Six Tail Lamps on a Corvette

Bob Wingate 1967 CorvetteBack in the day, Corvettes with six tail lamps were a familiar sight—even though Chevrolet never officially offered such an option. Here’s the story behind this interesting Corvette non-feature. 

 

 

In the famous 1964 Jan and Dean song, “Dead Man’s Curve,” a teen pop melodrama (listen and read more here) about an illegal street race between a Corvette Sting Ray and a Jaguar XKE, you’ll find these lines:

I flew past Labrea, Schwab’s, and Crescent Heights
And all the Jag could see were my six taillights

Now, if you’re a car buff who is not a child of the ’60s, you might find these lyrics slightly perplexing. As everyone knows, the Corvettes of that era (’61-’62 and ’63-’67 Sting Ray) were factory equipped with four round tail lamps, not six.

Sure, perfectly true. But even so, Corvettes with six lamps at the rear, three on each side, were everywhere those days. Unlike today, customizing Corvettes was a very popular practice back then, and an extra pair of lamps at the rear was one of the most common modifications.

 

The customizing fad was inspired by the styling conventions of the Chevrolet passenger cars of the period—1958 through 1965, roughly. In these years, the bottom-feeder Biscayne and Bel Air models were equipped with two taillights per corner, while the top-of-the-line Impala (’61 shown here) sported three per side for an extra bit of flash. It was only natural, then, that Corvette owners would upgrade from four to six lamps as well, to give their cars the full degree of deluxe-ness. Some Chevrolet dealers even offered the third pair of lamps as a pre-delivery upsell.

 

1961 Corvette Mako SharkEven GM Styling and the company’s vice president of design, Bill Mitchell, were caught up in the tail lamp status competition. Many Corvette concepts, from the 1959 Sting Ray racer to the 1961 Mako Shark XP-755 (above), were equipped with six lamps, and many of the production-based show cars and promotional vehicles wore them as well. A 1964 full-sized clay proposal for the 1966 Corvette sported six tail lamps, but for some reason the feature never made it onto the regular production cars.

 

Bob Wingate with six lamp CorvetteShown above is super salesman Bob Wingate of Clippinger Chevrolet in Covina, California, credited as the most prolific Corvette seller in America. In gratitude, the Chevrolet national sales office had a special 1967 Corvette coupe built just for him (pictured here and in the lead photo) sporting six taillights. Note the other Corvettes on the dealer lot behind him, also modified with six lamps.

 

Little Magazine PageThis page from one of the pocket-format hot rod books of the period shows how the modification was performed, requiring little more than an electric drill. Some owners opted to devote the extra housing to a backup lamp, while others chose all-red lenses. The ’63 coupe pictured here also sports an extra pair of exhaust outlets, note.

While six tail lamps were once ubiquitous on Corvettes, along with side pipes and fender flares, they’re almost taboo today. You seldom see them, if ever. These cars are extremely valuable now, and the fashion today in vintage Corvettes, naturally, is authentic, painstaking restoration—right down to the factory-style orange peel and overspray. That’s kind of a shame. We think six tail lamps looked awesome.

 

1963 Corvette abandoned

25 thoughts on “Six Tail Lamps on a Corvette

  1. Cruising the boulevard in the ’70s, I used to chase after a blonde in a Corvette convertible. Never caught her, shades of American Graffiti. In the days before the MCG Car Spotter’s Guides, I always prided myself on being able to identify nearly any make year and model, but hers mystified me because it had six taillights. It was many years before the truth was revealed to me. It’s the only one I’ve seen like that, which makes her even more memorable.

  2. Now I work in a custom shop,but in ’88 I was employed by a restoration shop. During the teardown of a ’66 L-72 I removed all6 lights. The shop owner grabbed the 4 best housings and sent them out for chroming. He didn’t realize,there all different. Right and left, inners and outers. To install 6 tail lights,you need a second pair of inners.

  3. Hi,
    Thanks for the info. Enjoyed reading it.
    Wondering if we could get the authorization to re-print this article in the quarterly club newsletter of the Corvette Club of Ontario. If someone could drop me an email and let me know I would really appreciate it.

  4. Very interesting story, thanks. I always assumed the six lamps were a factory option of some kind.

  5. Another thing to add were 59 Cadillac lens, which fit perfectly in the housing. They stuck out farther than the stock Vette lens, [IMG]http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v311/jjram69/other/63-1.jpg[/IMG]

  6. In Dan & Jean’s “Died Mans Curve” tune I always wondered what they really meant by “all the Jag could see were my six tail lights”….!

    • Should have been Jan & Deans…sorry..but if you remember the 60’s ..you weren’t there..!

  7. I have a 64 with the 6 tail lights, was modified back in 64 by the original owner. I still have guys asking about the 6 lights at car shows.Like you stated , that is what was done ‘back in the day’. My six tail lights are here to stay. Thanks for the interesting article

  8. When in my senior year of high school a friend had a 65 roadster with 6 tail lights rear fender flares and 427 painted metallic purple. It was the coolest Vette in town in 1970 :o)

  9. I had a ’65 roadster in the ’70’s with six taillights; in the middle, I had a back-up light, and I thought it looked great (I’d always loved the ’58 Impala), so if I had another mid-year ‘Vette now, I’d see to it that I had the six lights. FactoryOriginality is irrational sometimes. Especially with this mod.

  10. I have a 1961 with 6 taillights in Denmark, it was a modification done in the sixties in CA, and it stay there with 2 stoplight and three lights in each side.

  11. My big brother in our fraternity at Allegheny College brought a brand new ’66 427 roadster back for his senior year. He had his dealer make the six tail lamp mod.

  12. Changing to 2 tail lights using lights from an early Buick Riviera was also done by a few

  13. Actually, “six tail lights” was a revised lyric for the single version of “Dead Man’s Curve.” In the original version from the Drag City album, the lyric was “all the Jag could see were my frenched tail lights.”

    A couple other differences between the original album cut and the single:

    Original – “the strip was deserted” and “pulled her out and there I was”
    Single – “the street was deserted” and “pulled her out and there we were”

    Also, the single version added the “slippin’, slidin’…” background vocals.

  14. that special corvette was built for me at st. louis plant by joe pike nov. 1966,the wheels and and the rest the car everthing was done by chevrolet,that was one fast vett,Bob Wingate

  15. Are you the Bob Wingate that used to sell TRI-Five Chevys before they were called that?

    If you are, I enjoyed MANY pictures in Hemmings Of cars you had for sale..

  16. Here in Oz I have seen the middle light used with amber lense as a turn/ reverse light. Until very recently it was illegal too have the brake light flash as per US models. Oz assembled US/ Canadian cars had some slight ‘alternative’ light combos and custom lights. Most early Mustangs use the [optional] reverse light below the bumper with an amber lense as a turn signal.

  17. …found and bought a ’66 Vett Coupe in Upper Michigan last year that has been sitting a long while…yup, six tail lights, chrome header side-pipes, minor flairs, AND a ’63 Split-window (all Vett stuff too!) really too Kool….got ‘her running & driving….IT’S THE 60’s Now when I drive ‘her!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ken

  18. Just bought a 1966 coupe with 6 tail lights that’s had only 2 owners. The car was sold new in Calif. The second owner bought it with 6 tail lights when it was 6 months old . Going to run the numbers and see who sold it new. Hope it was Clippinger in Covina

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