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. And while last time we had our sights on the small rear lights of a Ford from the 70s, today it’s the complete opposite: the 90s.

In the 90s things were carried to extremes that were already hinted at in the 80s. Rear lights were getting bigger and bulkier. Of course not in all vehicles, but the trend was clearly visible. Claiming that large rear lights would increase safety, designers drew veritable balloons of light on the rear of cars. Whether you like it or not you need to decide for yourself; in any case, you can tell by looking at the “behind” of these cars which decade they were built in. Manufacturers started introducing a third brake light (which had been prescribed in the US since 1986) before it became mandatory for new registrations in the EU from 1998. That also changed the look of car rears long term, but that’s a different story.

Using an Opel Omega B as an example, we’re showing you how big and dominant the rear lights were; they really produced a lot of light at the back and at the same time were a contemporary design feature. In addition to the normal lights and brake lights, rear fog lights and reversing lights are symmetrically integrated on both sides – as usual from the mid range and up. The wraparound indicators at the top mark a further trend that was perfected in the 90s: the trend of “I’m not going to tell you straightaway what color I am when I’m on”. Coloring the indicator lamps instead of the glass allowed a sober and less colorful rear light arrangement, and also streamlined the fronts where all the lamps were now white from the outside.

The bulky chunky rear lights had the advantage that lamps could easily be replaced because there was lots of space, and laymen didn’t have to deal with complicated or integrated lighting systems. There’s no record of whether more animals crawled into the light chambers as a result. The newer the vehicles, the more you’ll notice a trend back to large rear lights. After the 90s, the lamps moved up dramatically and ended up next to the rear window (more on this later). Today, small and razor-sharp LED lights dominate the rear of most cars; the plastic balloons of light are dying out. So let’s now and again delight in a brave representative from the time when “a lot of light” was put on the same level as “large lights”. The Omega B and Senator were the last classic notchbacks to be produced by Opel; at the same time the classic transmission concept with a large engine at the front and drive at the rear was also laid to rest. Right up to the present day. It wasn’t really that long ago and time will tell where we’ll end up in the next ten years.

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