I’m very fortunate in that our readers tend to be fantastic. They’re the sort of people that take note of what interests me as a writer, and then reach out to me with things they suspect I’d find interesting. As such, a number of readers have emailed me pictures of strange, secret taillights hidden in trunks, because they know I have a taillight fetish and love weird crap. They’re right! I am interested. Let’s talk secret taillights.
I think the car that’s getting the most secret taillight attention right now is the Buick/Opel Cascada, possibly because its secret taillights are so obvious and unexpected.
The car is a smallish convertible, but we see the same thing on other Opel creations, like the Insignia station wagon version:
The reason these secret, hidden taillights exist is probably what you’ve already guessed it is: so the lights can be seen and do their job even if the trunk is open.
Now, on a convertible like the Cascada, it’s hard to imagine anyone’s going to be cramming a canoe in there or something, but on a wagon it makes more sense.
Just for fun, I confirmed this with a spokesperson from Buick, where I asked about regulations where the lights can be seen with the trunk or hatch open:
You are correct and the reason for the “most cars don’t do this” comment is that designers generally design the trunklid to comply with safety and regulatory needs so that a portion of the taillights remain in place and attached to the fenders while the trunk is open. For the Cascada, the designers were really hot on the clamshell-type design to get the exterior look they wanted.
The other option looking at the Audi Q5 would be to put those lights down on the bumper but the design team wanted to keep the rear clean with the smaller surface area of a convertible versus an SUV. So they took a rather unconventional approach but one that works!
Of course, it’s not just Buicks or Opels that do this, and there’s a lot of different solutions to the problem, as the Buick rep mentioned with the Audi Q5's solution of mounting the essential lights on the bumper.
The first-gen version of the modern Mini Clubman, for example, used an especially clever approach, where the doors contained cut-outs for the taillights so they could remain visible while the doors are open:
This certainly seems like a much cheaper way to meet the regulation without the expense and hassle of a whole secondary set of rarely-glimpsed taillight units and all their associated wiring and support, but it’s not like that’s a new idea, either.
Secondary taillights have been around for a while, and in some really unexpected cars. Years ago I wrote about the set in the Aston Martin Lagonda, a car that has to be among the least likely to ever haul oversized crap around in its trunk.
And, even earlier than that, and what may possibly be the earliest example of this, in 1949 Nash introduced the Airflyte body style to their Ambassador model, and this was a massive, streamlined whale of a car that featured, among other things, taillights mounted on the chrome trim on the trunk lid. As a result, it had this:
I can’t imagine how non-existent the rear visibility in that thing would be with trunk up, but at least they made an effort for the car to be seen from behind.
So, there you go. It seems like an expensive, crazy solution to have a whole second set of taillights, but I suppose if you’re really dead set against having a hatch or trunk lid that leaves the lights visible when open, you don’t have much choice.