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When did all cars get two tail lights?


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When did all cars get two tail lights? I note that a lot of cars, even more expensive early cars, only had one, low-mounted, tail light that doesn't seem very effective. When did all cars get two tail lights as standard equipment? Why were they so low when common sense dictates that they be higher?

When did turn signals become mandatory?

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Our 1934 Ford sedan had only one taillight (as shown in my avatar), but I believe that 1936 Buicks all have two, so sometime in the mid-30s manufacturers seem to have added the second light as standard equipment across the board. Whether this was for safety or aesthetic reasons, I can't say. Perhaps both.

Even high-end cars often only had one taillight and it always looks odd. I'm grateful that my Cadillac has two, however I believe the second was an option. We should also bear in mind that there was a lot less light pollution on the road back then, speeds were far lower, and there weren't as many cars, so it was probably less of an issue until the mid-30s when traffic got notably faster. Perhaps it was just a monetary decision, although that still doesn't explain why, say, the 1929 Lincoln we have for sale only has one--the original owner could afford two taillights, I recon.

Edited by Matt Harwood (see edit history)
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Are we talking turn signals or tail lights? My '14 Hupmobile has two tail lights but I think that may have been an export thing so that there would be a tail light in the right place for whatever side of the road it was to be driven.

Incidentally, the side and tail lights (Adlake/Hupmobile) on the car are dual kero and electric. Did any other make have that? One wonders how easily the bulb would be seen after the light had been burning on kerosene :rolleyes:

Al

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A further thought on the 1940 Ford: The Deluxe had two, the Standard had one on the drivers side, Two states required two tail lights; Washington and Missouri. I have looked at a N.O.S 1940 right rear fender and there is a "knockout" for the tail light. Due to this two state requirement the Early Ford V-8 club allows one OR two tail lights on the Standard. Good info but still doesn't tell when two were required.

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...Incidentally, the side and tail lights (Adlake/Hupmobile) on the car are dual kero and electric. Did any other make have that? One wonders how easily the bulb would be seen after the light had been burning on kerosene :roll eyes:

My 1912 KisselKar has dual kerosene and electric side and tail lamps (Solar brand, but I do not recall the number). I've been told that one would generally run them on electric, however, they would make a good trouble light after dark to, for example, change a tire... Disconnect the electric plug, loosen the set screw, lift off the mounting bracket using the bail handle, and light the wick for an effective and handy trouble light.

My three lamps are all full of kerosene should such a need arise. Although I have done a lot of night driving with that car, any after-dark service work has been accomplished with streetlights and/or flashlights.

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Billybird wonders when two were required? I am thinking, knocking hard on wood for an echo, that the answer there, for most states, is "they are not required". Unless Fed. law has mandated that newly manufactured cars be built with two, I posit that if only one is legally required by state law (as it is in Idaho and other western states (possibly for the sake of farm vehicles), then only one should technically be required on new cars shipped to these states. Maybe someone would ring bells if we put the question this wAY, "what is the latest car you have seen which had only one factory taillight?" I think some half tons into the mid fifties had only one. anybody?

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As Dale said, Crosleys didn't come "factory equipped" with 2 tail lights until the new models came out in 1949. You could buy an optional second taillight and turn signals before then, but they were not so equipped til 49. So I submit Crosley of 1948 as the last "car" with only one tail light.

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I think most US cars had dual rear "fender" lights by 1937 or so.

Some actually were mounted high-up: thinking '37 Olds and Hupp, which had them up on the belt line... they were still tiny lights with glass lenses, which just aren't that bright.

( Glass lenses transmit light through the lens, but the lens itself does not glow, as with plastic. )

As for trucks, my Grandad's '54 Chevy pick-up ( 5-window cab, but "stripper" in terms of options) came with one stop / tailight, on the left-hand side. For the first time though, the license plate mounting and light were separated from the tailight, and were mounted in the center of the box, under the tailgate. Dual stop/tail-lights were an option, as were turn signals.

I think I've seen some Duesenberg Js with dual stop/taillights, but don't know if that was "standard"... ( Was anything just "standard" on a Duesnberg ? ;) )

Just as a quick educated guess, I would think that dual rear lamps started becoming common once they moved out onto the rear fenders for mounting - 1930-32-ish... Ford started putting the lights on a fender bracket in 1929...

As pointed-out on other posts, some companies ( primarily Chrysler Corp ) had "running lights" on the fenders, but a single stop-light mounted on the trunk... this continued thru at least 1948 with MoPars... many of these cars were modified to dual stop/tailights in the '50's - '60's, either with add-on lights or by clever re-lamping / re-wiring of the existing lights.

As fr making the stop-lighting visible to modern drivers, I'm a huge fan of the LED strip that goes in the rear window... Brakeliter being one brand...

I have one in my Model A coupe: works on positive or negative ground, can be wired for full-across "stop" or "split" to use as "stop / turn signal".

In my opinion, the single most valuable upgrade one could make to an antique driver.

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As for Federal Mandate for Turn-signals, I don't know about that one...

Trying to go by vehicles that I have owned:

1947 Chrysler Windsor, '48 New Yorker, '48 Dodge Custom: Factory turn-signals, but the control head was a clamp-on device (but designed specifically for the MoPar steering column and wheel ), so it might have been an option on the entry-level Chrysler / Dodge / Plymouths?

1950 Chrysler New Yorker: factory turn-signals, now integral with the steering column / jacket.

1950 Chevy Fleetline Deluxe: factory turn-signals, but using a Guide clamp-on control head, which included an idler-wheel that rode against the underside of the steering wheel hub for self-cancel function. A friend has the same outfit in his 1940 Chevy, either factory or dealer installed, and somewhere along the way, the same Guide clamp-on outfit was fitted to my '41 De Soto.

1955 Chevrolet first-series 4400 dump truck: factory turn-signals, with a sheet-metal housing to conceal switch. Looks very similar to the turn signal switch on '53-'55 Corvettes.

1955 De Soto: factory turn signals, integral with column jacket design.

I do not recall seeing 1954 and later cars WITHOUT turn signals.

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I have to agree with PRS519. In Ohio only one tail light is required by law. Turn signals however were required on all cars manufactured after 1/1/54. It would lead me to believe that as of 1954 two tail lights were no longer optional but standard.

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A further thought on the 1940 Ford: The Deluxe had two, the Standard had one on the drivers side, Two states required two tail lights; Washington and Missouri. I have looked at a N.O.S 1940 right rear fender and there is a "knockout" for the tail light. Due to this two state requirement the Early Ford V-8 club allows one OR two tail lights on the Standard. Good info but still doesn't tell when two were required.

Thanks for that info

I just bought a 40 Ford and thought it was odd that there was only one.

The bad news is I thought I had a Deluxe.

I hope it passes NY inspection with one.

Paul

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nevr2L8: It is barely possible someone could have had to put a Standard fender on a Deluxe, but I doubt it. I have been involved with 40' Fords for almost 30 years and have seen all kinds of wiered stuff. I guess the most common practice { was;is } to take a Standard and make a Deluxe out of it. People put 39' Deluxe grilles in 40' Standards. I've even known of people trying to pass off a 39' Deluxe as a 40' Standard { with a little work } I said all that to say this: I hope you have a Deluxe, but there are many ways to tell if one has attempted to be changed from one to the other.

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I believe that the state equipment laws typically mirror what the Feds want nowadays. In years past, it probably varied from state to state. For California, dual tail lights and turn signals both have the same "on or after date" of January 1, 1958. See: V C Section 24600 Taillamps and V C Section 24951 Turn Signal System

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We were still required to know "out the window" hand signals for turns and stopping when I took my driver's test in 1964.
When I took mine in '68, hand signals were not required.

Hand signals are still in the California Motor Vehicle Code: V C Section 22111 Hand Signals

So you should know them to take the driver's license test...

I recall walking past the area where they started the driver's in car testing at a local DMV office maybe 10 years ago and being amused by a teenager being flumoxed by the tester's request to demonstrate hand signals.

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States had the final say until the mid 60s when Federal mandates for saftey were proposed by Senator Abraham Ribicoff and made law. The Fed standardized laws on production, to be enforced by the states, partly on the Corvair issue. Example. while reading a New York VTL( vehicle & traffic Law) back in 1972 ( Police Academy), I obseved that NY required two tail lights, with stop lights and signals for the 1952 year. One of the reasons Chrysler products added 2 stop lights for the 1950 models. Another example. The quad headlights in the 57 Nash were not lawful in Pa., Chrysler,for one , made a quick about face on its 1957 cars and used a single lamp on each side and moved the parking lamp next to it. By 1958 all states accepted the quad system. Now, years passed and the Federal laws permitted the change to the dual square lamps for 1975. States had to follow the Federal mandates. Side view mirrors were a federal mandate for about 1966 along with seat belts, 4 way flashers and dual master cylinders. Another DOT mandate in the mid 60s was the ICC bars in the rear of trucks. These reduced the abitity of a vehicle to plow into the back of a truck searing off the roof of a car and the heads of its passengers as well. Standard Federal laws removed the ability of some states to be lenient on saftey and other states more ridgid, especially if the vehicles were produced in that state.

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you need to rresearch the inspection laws of each state as lighting requirements will vary. in new york, electric turn signals were mandatory after 1951 1/2. i know this because my 1951 buick did not have them and when i got the car inspected the mechanic had to check the book to see if the car was legal. i would not have to add them if it was legal in 1951, but if the car was a 1952 it would not pass without turnsignals. why they made the lighting requirement for a 1/2 year is beyond me as who would know when the car was built without the build sheet. anyway, he passed my car at that time. i am not sure about the taillights or plate light, but each state is different. dennis

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States had the final say until the mid 60s when Federal mandates for saftey were proposed by Senator Abraham Ribicoff and made law......The quad headlights in the 57 Nash were not lawful in Pa., Chrysler,for one , made a quick about face on its 1957 cars and used a single lamp on each side and moved the parking lamp next to it. By 1958 all states accepted the quad system.

I was told that the 1965 Chrysler was the last car that was forced to change because of a state law. PA (for some reason, presumably to allow aiming for annual state inspections) did not allow a second lens or cover in front of sealed beam headlights at that time. The glass covered headlamps on the 1965 Chrysler were technically illegal. Chrysler was given a 1 year waiver, and the covers were gone in 1966.

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I was told that the 1965 Chrysler was the last car that was forced to change because of a state law. PA (for some reason, presumably to allow aiming for annual state inspections) did not allow a second lens or cover in front of sealed beam headlights at that time. The glass covered headlamps on the 1965 Chrysler were technically illegal. Chrysler was given a 1 year waiver, and the covers were gone in 1966.

Didn't VW keep them until 1968 or later ?

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A young officer pull me over one raining day. I was driving my 1939 GMC It was very unrestored then.

''Sir Your Right tail light is out!'' I said ''OK Lets go look....... See it NEVER had one!'' I started back to the cab...... ''How are your headlights?'' He was trying to rescue some respect! ''They are fine KID!'' as I got in....

He went back to his patrol car as I drove off.

California law only requires two rear lights for post 1957 production

The number of folks that know only one tail light gets smaller and smaller.

Here I had to add several lights to the rear to pass inspection. AND they actually MUST have EU approval. This results in some rather ugly conversions

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  • 6 years later...

Thank you for bringing this topic back to the fore.

I never saw it originally, and it is interesting.

 

Do people realize that the early tail lights were

NOT brake lights?  My 1916 car has a single tail light,

but it is not activated by the brake.  Naturally, a few

years earlier, tail lights had to be lit by a match and

couldn't go on and off at will!

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