Thrill To Another Volkswagen Taillight Mystery: The Phantom Reverse Lamps

Illustration for article titled Thrill To Another Volkswagen Taillight Mystery: The Phantom Reverse Lamps
Screenshot: Volkswagen UK

I realize that for most of us, taillights are a source of comfort, of strength, an unyielding, illuminated beacon of truth in an increasingly uncertain world. While I myself feel this way and derive a great deal of my own inner strength via the contemplation of taillights, I realize that even in this near-holy arena, sometimes things may not be what they seem. I’ve found a fascinating and confusing example of this, in an early 1970s brochure for the upmarket Volkswagen Type 3.

Advertisement

The always excellent Twitter feed Car Brochure Addict shared this UK-market 1970 Type 3 Fastback and Squareback brochure, though none of the tweets mentioned the part that caught my attention.

For the most part, this seemed like any number of other Volkswagen Type 3 brochures I’ve seen before, touting that these were larger, more luxurious and better-appointed cars than the Beetle, but still with all of the fundamental traits and mechanical design that made the Beetle such a hit--reliable air-cooled engine, rear-engine traction, quality construction, etc.

The Type 3 was the upmarket choice for VW buyers, and included such high-tech stuff as being the first car with an ECU — the “brain box” for the Bosch fuel injection system.

It had all of the little things those lower-class Beetle buyers could only dream of. And that’s exactly why this strange addendum in the brochure struck me as so odd:

undefined
Screenshot: Volkswagen UK
Advertisement

Wait, what? The cars have the reverse lights installed, but they’re not actually wired up? You have to buy a special bit of wiring loom to have working reverse lights? What kind of perverse penny-pinching shit is this?

There’s something especially miserable about having a feature right there and visible on the car, but not having it actually be usable. This is especially crazy since this year, 1970, was when the Type 3 got a facelift that included, among other changes, reverse lamps integrated right into the taillight housings.

Advertisement

Here, see for yourself:

undefined
Screenshot: Volkswagen UK
Advertisement

You’d think after going to all the trouble to design and injection-mold new lights, you’d actually wire up the whole thing, right? Right?

Think of the poor bastard who bought one of these and took it out into some deep darkness, confident that they now owned a car with a pair of brilliant white reversing lamps, integrated right into the main taillights, ready to light their way behind them at the flick of a gear lever, only to find that when they clunked into R, only inky blackness remained to their rear, mocking them with its impenetrable darkness.

Advertisement

Perhaps they wept.

In America, reverse lamps were legally required by 1967. From what I can tell online, British cars only actually required one reverse lamp for cars registered after 2009! Some sources seem to suggest you can pass your MOT without a reverse lamp! It doesn’t seem they’re actually required in the UK?

Advertisement

Do people in Britain not care what’s behind them? And yet they require rear fog lamps, so I guess people in the UK only care about being seen from behind, but not actually seeing behind them, at least not all cast in a red glow.

It’s strange. I have trouble believing it was somehow cheaper for VW to leave off a bit of wiring and have separate logistics and management and part numbers for a wiring loom sans reverse lights than it was to just make them work on all the cars by default.

Advertisement

Were bulbs and sockets included? It sort of sounds like it, since the note only mentions a “special wiring loom.”

I reached out to VW, but they were baffled as well, as whoever’s idea this was is likely long dead and even more British. So far this is the only time I’ve encountered an annotation like this, and it seems to be a stickered afterthought, which makes me suspect it was very regional.

Advertisement

If anyone has any ideas about this, or knows of other cars that pulled this cheapskate, save-three-feet-of-wire bait-and-switch, I’d love to hear it!

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

DISCUSSION

smalleyxb122
smalleyxb122

So “We’ll install the feature, but you have to pay us more if you want to use it” isn’t as new of a thing as we thought?