Brake lights are one of the biggest unsung heroes of motoring. Think of all those rear ends you’ve not thoughtlessly slammed into thanks to a couple of little light bulbs nestled behind a lens of red plastic. As with almost everything, somewhere out there there is a Best One, and for brake lights, I think it has to be the set installed on the 1969 Chevrolet Manta Ray concept car.
The 1969 Manta Ray concept was an evolution of the Corvette styling concept cars started in 1963 with the Mako Shark concept. Another concept, the 1965 Mako Shark II further developed the design that would eventually become the C3 Corvette’s design.
After the C3 ‘Vette went into production with a version of the Mako Shark II’s look in 1968, the original Mako Shark II was sent back to Bill Mitchell and the GM design team to be converted into the even more dramatic Manta Ray concept in 1969.
Of course, there’s a great deal that can be said about the Manta Ray, but I just want to focus on the taillights and brake lights, especially. Watch that video up there. See what I mean?
In addition to the now-iconic quad round lamps that define Corvette rear lighting, above the beltline the Manta Ray had a pair of upward-facing, coverered brake lights. The covers were mirrored, so that when you stomped on the brakes, the covers would raise, feeling a bit like aircraft speed brakes, and reflecting the red light from the brake lights to the cars and adoring public behind you.
It’s pretty much all theater, sure, but it’s a hell of a show. Some sources say these were also used for indicators, which would combine the best of semaphores and blinking ones, but I can’t confirm that.
It’s also what I believe are the only examples of pop-up taillights of any kind in motoring, though, even as I type this I have a feeling somebody will find an example to prove this wrong.
2016 is about to come to a hard stop, and I think we’d all be much happier if it showed us that with brake lights like these. Happy New Year, pals.
(Thanks to Raph for showing this to me, and to this Oppo post that I think showed it to him!