Thursday Trivia

Thirsday Trivia
Welcome to Thursday Trivia where we offer up a historical automotive trivia question and you try and solve it before seeing the answer after the jump. It’s like a history test, with cars!
This week’s question: How did the sequential turn signals on the original Mercury Cougar work?
If you think you know the answer make the jump and see if you’re right.
Yesterday we went looking for Cougars of all stripes, and boy did you find some cool cats. You know, when it was introduced back in 1967 the Cougar was little more than a fancy Mustang. That was alright with everybody because who wouldn’t like a fancy Mustang? While sharing the basic Falcon-derived platform with its Ford cousin, the Cougar did not share any bodywork. Instead of the wide, gaping mouth of the Mustang, the new Cougar had a split grille with hidden lights and a prominent central prow.
In the back, Mercury’s cat further differentiated itself from the Mustang both in style and feature. Back where the Mustang had its by now iconic pair of three-segment tail lights, the Cougar had an amazing and futuristic band of lamps that would operate in sequence inside to out. This had previously appeared on the Thunderbird, but was the first time so fancy a feature would be used on a more plebeian ride.
It was an amazing feature and the most entertaining take on the turn signal since the trafficator, and people love fun stuff like that. In a nod to the past, and the passed, the current Ford Mustang adopts a sequential turn indicator for its traditional three-lamp units. That’s obviously operated today by one of the many computers the modern Mustang carries, but back when the feature first appeared on the Cougar (and Ford Thunderbird) it was via a far more mechanical method.
From Cougars Unlimited:

This article covers troubleshooting 1967-1968 Mercury Cougar sequential turn signals. While most the information has been acquired through experience on a 1968 model, the ideas can be applied when servicing a 1967 model too. This information is also applicable to 1967-early 1969 T-Birds as they share the same basic design.
The turn signal system has five electro-mechanical parts: the turn signal switch, (located in the steering column), a turn signal relay (located under the dash), a directional relay, an emergency relay, and a motor-driven sequencer (located in the driver’s side trunk under the mat or behind the backseat in T-Birds). The 1967 system also has an emergency relay and a turn indicator relay under the dash. The most failure prone parts are the mechanical sequencer, the turn signal switch, and the emergency relay in the trunk. Circuit diagrams may be found in the appropriate year factory shop manual.
Basically, the system works as follows: when the directional lever on the turn signal switch is moved, it completes circuits that select and feed power to the corresponding bank of lights. Power for the lights is fed through the turn signal relay to the sequencer. The sequencer has three cams that, when rotated, depress switches corresponding to the inboard, center, and outboard tail lights. The power is then routed first through the emergency relay (which disconnects all but the center light if the emergency switch is on for Cougars and connects all lights together for T-Birds.) and then to the directional relay. This two-sectioned (right and left) relay routes power through to the selected bank of lights. Since brake lights are not sequenced, the directional relay allows all lights to turn on simultaneously when the brake light power feed is energized. But when the turn signal switch is actuated, the brake light power feed is disconnected and the turn signal feed is activated to allow the directional signal to override the brake lights.

So there you go, a motor turns a shaft and cams complete connections. It’s wonderfully brilliant and Rube Goldberg at the same time. Today our cars are plumbed with computers and miles of wires all allowing us a multitude of modern features at our fingertips. It’s hard to remember back when that wasn’t the case, but as the Cougar’s wonderful tail lights prove, ingenuity always wins.
Image: CougarPartsCartalog

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  1. 0A5599 Avatar

    Shelbys and California Special Mustangs also got the walking turn signals.

    1. Rob Emslie Avatar
      Rob Emslie

      Yes they did. Those were re-purposed lamps from the ’65 T-bird. I always wondered when I was a kid if they were supposed to be missing the chrome vertical bars, or if someone had broken them off.

  2. JayP Avatar

    The aftermarket had an answer for the 1st gen S197, 2005 to 2009. By 2010+, they were sequential from the factory.

  3. stigshift Avatar

    They were driven by a blinker motor. The sequential turn signals debuted on the ’65 Thunderbird. Bonus Points: Name the one other American car (non-Ford product) that offered them during the time period that FoMoCo offered them. !965-73.

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      They were a popular conversion for cars with full-width taillights, like first generation Chargers and ’65 Buicks. Imperial had them from the factory.

      1. Tomsk Avatar

        My dad actually looked at rigging up the Cougar/T-bird hardware on his ’65 Impala SS (pictured below) back in the day. He eventually came to the conclusion that the process would have involved more cutting and splicing than he was comfortable doing, which is a shame because the upmarket ’65 Chevrolets’ triple round lights blinking in series would have looked way cool.

        1. 0A5599 Avatar

          Ah. Triple round. Popular conversion on 2nd generation Corvettes, which also sometimes got the sequential treatment.

      2. stigshift Avatar
        stigshift Yes! The 1969 Imperial.

  4. ptschett Avatar

    Ahh yes. I had to pop open the trunk and do percussive maintenance on the sequencer a few times with my ’73. Now I’m sure you could replicate it as a solid-state device with parts from Mouser or Digi-Key for less than the cost of a movie ticket…

  5. Krautwursten Avatar

    The luxury of sequential turn signals or red turn signals or red sequential turn signals is underappreciated by American motorists to begin with.
    Ours are mandated to be amber and simple blinking since 1970, and even on older cars red is only allowed if simple blinking and factory feature. Retrofits on newer American imports usually involve wiring the turn signals into amber bulbs in the reverse light housings and putting a new reverse light under the bumper (in the past an obnoxious large bulb housing unit, lately technology at least enables the use of slim LED units), and even this technique can be problematic if the reverse lights are right next to the license plate and therefore too far from the outside line of the car.