The basic shape of car headlights remained more or less the same for decades and is only now experiencing a design renaissance through the use of LEDs. The rear lights, however, have always been a place for designers to run riot. Between the 50s and today there have been many upward and downward trends in terms of size, shape and function. The Osram carlight blog has embarked on a journey to show you old, new and long forgotten light shapes. After all, a beautiful rear can also endear. The rear of a car and its rear lights are at least as distinctive as its front.
Let’s start with the small, inconspicuous squares on a Ford from the 70s.
The roads were getting more and more crowded. Even though the 70s were shaken by the first real oil crises, people drove cars – to work, for a weekend away and to go on holiday with the family. The button-sized cat’s eyes (which in the 60s still illuminated the rear of many cars with 6-volt lamps) were no longer enough; they weren’t easy to see and could barely be distinguished from motorcycles. Cars were becoming bigger, more luxurious and faster. A “new class” was born, and given that modern H4 headlights were already turning night into day at the front, a car should also be seen and recognizable from the back. Ford in Cologne demonstrated a simple way of doing it: indicators, lights, brake lights, and reversing lights – one on the left and one on the right. And that was it for mid-range cars.
The standard lamps with a base called BAY15D or a similar name (many simply call it bayonet base), sit in a plastic holder. No metal reflectors, no colored lamps, only a seal, and an amber and red cover – made of plastic as well. The fact that so little metal was used outside the lamp holders has the great advantage that even at an advanced age there’ll be no leakage currents, earth faults or short circuits. While with other manufacturers the whole rear light may well be flashing when the car is turning, here the worst thing that can happen is that the individual lamps fail if the contacts are too corroded. Then you can pick up a cheap replacement in any supermarket or gas station – to this day, and very often from Osram. You can sand down the contacts in the holder using fine sandpaper or a screwdriver.
To eliminate any doubts, the performance data is embossed into the plastic directly next to the holders. The indicator on top has 21 W, the small reversing lamp 15 W and the combined brake and rear light 21/5 W. At the same time, a small window at the back of the lamp holder allows light to illuminate the trunk. Simple and ingenious. Rear fog lights were reserved for higher trims or were mounted as accessories below the bumper. The rear lights were easy to see, the brake lights didn’t dazzle and the indicators fulfilled their purpose. And back then they were still used for turning, unlike today.
Obviously there were still some issues; we’ll deal with them in more detail soon enough. Tastes change over time and the design options of LEDs are almost limitless. In current rear lights there’s already a link between functionality and design. But one of the simplest and most functional specimen will be 50 soon. Great that it’s still going.