The CAR Top 10: coolest tail lamps

Published: 23 September 2016

► The CAR Top 10 coolest tail lights
► Concept cars, hybrids and muscle cars
► No hiding from the cops with these lights

1) BMW Z8

The look was blatantly pinched from BMW’s classic 507; the cabin created in a parallel universe where it’s always 1958, except with microchips. Yet amid all this retro-rehashing, BMW had the fore (or rear-) sight to graft on some of the slimmest, coolest taillights ever seen in the pre-Millennium era.

Mercury Cougar

2) Mercury Cougar

An upmarket Mustang spin-off using most of the same hardware, Mercury’s pony car got a stretched wheelbase and more posh, with hidden front lights and some very cool sequential rears copied from the earlier Thunderbird, that pulsed in the direction you were indicating. So cool, Carol Shelby nabbed them for his modded ’67 Mustangs.

Maserati 3200GT

3) Maserati 3200GT

Though they looked identical, Maserati’s raw 3200GT was radically re-engineered in 2002 to become the much better Coupe, swapping a twin-turbo V6 (and optional auto) for a naturally aspirated V8 (and optional robotised manual). Sadly the best feature of the original didn’t make the transition – the oh-so elegant boomerang rear lights.

'59 Cadillac

4) ’59 Cadillac

Fifty-nine was the peak, quite literally, of Detroit’s obsessions with fins, but the showy sheetmetal appendages wouldn’t have looked half as loud without that year’s twin-rocket-flame shaped lamps at each side. For 1960 the lights were neatly integrated into a pair of distinctly atrophied fins.

Mazda Furai

5) Mazda Furai

The striking threads of illumination on this 2007 concept car looked like a shower of sparks lighting the midnight blackness of the Le Mans 24 Hour race the concept longed to contest. Sadly, there were more than sparks coming from the Furai when Top Gear barbecued it during testing for the TV show in 2008.

Audi Swarm OLED

6) Audi Swarm OLED

Back in 2013 Audi gave us the first taste of the OLED technology it productionised in time for 2015’s Frankfurt show. The bizarre Swarm lights look like they’d escape up the road if your lamp ever got smashed in a fender bender. Worth Googling for a video if you missed them first time round.

Mk1 Cortina

7) Mk1 Cortina

You want mash with that? Ford’s iconic pie lights, or Pye, if you remember the period hi-fi brand, are as recognisable as the Lotus version’s green stripes, and turned up on TVR’s Grantura in an early bit of kit-car scavenging. BMW’s 02 series riffed on the same theme.

Dodge Charger

8) Dodge Charger

Chargers almost always had cool lamps, but it’s not the four circles of the much-admired Bullitt-era ’68 that the modern version references. Instead, it’s the full-width light bar of the very first, back in 1966, combined with a bit of Dukes’-spec ’69 for good measure.

Lamborghini Asterion

9) Lamborghini Asterion

Lambo lamps were lamentable until Sant’Agata turned the wick up on the Murcielago to create the trick Reventon. Now they’ve settled on an instantly recognisable motif, you’ll still be able to tell a Lamborghini from lesser supercars even when electrification finally silences the V12 – though that’s not happening just yet.

McLaren P1

10) McLaren P1

You can’t truly appreciate how sensational the P1 looks until you’ve seen one at night, impossibly slender taillamps wrapping around the rear facia like a neon motel sign on Route 66. But this is a McLaren, so there’s science involved too: conventional lights would have stopped the colossal amount of heat the V8 generates escaping.

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By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker