By on August 6, 2013


TTAC commentator Darth Lefty writes:


I was looking at a new Fusion in the company parking lot and noticed how its center brake light (CHMSL) is basically a very thin flap jutting out of the top of the window. Subtle… The center brake light is always like this. We are right now in a golden age of headlight and tail light design. The complex shapes and chrome and LED’s and rocket thrusters dominate the style of a car. But the center light gets none of this.

It’s as small and cheap as it can be made. It gets no chrome interior, it has a plain red lens and it’s shaped like a Tylenol, or it’s a single row of LED’s. It’s always stuck under the rear window or or in the spoiler or some other trim where it could be easily deleted and it’s never really integrated into the styling of the car. Why?

Why not booster engines or Terminator eyeballs or light-up logos?

Why no style at all?

Is there some other large market where they are not required, or are the companies expecting the requirement to suddenly disappear some upcoming model year?

Or is it just too difficult to do styling other than badges along the center line?

Sajeev answers:

I find the Fusion’s CHMSL (from the recent Vellum analysis) pretty ballsy for a modern car. Damning with faith praise, but still: when’s the last time you saw a CHMSL sticking out like that? It reminds me of the air grabber intake on old-school Mopar Muscle…except not that cool. The Fusion’s CHMSL is better off integrated into rear window’s form, be it at the base (the parcel shelf) or above (the headliner). That’s cleaner, sleeker and (by extension) more timeless.

There’s only one CHMSL that actually 1) has the balls that you speak of and 2) satisfies my need for using your whole ass when going out on a limb. This is how you highlight a design element, how you make it part of the body.

1971 Oldsmobile Toronado

This is how you make a good design, that stands the test of time.

To answer your questions: who cares?  Those are restrictions designers must fight every damn day/week/month of their careers. If you want to make something beautiful, fight until management (bean counters) approve and the implementation people (engineers) eagerly implement it. You even get the marketing people talking about your “cool design” so they promote it for you. A loveless and thankless job, perhaps?

But you just gotta Do It, To It…Son!

Oldsmobile did just that, proving it with a flagship…and what a flagship indeed!

1972 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1972 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1973 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1973 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1974 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1974 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1975 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1976 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1976 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1977 Oldsmobile Toronado XS.

1977 Oldsmobile Toronado XS.


1978 Oldsmobile Toronado XS.

1978 Oldsmobile Toronado XS.

Spend a few years bending sheet metal to completely re-theme a rear end with CHMSLs, innovate and continue to push that envelope.  Conversely, look at the mediocre decklid implementation of the 1974 Buick Riviera: it doesn’t cut the mustard like the Toronado. But, inevitably every good thing must come to an end…

1979 Oldsmobile Toronado. Bummer.

1979 Oldsmobile Toronado.

Like many other downsized designs of the malaise era, the butt of the Oldsmobile Toronado went from stunning to somewhat subtle.  Not necessarily a bad thing, except the Oldz Boyz threw away years of hard work to vanilla-fy the Toronado.

1987(?) Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo.

1987(?) Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo.

While I (don’t laugh) enjoy many elements of the 1980s Toronados, they’d look so much better with the 1970s CHMSL implementation. GM design ain’t what it once was, what it was for decades. Perhaps when you water down an American Automotive Design Icon, you give a Flagship-less Camry its wings.

Goodbye best-selling Oldsmobile Cutlass, hello Toyota Camry. Inevitable, indeed.

Thanks for reading, I hope you have a lovely week.

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25 Comments on “Vellum Venom Vignette: Center Stage, High Mounted!...”

  • avatar
    Freddy M

    Ugh. Sorry Sajeev, I’m going to have to disagree, I think the HMSL effort on the Toronado is hideous. Doubly Hideous considering they did it twice.

    I also read your comment on the Fusion’s CHMSL in your previous Vellum. But I actually think it’s rather neat. Is it the BEST execution that an idea like this could have taken? Possibly not, but that’s because they’re the first to dare to try it.

    In my opinion, they get far more credit for trying to break the mold than for the possible hiccups that the design revealed in production (like you said, damning with faint praise). That’s not to say that they failed with it in any way, in my opinion, I think it looks really nice on the road, and I’ve seen many of them. I think many reader comments at the time were ugly, eyesore, and pimple on the back, but I have to say, it never struck me in any of those ways.

  • avatar

    I’d forgotten all about the Toronado brake light setup until I saw your first picture. I was going to say that I had forgotten all about Toronados, but I had a conversation last week with someone who kept referring to the Volkswagen color as “Toronado Red” instead of “Tornado Red”.

  • avatar

    #1 I’m not happy with Cadillac putting the reverse lights at the center bottom of the tail in the XTS, CTS and ATS.

    #2 whatever it takes to keep cars from rear-ending me: have at it!

  • avatar

    “Those are restrictions designers must fight every damn day/week/month of their careers. If you want to make something beautiful, fight until management (bean counters) approve and the implementation people (engineers) eagerly implement it.”

    @[email protected]

    meanwhile, engineering is constantly fighting the studio when they put out something that can’t easily be manufactured, or wrecks the performance of another system.

    • 0 avatar

      A fun dance, no doubt.

      • 0 avatar

        I wish it was a dance. if the studio gets a box and is told to try to make something of it, you get the Aztek and a bunch of dejected designers. if studio gets to run wild, you get a great looking car that people have problems getting into and out of, and a bunch of pissed-off engineers.

        IME it’s rare to actually have a “dance.” It’s usually one extreme or the other. I’m an engineer and I’ll readily agree that with the exception of refrigerator… er, I mean Camry buyers, styling sells cars. But we all have to be on the same plane of existence. It’s not unreasonable for you to expect me to do what I can to work within your theme, but it’s also not unreasonable for me to expect you to listen when I say it’s not feasible to do it that way because what you want can’t be built or compromises function.

        • 0 avatar

          I think we are both right, it depends on the application. Sometimes you need to make a change, other times you don’t.

          And most of the time, management needs to care about the product enough to make sure it meets their vision. Provided there’s actually a vision. (or it’s needed)

  • avatar

    “Golden age of headlight and tail light design” my ass. Today’s headlight and taillight designs are hideously overdone, full of unnecessary bullshit and either lacking integration with the theme or part of some swoopy to the maximum scheme. what happened to basic elements like the lights coming together to complete a subtle, understated by undeniably handsome package? now they contend for the attention of your already bleeding eyeballs with the likes of monstrous grille badges, bucktooth bumper extensions and gaping catfish mouths. it almost makes me long for the days of the simple sealed-beam squares and circles floating in an eggcrate expanse or hiding under trap doors.

  • avatar
    wreath and crest

    At least Caddy is trying by combining chmsl with a deck spoiler.Looks sharp on the ATS.

  • avatar

    Chrysler offered center taillights in the 1940s that were integrated into the trunk handle. Around 1970 Ford experimented with center mounted brake lights on their full-size LTDs. Neither was high mounted, but they were central. For decades many foreign markets require brake lights separate from the running lights. None of this “brighter for braking” USA crap, but separate brighter bulbs making it more apparent the brakes were on. However, I have come to accept that separated high-mounted brake lights that cross the centerline of a vehicle are superior. Perhaps it can be integrated into the shark-fin satellite radio antenna on the trailing edge of the roof?

  • avatar

    I think the new German stuff (A7, 6-series, etc) does a great job with the CHMSL. They do a great job because the CHMSL is basically invisible when not lit. It’s a boring feature in the first place, so why not make it look good through seamless integration? It just doesn’t need to be flashy, just invisible.

  • avatar

    Sajeev you made me think of the lighted “PONTIAC” on the butt of the much unloved Sunfire. It seemed like too much effort for a “sport” economy car. Or when third brake lights became common and some people installed aftermarket units that said “STOP” when lit up.

  • avatar

    What about the CHMSL on the Cadillac Allante’?

    • 0 avatar

      I thought it was a little cheezy for such an expensive, Italian designed droptop. Maybe if the decklid was stamped (somewhat) more aggressively to highlight the unique form, not just slapped onto a flat panel.

  • avatar

    Don’t forget the Rivs of that vintage also had the same tail lights.
    I always liked them and thought they were different for the time. Toronado is a better looking car though.

  • avatar

    The Chevy Cruze CHMSL is a subtle Chevy bowtie. It’s understated, but I like it. It’s hard to find a picture online, this one shows it well, but with aftermarket taillights. The CHMSL is stock, though:

  • avatar

    It looks to me like the CHMSL on the Fusion sticks up above the top of the rear window like that to act as somewhat of a spoiler/vortex generator to improve aerodynamics. Attached airflow on the rear window also keeps the surface less dusty and I bet this brake light helps achieve this.

  • avatar

    I always liked the -early adoption- full-width LED CHMSL on the Trooper (96+?).

    Different topic, but I always liked the lower rear bumper running lights on the gen 2 Aurora.

    I believe that model Toronado was around from 88-92. I want to say the Riv got discontinued a year after in 93.

  • avatar

    Is “a set of LEDs in a housing inside the glass” so hard?

    It’s simple, clean, looks good, doesn’t screw with your lines (or make for a potential water-entry point)…

    • 0 avatar

      I’m considering using the last gen Aurora CHMSL to add to my ’77 Chevelle, The housing can be made to fit my car quite easily, though it does eat into headroom just a bit for the center rider.

      My other idea was using the Cyclops style GM ’80s CHMSL from a Beretta, but I think those are kind of ugly now.

  • avatar

    The CHMSL in the new Fusion is just another dumb design on that design disaster of a car.

    Why have this wart sticking out of the car when you could have a clean, smooth look by mounting it inside?

  • avatar

    I never saw a ’77 or ’78 Toronado before, heaven help you if you ever needed to replace that rear glass. XS indeed.

  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    Thanks for publishing my question.

    I guess I was really wondering if there was some design-school rule related to mammal biology. Two eyes, two nostrils, one mouth, for instance, and the trunk badge is the tramp stamp and then the CHMSL would be the…

  • avatar

    I can’t believe nobody brought up the Tesla Model S. Get behind one and wait for the driver to slow down. Now THAT is how a CHMSL look….

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