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Position on Amber vs Clear Lenses in 1963 - Daniel Stern - August 2016

This is not the case.

There was no U.S. Government regulation of vehicle equipment, design, construction, or safety performance until the advent of the first Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards on 1/1/1968. There wasn't even any legal structure in place for Federal regulation of vehicles, nor was there any Federal agency with the authority to regulate motor vehicles, until the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 established the U.S. Department of Transportation and three relevant agencies: the National Highway Safety Agency, the National Traffic Safety Agency, and the National Highway Safety Bureau. These three agencies were consolidated into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) by the Highway Safety Act of 1970, but now I'm getting ahead of myself; the main point here is that it was not possible for the US Government to require or specify anything in the way of vehicle equipment or design in 1963.

At that time, vehicle regulations were left to the individual states. It wasn't a complete patchwork mishmash, there was some cooperation among the states via SAE and a series of associations of motor vehicle administrators. For example, the 7-inch round sealed beam headlamp, one per side, was standardized for all vehicles for the 1940 model year, the 5-3/4" round sealed beam headlamps, two per side, were permitted in some states for '57 and all states for '58, seat belt anchorages became standard equipment for the 1962 model year, and amber front turn signals were adopted for the 1963 model year, all by voluntary cooperation between the auto industry and state governments.

As the awareness of vehicle safety (or lack of it) grew through the '60s, this trend accelerated; in the absence of Federal vehicle safety standards, the Goods and Services Administration drew up their own list of standard equipment required on cars purchased by the government. The list included front and rear seatbelts, nonglare windshield wiper arms, windshield washers, a driver’s sideview mirror, reversing lamps, and automatic transmission controls with no forward and reverse position immediately adjacent. The GSA requirements had the effect of making those items standard equipment even for most cars not bought by the government, which is why things like backup lights and sideview mirrors and screenwashers moved off many models’ option list for ’66 and became basic equipment (though Studebaker kept some P-N-D-L-R shift quadrants after '65, probably because they sold no or almost no vehicles to the government and saw their end approaching fast).

Overall, though, it _was_ a mishmash of state regulations. Without a single Federal standard, each and every lighting device (except the standardized sealed-beam headlamps) had to be approved by each and every state. This was an enormous headache for automakers and producers of auxiliary and replacement lighting equipment; the advent of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 108 (Lamps and Reflective Devices) made things a _lot_ easier because of the supremacy clause of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966. This clause means any state standard for any component or design feature of an automobile is null, void, and unenforceable to whatever degree the state standard conflicts with a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard regulating the same vehicle equipment or aspect of design. So starting in 1968, if an item of regulated vehicle equipment met the Federal standard, states were not permitted to reject it.

But once again, I'm getting ahead of myself. The 1963 adoption of amber turn signals was heralded by news media of the time:,2455222

Note that the new agreement was for amber front turn signals, specifically. Amber parking lamps have never been required equipment in the US or Canada. All parking lamps were white prior to 1963; once front turn signals went to amber for the '63 model year, amber became an optional color for the parking lamps (state laws requiring white front turn signals and/or requiring white front parking lamps are the ones that had to be changed, referred to in the linked news articles). Amber quickly became the most common color for parking lamps, because most American vehicles had combination park/turn lamps rather than separate parking lamps or parking lamps built into the headlamps as was common practice in Europe and Asia. However, white remained an equally legal color for parking lamps in North America. Today increasing numbers of vehicle models have white parking lamps in the form of reduced-intensity operation of the white daytime running lights.

While amber turn signals were a move toward alignment with scientific consensus and increasingly uniform international practice, amber parking lamps were a move in a more or less opposite direction -- most countries outside North America have never permitted any color other than white for the parking lamps, adhering strictly to a color convention of white = front, red = rear, amber = side (including lateral movement announced by the front and rear turn signals). The move to amber parking lamps in America caused a fair amount of outcry, with some justification behind it. See attached.

Now back to the text...from the webpage: Studebaker, in 1963, met this regulation by using amber lenses with clear bulbs. For the 1964 model year, they switched and began using clear lenses and amber bulbs. (...) In April 1964, over three months after the last Studebaker Avanti was produced, the company announced they were switching back to amber lenses and clear bulbs. According to Studebaker Service Letter J-1964-7, dated April 9,1964, the Canadian plant was making the switch back on Lark- type vehicles because some states (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, California and the District of Columbia) were occasionally expressing dissatisfaction with the clear lenses.

Yes. If all vehicles had done it one way or the other way, there probably would have been less confusion in the market, especially among state authorities and vehicle inspectors. Read this (whole) news story from March of 1963:,3960132 -- holy cats, what a mess!

The Studebaker service letter in question can be viewed here.

At your service,