QotW: Which JNC had the coolest taillights?

31-955_Nissan Laurel C130 Butaketsu

Now that we’ve determined which JNC had the coolest pop-up headlights let’s focus, like Sir Mix-A-Lot, on rears. Back in the day automakers were largely confined to sealed beam headlights, but out back designers had free reign to design insect, jet or spacecraft-inspired shapes. Some even tried to hide them altogether.

Which JNC had the coolest taillights?

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “Which JNC had the coolest pop-up headlights?” 


This week had plenty of great responses, and we were torn between The Black CRX‘s love for pop-ups’ presence on the humble third-gen Accord, RonRonThePizzaGuy‘s ode to the Nissan S12, Mazdax605‘s memory of his possessed FB RX-7, and Cedu‘s simple but effective reasoning for the AE86. However, we have never seen a dissertation about a single car part like the one Byron Chiu composed about the Z31’s headlights.

As the owner of an 84 300ZX 2+2 Turbo, I testify that the 84-86 Z31 pop-up headlight assemblies were the coolest for these reasons:

1. The Z31’s headlight assembly’s 4 moving sections (which in itself, also makes z31 pop-up headlights one of the most intricate) make a parallelogram. This allows the headlamps to always illuminate forward. Typical, more basic pop-up assemblies make light “roll out” onto the road, which is a slight hazard.

2. Fog lamps were fitted into the 84-86 headlight assembly, separate from the low/high-beam lamp. Furthermore, besides the Piazza/Impulse or HB Cosmo, I have yet to know of a JNC with compound pop-up headlights.

3. Surrounding bodywork contributes to the cool-factor of pop-up lights. All Z31’s had recessions on the nose in front of the headlights (less so for 87-89). This resulted in the “sleepy-eye” look, which I see as a neat 80’s take on S-body Z car’s recessed headlights. Other JNC’s who switched to completely hidden pop-up headlights essentially sacrifice this nostalgic styling touch.
The recessions in the nose for the “sleepy-eye look” are also great surfaces to mount snacks, your tablet, or your small tools. They are also safety provisions so one can still illuminate some road ahead if the headlights cannot pop-up. Various kinds of headlight covers (clear, smoked, oooohhh body-matched!), including headlight louvers, can also be fitted to them. A Z31 with headlight covers, looking head-on, will look like a Ferrari F40–lights up or down! Because of the nose recessions, Z31’s also had the factory option for headlight washers.

4. Non-USDM 84-86 Z31’s had 1-piece headlights instead of compound–regional diversity!

5. Z-cars are life and the Z31 is the only Z-car with pop-up headlights.

Omedetou, your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop!

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39 Responses to QotW: Which JNC had the coolest taillights?

  1. Byron Chiu says:

    I appreciate it, Ben! Anything to spread some love for 80’s Z-car! Where do I send shipping information?

  2. Banpei says:

    The Mazda Cosmo Sport 110S had very modern Space Age styling in its days where the whole car swooped in a jet-like style from front bumper to rear bumper. Including in this design the headlights and indicators, separated by the front bumper, are mimicked in the rear by the tail lights. You could basically see it as a jet intake at both sides at the front and dual afterburner exhausts at the rear. It is a bit similar to the Chrysler turbine car where Mazda was placing an experimental engine in a fitting (experimental) design.

    This is why the Mazda Cosmo Sports 110S has the coolest (or actually hottest) tail lights.

    Now given the fact that half of my furniture at home was inherited Space Age design from my grandmother the Cosmo Sport 110S would be an excellent fit in my interior. Too bad my wife would disagree.

  3. FRed says:

    I’d say the first generation Celica, specifically the hardtop model:


    That or the Kenmeri.

    • vic says:

      Hey, that’s my car !!!!!
      My original 1972 that I bought in high school. Still have it!
      Thanks for referencing it!

      • Dre says:


        By any chance do you have any hi re pics of your car? I just bought a 72 celica exactly like yours and plan to restore it.


        • vic says:


          I did have hi-rez pics, but don’t anymore. Have 72dpi around 4″x 5″. Not sure how to upload any pics to JNC, but could email them to you. What’s your email address? Where are you located? Have any pics of your Celica? I’m in PA.

          Thanks for your interest!

          • Dre says:

            thanks for the reply! is there way i can send you a PM? i just dont want to post my email on a public board. i havent really taken any pics of mine yet cuz i dropped it off to get the car running safety on the streets.

  4. Jova says:

    How i can submit my question???

  5. Peter K. says:

    Isuzu Impulse/Piazza

  6. Matthew Chase says:

    The 1973 Corona Mark II sedan has the coolest shape at the rear ever!


    • dickie says:

      your picture doesn’t work for me when i follow the link to imageshack, but i’m in agreement with you that the old crowns had some of the coolest taillights. wagon, coupe or sedan!

  7. Sleepin says:

    How can anyone argue with this one? Love them or hate them, the most iconic tail light design belongs to the Skyline family. The same basic round tail light design has been in place, on one form or another, for decades. Instantly recognizable around the world whether it is daytime or nighttime.

  8. dickie says:

    I’m going to go a little outside the box for this one.

    Since we weren’t given the distinction between production cars and concepts, I’m exploiting the loophole to suggest that the coolest JNC taillight design belongs to the Mazda RX-500.

    Shown at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1970, the car featured a slew of period design elements including a slippery kammback profile, wild two-tone green and tangerine interior straight out of a Syd Mead painting, a tail panel that proudly proclaimed “Powered by ROTARY” and the aforementioned tail lights that arced along the rear body line.

    Not satisfied with the limited amount of information existing designs offered, Mazda thought it prudent include sets of lights to indicate acceleration, cruising, braking and reverse in the name of driver safety. I haven’t found any pictures or video to corroborate how they were used, but one can assume that the green lights at the top of the car indicate acceleration, yellow just below them for cruise, red for braking and the white ones at the bottom are lit when the car is in reverse.

    There are plenty of great designs out there, but how can anything compete with this one for title of coolest?

  9. Fullmoonclub says:

    Laural’s take the cake for me.

  10. Sponky says:

    Old Mazdas win this one EASILY.
    Then Datto 1600 SSS Coupe, Skylines etc.

  11. felix says:

    I agree, old rotors with their round tail lights look so cool.
    (R100, Rx2 and Rx3)

    Although one of the coolest are the Rx4/929 4 door’s.
    (which are not round)

    The old round skyline lights are great too.

  12. Pete240z says:

    Definitely not the hideous F10 tail lights.

  13. Ed7_owner says:

    the kenmeri skyline HANDS DOWN!!! I mean 4 circles?? its so simple yet is modern. plus it was so good it was passed down the cars that are blessed by being a skyline.

    Its aesthetically pleasing to see the rear end of a skyline. But the main mack daddy is the kenmeri or yonmeri skyline, for it was the first.

    Or maybe it was a treat we Yankees never got. yes like a forbidden fruit.

    Still I chose thee… Kenmeri Skyline. Stay Classy

  14. Byron Chiu says:

    TA22 Celica’s, overall, have the prettiest and coolest taillights for a JNC! The taillight’s slim profile, bulging lense, and subtle curve hugging the slightly bowed chrome bumper/trunk-ledge/rear-quarter all about do it in for me. For such a long taillight, that “bowed downward” rear fascia seemed like such a bold design at the time; only the S-chassis Z cars seemed to come close.

    For “weird” coolness, I just cannot get over the rectangles, lines, smoked lenses, and engraved lettering on the taillights/center-bars of some 80’s sport sedans and GT coupes. I very much like such examples as the smoked uni-taillights of 89-94 Maxima’s (GXE’s, I think, with the blackened “Maxima” panel between taillights) and 89-93 Legacy Sedan Turbo. As for the R30/R31 Skyline taillights. HA! I love how Skylines before and after had the iconic ring taillights, but because #1980’s (and tape-decks, I swear the R30/R31 taillights remind of my family’s old Sony boombox; the taillight “rings” look like freakin’ speakers!), Nissan stylists were like “no, it must have straight edges and corners!” So for that generation of Skyline, the ring taillights were encased in smoked rectangular cover (with neat horizontal lines etched into it) so that the ring taillights would not starkly contrast the Skyline body’s rectangular transformation. It’s a unique style inspired by redundancy (as far sticking to Skyline tradition) that I believe no stylists have imitated.

  15. Kelfolks says:

    I would say Datsun Bluebird Coupe has the best tail light coupled with its sequential turn signals.
    Check it out https://youtu.be/ChH–ndoofc

  16. Serg says:

    While I’m very partial to the Mk2 Corona (2nd Gen) rear layout, and the RA28/25 Banana taillights, lets face it there are so many more works of art gracing the posteriors of old jap cars that picking just one is infinitely stressful.

    However the alternative is to just have all of the options, and I already know that having multiple JNCs is more than infinitely stressful. In fact CERN need to start experiments in my yard to try and explain how something can be more than infinite, because I can’t figure it out and frankly I’m worried that if I buy any more awesome cars, like for example the H330 Cedric for sale at the other end of the country, the amount of awesome at my house will exceed infinity and reality as we know it will collapse into micro black holes. I’m not sure what happens after that but the words War Rig and Thunderdome come to mind.

    Anyway, to pluck just one out of the myriad of excellence and bestow upon it a crown? It would probably have to be the 1st gen Toyota Carina, now I’m not greatly knowledgeable on the Carina variants but I think they’re the GT version.


    Have always been quite taken with that design, possibly as it might be a slight nod to some European styling I can’t recall, or perhaps because it’s just so surprisingly brazen for that class of car but doesn’t look like a copy or homage of anything around it.

  17. Daniella Sky says:

    Of course, Skyline! 🙂

    Also, I like taillights of Mazda Cosmo AP, looks like a devil horns.)

  18. Justin says:

    I’m with Serg. The Toyota Carina gets my vote; with its taillights following the body lines as they wrap onto the rear deck. I see it is one of the last cars for a generation that used taillights as a dramatic and original styling point rather than an uninspired block of plastic.


  19. eric p says:

    Kenmeri skyline

  20. ahja says:

    Skyline? Please. Four circles has been done time and time again. And Skylines weren’t even the first, or even close to being so. And the best part, most valuable Skyline/GTR, the vaunted C10doesn’t even have them! Finally, I regret to inform you all that the R32-34 taillight units just look cheap.

    It was another Nissan that touched the high point of taillight design. While Skyline tails were looking cheesy, the Z32 300ZX was wearing the sleekest, smoothest taillights to be made. A modernist masterpiece and the apex of 80s/90s light design. No bullshit arbitrary shapes, as has been the case with almost every taillight design since. Honest rectangles, but artfully rounded. Red and orange lenses, without looking in any way unbalanced or clashing. And integrated into a coherent rear fascia that exists -for the taillights-.


    • Serg says:

      While I never really drooled over the tail lights on their own I definitely think they need credit for sheer overall coherence with the 300ZX design – they just fit the shape and size perfectly and made that whole rear 3/4 view silky smooth. To be honest it’s hard to find a bad angle of that car though, very well proportioned design.

  21. Nihonnotekko says:

    Coolest taillights, eh? I’d say hands down, it’s gotta be the massive gems Mazda used on the rear ends of RX-4s. Who can say “no” to fist-sized hexagonal rubies for brakelights??? Call now and you get a pair of equally massive amber gemstones for turn signals! Mazda even set a small chrome band over each light to up their 70’s “bling” factor…and if that wasn’t enough, a huge sculpted metal plate was affixed across the rear end around the lights. In my opinion, there’s never been a more flamboyant and uniquely styled rear end on a car, and it’s crown jewels are those outrageous taillights!

    For your enjoyment: http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4026/4720186630_53c9f41242_z.jpg

  22. cesariojpn says:

    The taillights of the ’87 AE86 Coupe. Long before smoking your tail-lights became a trend, the AE86 had them already “smoked” right from the factory. And the ones on the coupe (not the hatch) is a stark difference from the “solid” colored blocky tail-lights of the 84-86 models.

  23. Ramón Mora says:

    1972 – 1977 Nissan Skyline.

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