Encyclopedia Hoonatica: Amber & Red Turn Signals

In nearly all automotive markets worldwide, turn signals are required to be amber. Not so in North America, where Federal (& Canadian) vehicle standards allow them to be either amber or red on the rear of the vehicle. (This remains true despite the government’s own findings that amber turn signals are safer, significantly reducing accidents over red turn signals.) As a result, American auto makers have chosen between red and amber rear turns willy-nilly, with little logic as to when one or the other is used. Therefore, some domestic models originally equipped with one color were switched during a model-year refresh. For example, the Aspen & Volaré twins (including the rockin’ Road Runner versions shown) switched from red in ’77 to amber in ’78.
Obviously, this question centers around the North American market, but there are plenty of opportunities for our overseas readers to participate. Many automakers have gone through the somewhat illogical expense of equipping American models headed overseas with special export-only lighting equipment, while a number of imports have adopted red rear lens designs for the North American market. (Do Americans really hate amber lights enough to justify the expense?)
Your Hoonatica assignment for today is to name all the vehicles that were equipped with both amber and red rear turn signal versions. To be clear, this means the same generation/platform, not just model name!
Difficulty: Easy. Most people have one they can name off the top of their heads.
How This Works: Read the comments first and don’t post duplicates. Bonus points for adding photos. Remember thanks to Disqus, no HTML is needed: you can simply paste in the image URL.
Image Source: city-data.com and carpictures.com

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  1. Manic_King Avatar

    Low hanging fruit, Vette. Btw. there’s only few new car models in Europe which currently have yellow turning lights “glass”, most are clear or red/clear mix though they still blink yellow.

    1. Citric Avatar

      Those with keen eyes can see you’ve got a two-fer, that Caravan also has amber while it was just red and white in its homeland.

  2. Moto Madness Avatar
    Moto Madness
  3. Hatchtopia Avatar

    For whatever reason, the ’89 Probe started with amber turn lenses, then switched over to all red in 1990.

  4. Citric Avatar

    The last of the Eldorados is kinda interesting because they were difficult to integrate for the Euro versions. The Seville was a bit better done, see Antti’s post on the weekend.

  5. mzszsm Avatar

    I can’t find a good photo, but the Tesla Model S is a really odd case in US vs. Europe.

  6. Stu_Rock Avatar

    1997-2005 Buick Park Avenue. They all had separate turn and stop lamps, but 1997-2004 were all red. Then, for 2005 only, the turn signals were amber bulbs behind clear lenses.

    1. marmer Avatar

      The second pic must be a Euro car, because it looks like amber-flash. Yes, the mid-cycle refresh went all red for the US market, but the Euro ones got the clear-red amber flash like the similar vintage Passat. I’ve been wanting amber-flash taillights for my Avant since I got it. I’ve finally found a source but there’s always something more urgent to spend that kind of money on for that car.

      1. dr zero Avatar
        dr zero

        It’s Australian with New South Wales (NSW) plates, and if I remember correctly these did indeed have an amber flash behind the red plastic.

  7. JayP Avatar

    I met a guy with amber signals on his 1992 GT and asked if he was using Cobra lights. He said he picked the car up in Germany while with the Army and came with that cluster.
    So either the Cobra used euro lenses or the Euro delivery cars used Cobra lenses.

    1. Tanshanomi Avatar

      I frankly like the amber version a whole lot more. The louver lenses always looked hokey to me.

  8. dukeisduke Avatar

    I like amber rear turn signals, and it drives me crazy when automakers offer them on a vehicle, then eliminate them during a mid-cycle refresh, like the ’96-’99 Taurus. It’s a cynical thing, making the amber turn signals simply a styling touch instead of a safety item.
    Even weirder is when automakers include amber rear lenses that are nonfunctional. The ’76-’77 Vega hatchback and notchbacks fall into this category. My ’76 GT had them, and I made them functional. When they designed them, GM (AC Guide Lamp Division) molded the reflectors for the turn signals so that there was an area of thinner plastic in the shape of the opening for the twist-lock bulb socket, as if they considered, then rejected, making them functional.
    I cut out the thin area, added 1156 bulbs and sockets, cut the turn/stop wires from the turn/stop/tail lights, connected them to the new amber lights, then ran a new, separate wire from the brake light switch to the wires on the turn/stop/tail lights, making them stop/tail lights.
    Here’s a base Vega that’s same color (Medium Saddle Metallic) that my GT was, showing the taillights.

    1. Tanshanomi Avatar

      Excellent info! That’s the sort of arcane stuff that makes this series interesting.

      1. dukeisduke Avatar

        I don’t know if any other owners have done this – maybe some Cosworth owners have. This was back in the ’80s.

  9. marmer Avatar

    Most Benzes and Bimmers starting mid-2000s. Why? As far as I can tell, the answer is “because they can.”

    1. mseoul Avatar

      My pet gripe as well. Why? How about US market Ford Focus and Fusion? I see new US Mazda 3 with amber too so why Benz and BMW use red?

  10. Tomsk Avatar

    For the first four years of its life (1993 to ’96), the fourth-gen Camaro had red and white taillights; from ’97 to the end of production in 2002, they added amber sections to the mix.
    And would you believe there was actually a third style for export markets?

    1. Hatchtopia Avatar

      Too bad they had to get rid of the dividing line that worked perfectly with the cut line of the hatch. That export one looks like a contemporary Mazda to me.

    1. Cool_Cadillac_Cat Avatar

      When I get one of these, I’m going to make it so the lower two bulbs are brakes, with the top one being both amber and for the turn indicator.
      The red-only thing is a serious pet-peeve of mine.

  11. hubba Avatar

    The 1976 Chevrolet Vega got amber rear lenses for 1976, but technically they aren’t turn signals because they don’t have lights inside, because GM thinks you’re a goddam rube.

    1. hubba Avatar

      To clarify: That was in 1976.

      1. dukeisduke Avatar

        Check my post above.

  12. Batshitbox Avatar

    I’m not sure when the North American Beetle went amber. Maybe ’67 – ’68? (EDIT: 1973, according to Wolfsburg West. http://www.wolfsburgwest.com/wired/wired_08_01/wired_08_01.htm

  13. Alff Avatar

    I swear, whoever came up with this question is some kind of vehicle lighting savant.

  14. Lokki Avatar

    70’s Alfa Spiders used both yellow and red rear turn signals. I don’t believe that it was only a Europe/USA split as I see many US model Spiders with the yellow turn signals. However, at this late date, it’s often hard to tell which was original on a U.S. model, as Alfa was not much opposed to using up what they had available when making production run changes.

  15. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    BMW motorcycles from the 70s could have red turn signals since there are red lenses in the parts catalog but I’ve never seen one on the road. OTOH Harley Davidsons often have red rear signals so that the owners can install blue dot centers for looks.

    1. Batshitbox Avatar

      The blue dots actually have a scientific principle behind them, and were invented as a safety accessory. Because blue is a short wavelength, high energy part of the visible spectrum, a tail light lens with a blue component will look brighter as you approach it than it will at a fixed distance. Thus, running up on a slowing vehicle sets off a more urgent alarm in your head than one that’s going more or less your same rate.

  16. XRSevin Avatar

    1991-93 Mercury Capri vs. 1994 refresh (that did not save it)

  17. XR8 Avatar

    Second-generation Camaro was red-tail only for the 1970 and 1974 versions, got amber lenses in 1978.

    1. wunno sev Avatar
      wunno sev

      that’s a lie. would have required updating the ranger.

  18. Citric Avatar

    Here’s one that was sold concurrently (and I saw on the way home.) Mazda 3 sedan.

    1. Manic_King Avatar

      At least here in Europe these “Altezza lights” were optional.

      1. Citric Avatar

        Same deal here, all red was the base model, “Altezzas” meant you paid more.

  19. RGP Avatar

    8th gen Olds Delta 88 had red lights then switched to amber/red somewhere around 84/85. I recall some cars the ambers were non functional and some functioned in unison with the reds (including brake lights)

  20. karonetwentyc Avatar

    If you purchased an XJ-model Jeep Cherokee, it came with amber rear indicators as standard on US-model vehicles:

    View post on imgur.com

    But if you purchased the Wagoneer trim level, you got combined turn / brake / tail lights in red:

    View post on imgur.com

    I can’t think of any other vehicle where this would have been dictated by trim level, but I’m pretty sure that someone else probably knows of a few.

    1. iBran Avatar

      And, believe it or not, even though the US-market XJ had amber turn signals, the exports still got a unique tail light part.

      1. karonetwentyc Avatar

        Yep. This was to integrate the rear (red) fog light required in Europe into the same housing as the rest of the lights.

  21. CapitalistRoader Avatar

    (This remains true despite the government’s own findings that amber turn signals are safer, significantly reducing accidents over red turn signals.)

    This remains false despite amber turn signals obliterating night vision. Red turn signals are the easiest on the eyes at night no matter what some idiot, overpaid gummint bureaucrats says.

    1. Krautwursten Avatar

      Too bad vehicle lighting is supposed to be recognizable, not easy on the eyes. All the easiness of red turn signals in the world won’t help you if their color drowns in the equally red brake lights which in a significant percentage of cars make up a seperate light unit.

      1. CapitalistRoader Avatar

        Many, many amber turn signals were/are stupidly over-bright. Sitting behind such a car in the dark with that bright yellow light pulsing kills night vision, especially for geezers like me. The scientific studies may well prove that cars w/amber rear signals get rear ended less…but I guarantee that those same studies completely ignore any negative effects on the night site of the poor people stuck behind those cars. Similarly, a scientific study would no doubt find that drivers who drove around with their headlights on high beam all the time get into fewer accidents because they can see better. So that’s gotta’ be safer, right?

        1. Tanshanomi Avatar

          Amber and “stupidly over-bright” are two completely separate issues.

  22. Cool_Cadillac_Cat Avatar

    If amber signals are blinding to you, STOP STARING AT THEM!!!!
    Now, they do stand out in a sea of red, which they’re supposed to do.
    Back on topic, however…
    1984 Nissan Softbody:
    One year later:
    Happened here on domestics, too. 1984 Delta 88, anyone?
    And an ’85:
    Plus the early Chrysler 300C, the ’98 then ’99 Crown Vic, and even the first gen-Taurus.

  23. salguod Avatar

    Early Monza coupes had small, all red tail lights.
    Later coupes, and base hatchbacks, had larger tail lights with amber turn signals.
    The later versions of the Monza twin, the Oldsmobile Firenza used the same, larger, flat tail lights but in all red.