written in crayon and it still would get a pass. The excitement in Torch’s writing is absolutely palpable… You could almost tell he was vibrating with joy while writing it.

      Just chill and enjoy it, bruh

  7. Back when was a thing, a particularly OCD branch of posters hated the visible yellow bulb in the round turn signal. They called it the “fried egg,” and many folks replaced the yellow coated bulb with a silvered version that illuminated yellow.

    I always thought the taillight assembly looked like the profile of an over-designed dining chair.

  8. Man, I used to want one of these C30s so bad. I know it’s marketing fluff, but I like seeing a designer let off the leash a bit and producing something that they care about and is actually a but unusual.

    Another case of a good car let down by a shitty dealer network. I had dreams of the factory delivery program, but I didn’t ever get to see what the details of that actually were. I went to the only dealer local to me at the time, one that loudly advertised NO HYPE!, and asked for a test drive. The salesman obliged, but insisted I take out a loaded R-design in red. I protested that I wasn’t going to spend the money for the top trim and I didn’t like the color. He persisted, so I drove it. Afterwards I spent two hours in his office trying to get him to sell me a car I wanted, while he kept trying to find different ways to lease me the red R design I had no interest in and was pretty clear that I couldn’t afford. I, exasperatedly, said enough at the two hour mark and walked over to the VW dealership that happened to be next door.

    The VW dealer happened to have a one year used GTI in the showroom for a bit less than I had budgeted for a C30. In about half an hour, and after remarkably little bullshit, I was signing papers, and have been an almost unwaveringly loyal VW driver since.

    1. I made virtually the opposite purchasing decision in early 2009. I’d narrowed my choice down to a leftover new 2008 R32 and a leftover new 2008 C30. The C30 was an R-Design Red Sox Special Edition, leftover I think because of the ridiculous BoSox logos plastered on it . Started at the VW dealer, took a long test drive but something seemed off with the DSG in that one.

      I then drove the R32, with the salesman (a senior member of the family whose name was on the dealership) to their Volvo store on the other side of town. Drove the C30 and it made my decision easy. The C30 was smooth, comfortable, beautiful and unusual. It, like the R32, was discounted about $7,500 off sticker (remember those days), so I got into it new for around $22,500 + tax & tags. I had them remove the stupid Red Sox logos before delivery. I kept the C30 for 9 years then sold it to a coworker who’s still dailying it today.

    1. Shout out to JT!

      If you visit DT anytime soon, just give 4 hours notice, and I will gladly drive my C30, with its GLORIOUS taillights, over to DT’s for you to see in person and to salivate over. 😉

      (Yes, I am serious, I only live 12 miles from DT’s house of Iron Oxide)

  9. The C30 has long been one of my most wanted cars. Something about the glass hatch gets to me.

    Always thought it would make an awesome rally car–strip it down, throw in a rear axle electric motor (with just enough battery for ~50-100 all out KM) for awd/mid-weight distro, toss on a different suspension, and tear up some gravel roads in style.

      1. And I have absolutely no problem with that.

        I often wonder if Jason’s obsession with taillights is somehow sexual given that so many of them look like places to put phalli into. 😀

  10. “It’s a love letter masquerading as a press release, a bold, unflinching reminder that taillights are red because they pull their essence from deep within us, from the CHMSL-red blood that pumps in our hearts, and the pride of someone who helped bring a new taillight into the dark world, to illuminate reverse progress, to pulsate amberly as a turn is indicated, to glow a crimson warning of an impending halt – this is what matters.”

    Your prose would bring Shakespeare joy & envy.

  11. Jason, have you been sampling that substance extracted from fungus growing around the nest of the Giant Rat of Sumatra again?

    Whatever the impetus, keep it up: I sorely missed WTFriday

  12. Jason, I’ll give you an insider’s secret on Simon’s tailight that he is oh so proudly displaying… (Who sleeps on which side though? Who bites the pillow? This I ignore)

    First, please correct his name. It’s Lamarre, not Lamaare (although I’ll give you that looks Swedish, it ain’t french though), as in the press quote.

    The inspiration for this taillight design does indeed have to do with his heritage. You see, I remember reading in a local car article back in the day that his inspiration for the taillight shape was Montreal’s Olympic Stadium tower, a unique design in its own right. (French Architect Roger Tallibert). When you look at them next to each other it’s pretty clear. I’ve only ever seen that since.

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