Everyone, drop everything you’re doing — let go of that belay line, put down those defibrillator paddles, take your hands off that steering wheel, because there’s a question about taillights that needs your attention. While I’m pretty sure I’ve idly contemplated this, the actual straightforward question came from a post by our pals in the Malaise Motors Facebook group: What was the first American car — as in American-built, for the American market — that had amber rear turn indicators?
A question a child might ask, but not a childish question.
In case you’re unaware, America is the global weirdo when it comes to rear turn signals. We’re just about the only country that does not require the rear turn indicators to be amber, even though we mandated amber for front indicators way back in 1963, and there have been proponents of amber rear signals since at least 1960. Studies from manufacturers and NHTSA have found amber rear signals to be safer for decades.
To this day, American cars tend to go for red rear indicators, but not always. Sometimes, American carmakers have chosen to use amber rear signals on their cars even in their home market. What I’d like to know is who was first?
Now, let’s get our criteria straight, here. This has to be a car built by an American company, in America, for the American market. That means that American cars adapted for export use, like these
...don’t count. Same goes for “captive imports” like the Ford Capri, sold through Mercury dealerships since 1970 and always sporting amber rear signals:
Yes, it was an American company selling the car to the American market, but the car was Europe’s Mustang, coming from Ford of Britain/Germany. It doesn’t count.
So who was doing this early on? Ford seems to be a vanguard here, with some early entries, like the impressively Malaise-shitty 1975 Ford Granada. GM gave it a go in late 1975 (as a 1976 model) with the Chevette, and Mopar played with it for one lone year with the ’77 Fury.
Before all these, though, there was the Mustang II. In 1974, Ford’s Pinto-based kinda-a-letdown Mustang sequel came with glorious citrus-colored rear signals, which, along with the body-colored bumpers, may be the biggest stylistic and safety innovations of the car.
You may have noticed on the top image that Ford does reference them in their brochure, saying “Note the new 3-color taillights.”
It seems that the 1974 Mustang II may be the first American-built car for the American market to have amber rear indicators — but there’s a catch.
I think there may be an American-market, American-built car that beats it by a year, but it is a sort of niche car, and the taillights themselves may be an issue. It’s this:
That’s a 1973 Excalibur SS Series II. Excaliburs were built in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and had big Chevy V8s. These unashamedly and opulently retro beasts used Volkswagen parts for much of their lighting, including turn indicators and taillights, because the design of the VW units were not integrated into the Beetle’s bodywork and could be easily adapted to the Excalibur.
In 1973, VW Beetle taillights had an amber rear indicator, so that’s what the Excalibur got: amber rear turn signals, on an American-built car, for the American market, in 1973.
So, my question is, does the Excalibur get the award for the First With Amber Rear Blinkers, or is it disqualified for being too niche and using taillights from another manufacturer?
Personally, I think it counts — taillight borrowing for small makes was very common, and niche or not, they built and sold over 3,500 of these things, so it’s hardly a one-off.
Still, I want to hear what you think, because I’m not like the others: I give a damn. Excalibur, Mustang II, or something I overlooked completely?