Hey, pals! How’s your day going? Slow? Boring? Calm? Well, kiss all that goodbye, because I’m about to shatter everything you thought you knew about DeLorean taillights. The taillights of the DeLorean DMC-12, a now-iconic bit of both automotive and pop-culture history, have always been a crucial part of its gloriously 1980s design, with their signature gridded form that’s perfectly integrated into the overall look of the car. That’s why finding out there was another taillight design used on the DeLorean has been so mind-blowing to me, and, ideally, will be for you as well.
Before we get into the other, barely-known design, let’s just revisit the DeLorean taillights we’re familiar with:
Ah, so good. The DeLorean’s rear end design leaned heavily on a grid pattern, something that 1980s design was full of, symbolic of the first real rise to prominence of computers in society, and evoking a high-tech image. Grids show up all over the visual landscape of the 1980s, from Rubik’s cubes to early pixel art to those ubiquitous glowing gridded planes that were used at every possible opportunity.
These lights were clearly designed specifically for the car, and show up in fairly early ItalDesign sketches of the DeLorean.
Even the famous Back to the Future time-machine-modded DeLorean made sure to keep the signature taillights visible, and likely not just for legal reasons.
They’re a big part of the car! There’s a reason International Taillight Appreciation Society chairperson Legroin Twinpinches awarded the DeLorean taillights ITAS Global Heritage Taillight “Red Lantern” status, which means that in the event of a global catastrophe, the DeLorean taillight will be among the 100 slated for preservation by being launched into a heliocentric orbit in a hermetically sealed capsule.
It’s an important taillight.
That’s why when I saw this I performed a spit-take so hard and violent it knocked by entire computer backwards off my desk and sent it clattering to the floor:
What. The. Fuck.
What’s happening? What am I looking at? What’s real, dammit? Okay, breathe. Is this a cheap, DIY accident repair job? The light units themselves look like off-the shelf auto-parts store units, so perhaps, but wait, look at the surround they’re mounted in!
That’s an injection-molded, three-piece plastic rear inset panel that’s very clearly specifically designed to fill the hole in the composite rear end-cap of the DeLorean where the taillight units and central panel once were! This can’t just be some shitty home accident repair!
Plus, it looks like there’s more than one of these cars:
How have I never seen this before? Stay calm, Jayjay. Work the problem. Dig. Don’t let the fear and ignorance win.
In this thread on the DMCTalk.org DeLorean community, I think we have an answer: This rear-end treatment is part of the very gray area of right-hand-drive DeLoreans; some say there were no official factory ones, some say some exist, all of which is peculiar considering the DeLorean was built in Ireland, a right-hand-drive country.
The story of these is explained by a DMCtalk poster named Phil Peters:
The so-called “Euro” Rubbolite tail lights were never a factory option. The Rubbolite lights and the different tail light / number plate (licence plate for those across the pond) surrounds were developed while the DeLorean factory was in receivership in 1982 and more attention was being placed on non-federal markets in order to make DMCL financially viable. A DeLorean was trailered down to Bill Towns where he designed the rear panel at his studio.
The factory had part numbers assigned for right-hand drive parts such as the instrument cluster, steering rack, head lights, carpets, brake servos, fuel filler neck etc. I have not seen a documented part number for different tail lights so this might suggest that the choice of tail lights (for the UK market at least) was never formalised to the same extent as some of the other components.
Some of the right-hand drive cars were fitted with the Bill Towns rear surround and Rubbolites after they were sold at auction but the cars left Wooler-Hodec with standard federal tail lights.
This is an odd situation. While not officially factory, this taillight setup seems to have been sort-of official, or at least optimistic, as it appears to have been designed while the factory was in financial trouble, but still hopeful enough to consider sales to other markets.
The stock rear end didn’t have room for the wide UK plates and needed rear foglamps; they took the easy way by sourcing the bus/trailer light units from UK manufacturer Rubbolite, but contacting William Towns — a very well-known automotive designer who designed the Aston Martin Lagonda, DBS, and Reliant Scimitar SS2 to do the surround panel, well, that couldn’t have been cheap and showed they were taking the RHD market seriously.
It seems there’s between three and 10 of these RHD DeLoreans out there, which is likely why this variant is so rarely seen.
If you have a DeLorean with broken lights or for your own perverse reasons want to convert yours to the RHD look, those same Rubbolite units are still available!
Looks like they’re model M203. A very basic design, but it still has a bit of that DeLorean grid look, and I think they have a clunky charm of their own.
This has likely been a lot for you to take in today. Why don’t you knock off early? Your boss will understand. Just have him call me if there’s any issue.
(thanks again, Hans!)