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 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. One of the most exotic cars in Germany can claim a pioneering role in terms of design. From 2002 the Lancia Thesis had such narrow rear lights that no conventional lamps could fit in, so LEDs were used even then.
The heading of this article is an homage to a certain sci-fi movie from the 70s, given that the Thesis looks like it’s from a different planet. Italian car manufacturer Lancia showed courage and between 2002 and 2009 combined a daring retro look and comfortable high-tech to create an agile, rustic looking notchback sedan. It contained everything that pampered drivers could wish for: automatic three-step air conditioning, massage seats, an electronic chassis, a BOSE sound system, leather, magnesium and wood. At the front, unusually shaped bi-xenon headlights illuminated the highway, while at the back, designers drew such narrow and unusual strips of light onto its rear that no conventional light bulbs would fit in. So LEDs were installed right from the start, which looked really nice – and makes exotic spare parts particularly expensive. Not because of the LEDs but because you pretty much can’t buy them anymore.
It’s a matter of taste whether you like the Thesis. But many potential buyers undoubtedly didn’t dare take the plunge, so overall only around 18,500 cars were produced. Only little more than 1,300 reached Germany; toward the end of production fewer vehicles were registered in one year than BMW 5 Series vehicles in one single day. That explains the prices for used spare parts. For a single secondhand rear light you now may well have to fork out €160; if the plastic is cracked or splintered you might get a bargain for €120. Whoa. Hats off to anyone who has one and looks after it. One of them is my respected colleague and car fan Lars Jakumeit whose rear lights are shown here.
What makes the Lancia Thesis so unique – apart from all its technical features – is exactly this daring design. Lancia’s aim wasn’t to excite the masses with its high-end sedan. They wanted to satisfy individual buyers. It all went wrong from an economic point of view; after all, even a bold designer wants to be able to pay for his pizza. Historically, they built a little masterpiece in Turin. Everything was neat, harmonious and well lit – but what was later unveiled was a poor man’s copy of a Chrysler. Shame really.
Keep your eyes open on the road. If you come across a Thesis you’ll recognize it instantly – certainly when it’s light outside, but especially when night has fallen and this extraordinary sedan takes its owners to places we can only guess.