The basic shape of car headlights hasn’t changed much 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 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 the ribbed rear lights from Mercedes have shaped whole generations of streetscapes.
Automobiles polarize like no other everyday object. As is often the case, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the experiences of drivers collide when it comes to actual use. In the generation of rear lights that Mercedes-Benz introduced in all its vehicles in the early 70s, at least one thing is easy to recognize: they’re heavily contoured, ribbed, corrugated – no-one seems to know what to call it really. The S-Class of the W 116 series led the way once again in 1972, with other models following suit. Big rear lights that weren’t smooth but consisted of horizontal rows of ribs. In the brochures they were introduced as a new safety detail, since they weren’t expected to get dirty as much as the smooth version. And when they did, they would still have a better light output. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Fans of the more or less distinct shape which has been around for decades agree on one thing in particular, namely that it was a successful and distinctive design. The ribbed plastic covers were continued into the 2000s, and they are still used as a design element in sedans today. Opinions differ, however, when it comes to the part about less dirt and the light output. In contrast to the predecessor with its smooth rear lights (especially in the “Stroke 8”, in other words the W 114 and W 115 series, the optical change was a difficult one during the major 1973 redesign) dirty lights could no longer be cleaned with a single wipe; instead, you had to poke around in between the ribs. Or giving it a steam clean took a bit longer. Dirt particles got stuck on permanently if you neglected to clean the lights regularly. Who remembers the 200 diesel workhorses, where the left rear light above the exhaust was always pitch black and dull?
Designers at that time such as Paul Bracq worked together with the engineers. Good ideas were consistently implemented and dominated the overall image of the vehicles. The grooves in the smaller rear lights of the T models were generally less contoured. The ribs were kept until the W/S 210 series; later on there was merely a hint of them left which no longer had any effect – if there ever was one in the first place. But no matter whether they had any benefit like dirt-free side windows, the grooves in the rear lights were a wonderful stylistic device which gave the star fleet a distinct face in the 70s and 80s. And you could replace the lamps in no time. What a beautiful new world we live in.