Volvo Once Made Turn Indicators So Weird They’re In A Museum Now

Cuckoo Top

An often under-appreciated element of automotive safety is communication — giving some sort of hint to everyone around you about what you’re planning to do in that car of yours can only be a good thing, right? Of course, the indication of turns is the most frequent and common purely-selfless act that we humans undertake, as it lets people around you know your directional intent, and prepare accordingly. Volvo, a carmaker with a longtime focus on safety, understood this, and while the brand wasn’t the first to market with flashing electric turn indicators (that honor belongs to Buick, in 1939) it did offer a really unique version of them in the early 1950s, and even though they were a failure, the device was interesting enough to get its own display in Volvo’s museum and, it seems, other museums. It’s the Fixlight 1180, also known as the Takgök, or “Cuckoo on the Roof.”

The Fixlight 1180 was in many ways a fairly conventional approach to electrical turn indication in that it involved blinking amber lights, but that’s about where the similarities end, because the location and design of the 1180 was just so damn weird, even for the era.

Fixlight1180

Here’s how Volvo’s museum describes the — frankly pathetic — Fixlight 1180:

Fixlight 1180 – “Cuckoo on the Roof”

The Fixlight 1180 was a direction indicator mounted on the roof of PV444 for a few years in the early 1950s. Popular humor swiftly gave it the name “Cuckoo on the Roof.” It was manufacture Fixtabriken in Majorna, Gothenburg. The owner of the factory was a good friend with one of the founders of Volvo, Assar Gabrielsson. The device was never a success. It had low visibility in daylight, caused water leakage and made impossible to have a roof rack, but it created a lot of cheerfulness with its appearance!

“Cuckoo on the Roof” was only available for two years, between September 1950 and August 1952. Ceiling-mounted indicators were prohibited by Swedish law from new year 1952/53. The replacement indicators was mounted on the B-pillar but were also manufactured by Fixfabriken. The company was a major supplier to Volvo Trucks both before and after “Cuckoo on the Roof” and still produces locks for garages.

There’s a lot of remarkable things to learn in those two short paragraphs, and they’re mostly breaking down why having your turn indicators in a roof-mounted little wing is such bad idea. You can’t use a roof rack, bad visibility, causes leaks — really, and I’m sure it had some amount of aerodynamic penalty as well. It seems to have proven to be so crappy that Sweden actually made roof-mounted indicators illegal the year they went off the market.

1180 Cover

Think about that: you design something so bad that a whole country doesn’t just say no thanks, they make it a flapjacking crime to do it that way again. That’s got to sting a bit.

One advantage I can see about this thing was that only two bulbs were needed for visibility at front and rear of the car, so if your goal is to save 50% of your bulbs, that’s something. The unit also featured a blue lens in the center, but so far I haven’t been able to find exactly what the purpose of this was; it seems to be just a sort of running/marker lamp, perhaps to help guide the eye to the admittedly unexpected part of the car to get information about turns.

It’s also worth noting that in 1965 Ford was playing with a similar setup they called the Video Pod, which I’m pretty sure I’ve written about years ago. You can see the similar concept at work, though Ford seemed to be going for a more jet-age type design:

Mustang

Unsurprisingly, this never caught on, either. There was also a periscope sort of rear-view setup going on here, which is what that large hood is over the rear window. Here’s some more details about this odd experiment:

Vidpod2

That center lamp was interesting, too:

The center lamp is described as a “deceleration indicator,” which I’m guessing means that it operates when the car slows, regardless of if the brakes are applied or not, such as what might happen when downshifting or coasting up an incline.

I suppose the takeaway from all this is that sticking turn signals on a roof-mounted doohickey has been tried, and doesn’t seem to work. I hope this is helpful to you, somehow. I know it is to me.

 

 

 

 

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24 Responses

  1. A deceleration indicator is a damn good idea, frankly. I’ve always thought that brake lights only solve half the problem.

    I don’t think signaling is purely altruistic, though. It eases traffic congestion by helping drivers work together for smooth flow. It reduces the chance that someone will crash into you because they weren’t expecting you to turn. It even, so I’m told, gives other drivers a chance to make a little room for you when you want to change lanes—although that may be apocryphal. Signaling helps everyone, the driver included.

    1. Reminds me, been meaning to ask:
      For those BEV cars with one pedal driving; how does the brake light situation work out? Is there a standard? How is it implemented? Does regen braking not require warning following traffic?

      If only someone out there already knew, or was known to be nutz about both electric cars AND taillights. If only…

      1. They dont have a standard, but usally they use a accelerometer in the BCM to detect you slowing down and light up the brake light.

        The first gen of Volt and leaf didnt have this and does not light up the brake light.

    2. Jim Hall had the right idea on the CanAm Chaparrals, a mercury switch that turned on the brake lights on deceleration. It was necessitated by the big wing/air brake that could slow the car down tremendously without using the brake pedal.

      I have almost been rear ended driving manual transmission cars that slow down considerably just with engine braking and thus no brakes or brake lights.

      Which brings to mind: What happens with electric cars in one pedal driving mode ?

      1. A mercury switch today would make every accident scene a potential HAZMAT incident. Imagine the insurance rates on that!

        My Bolt has a pretty good deceleration detention system when I’m in one-pedal driving. I had this same concern when I bought it and tested it out. On the other hand, I really only use it in drive-throughs and have twice been told by the customer behind me that my brake lights don’t work. If you just creep along the lights don’t come on so in a highway traffic jam maybe don’t use one-pedal.

      2. I commented about this a few weeks ago, but I was recently on a lengthy drive on a winding, lumpy, no-passing road behind a Tesla that must have been doing one-pedal driving. Every change in grade or direction caused the car to slow without brake lights in a manner that was really difficult to anticipate. It was really stressful.

        1. For some reason Tesla suck with their brake lights. You can tell the car is slowing down a lot and the brake lights turn on at the last minute. In other EVs, when you are on one pedal driving, they turn on automatically pretty fast. Add that their taillights are a small led strip (Model 3, Y) that looks they came from Autozone or Amazon…

      3. I was wondering about the same phenonema when using cruise control with the keep-distance engaged. I could see that someone was going to cut in on me while using this feature and was curious as to how much deceleration the vehicle would use after the person cut in on me. Did the brake lights come on or not? I have no idea, but it was a rather quick deceleration. Of course I was ready on the brake, just in case the auto-system didn’t engage sufficiently.

  2. Really, I expect ALL turn signals to be in a museum soon. Like landline phones, coal shovels, buggy whips, and all the other stuff that the vast majority of Americans don’t actually use.

  3. “The unit also featured a blue lens in the center, but so far I haven’t been able to find exactly what the purpose of this was; (bla bla bla)”

    I am pretty sure that the blue lamp was so that you knew whether the turn signal was to the left of the center or to the right of the center as indicated by the blue lamp, otherwise it’s just a blinking orange light on the roof. If this was not terribly effective with the blue lamp I can only imagine how useless it would be without it.

    1. I wonder if it was a different color on the back as well so that if all you saw was the roof light (because it was behind another car) you’d know whether you were looking at the front or back.

  4. Very slightly off target………..Brake Force Indicator lights (BFIs) are standard on Euro cars but (apparently?) not legal in the US. They flash with increasing intensity as the pedal is pushed harder.

    I see a lot of P-Car and Bimmers at the track with the function enabled and it sure seems like it would startle a glassy-eyed commuter to life in the event of a sudden emergency braking situation.

    Don’t even get me started on the red over red turn signals in the US……………………..

  5. In today’s brodozer-invested world, maybe this idea deserves a rethink. Seems like it might make sense for those of us who drive actual close-to-the-ground cars to have brake lights and turn signals mounted nearer the roofline so they can be seen over the grill of a new Silverado.

  6. “The lights flash red and are visible by several cars in back”

    This is a huge benefit. In the old days when most cars were sedans of similar size, you could see the brake lights / turn signals of cars 2 or 3 ahead and anticipate a slowdown. With giant SUVs and trucks, as well as mail-slot windows, this is no longer the case. I contend that this results in more panic stop traffic slowdowns.

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