Cornering Lamps

Automotive Mileposts
Image: 1974 Cadillac Front Cornering Lamp detail

Above (L to R): 1974 Cadillac Front Cornering Lamp, side reflector, side marker light, and turn signal

Initially a feature found only on luxury cars, cornering lamps became an important safety feature offered on many different makes and models

In 1962, Cadillac announced a few new safety features, including the first separate front and rear braking systems. Among the new safety features for the year was an item Cadillac called the cornering lamp. Marketed by Cadillac as a safety feature, the brochure presented it as " exclusive new cornering lamp that lights your way around turns..." And it was part of the standard equipment package on every Cadillac model for 1962.

The cornering lamp was mounted near the forward edge of the front fender, just above the wrap around part of the bumper. It consisted of a clear lens surrounded by a chrome bezel, and it projected a clear, bright, steady beam of light in the direction of a turn. Operation of the cornering lamp was controlled by the turn indicator switch, which turned on the corresponding cornering lamp automatically, and the light was extinguished when the turn indicator was cancelled by returning the steering wheel back to the straight ahead position. The cornering lamp was wired through the headlight switch so it only worked when the parking or headlamps were turned on, as Cadillac felt it would be most effective during the hours of darkness or inclement weather.

The steady beam of bright light helped illuminate the way around dark corners, a benefit especially appreciated by drivers navigating their way in unknown territory. The cornering lamps also served as a warning to oncoming traffic that a car was about to make a turn. They were also helpful in illuminating addresses stenciled onto curbs, and they became part of the Twilight Sentinel feature, which not only automatically turned on and off headlamps according to lighting conditions, but allowed drivers to leave the headlamps on upon exiting the car to illuminate their way into their homes. One of the cornering lamps could also be illuminated by moving the turn indicator in the direction of the desired light. The delay period could be set from several seconds to several minutes, depending on individual preference.

This feature would become a staple of Cadillac's standard equipment from that point forward, and is still found on the new models. There are a few exceptions, such as the Cadillac Cimarron, which many Cadillac enthusiasts don't consider a true Cadillac anyway, but the vast majority of Cadillacs built since 1962 all have this one thing in common.

Other General Motors Corporation divisions began offering cornering lamps over the next few years, including Buick in 1963, Oldsmobile in 1964, and Pontiac in 1967. The first competitor to offer a cornering light was Mercury in 1966, and it differed from the GM cars in that the Mercury lights illuminated regardless of whether or not the headlamps or parking lights were on. Other makes and models began offering the feature in 1967-1968, with luxury models usually including it as standard and less expensive models offering it optionally. The cornering lamp even found its way into other market segments, with its availability on the 1968 Pontiac GTO, a popular muscle car, and the 1983 Chevrolet Corvette, America's sole remaining sports car at the time. It's interesting to note that the Corvette also included them at the rear of the car, incorporated with the rear side marker lights, and they were illuminated whenever the car was in reverse, to provide additional light to the rear sides of the car.

The Buick Riviera offered cornering lamps as an option during its introductory year, 1963, as well as the following year. But a restyle for 1965 that placed the headlamps behind shields in the forward edge of the front fenders didn't allow room for them, so they were dropped for that one year. A restyled 1966 Riviera once again offered them as an option.

Image: 1968-1969 Ford Thunderbird Cornering LightOn the Thunderbird, the cornering light (shown at left) was initially an option when introduced for the 1968 model year, but became standard shortly after introduction of the 1969 models. It remained standard through 1971, was made an option again in 1972-1974, standard for 1975, then back to the options list for 1976-1979.

The Continental Mark IV, introduced in 1972, offered cornering lamps as an option initially, but they may have become a standard item during production. This was the last luxury car to add this item as a standard or optional feature, as its main competition, the Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado, had them from the very beginning, dating back to 1962 on the Eldorado Convertible, and to 1967, when the Eldorado became a personal luxury coupe. For 1971, a Convertible was added to the line as well, but all included the cornering lamp as a standard item.

Today, many people take the cornering lamp for granted, and only realize what a great convenience they are when driving a car not equipped with them. Such a simple, thoughtful device that we thought deserved a little more recognition for its contribution to safe motoring over the years.



1196 50 c.p.
1968-1976 Ford Thunderbird
1972-1976 Continental Mark IV

1295 50 c.p.
1971-1978 Cadillac Eldorado
1977-1979 Continental Mark V

Image: 1971 Cadillac Front Cornering Lamp

Above: 1971 Cadillac Front Cornering Lamp was combined with amber side marker light and reflector.


1962 Cadillac (All - Standard)
1963 Buick (Full Size - Optional)
1963-1964 Buick Riviera (Optional) (N/A in 1965)
1964 Oldsmobile (Full Size - Optional)
1966 Buick Riviera (Optional)
1966 Mercury (Full Size - Optional)
1967 Imperial (All - Standard)
1967 Pontiac (Full Size - Optional)
1968 Chrysler (Full Size - Optional)
1968 Dodge (Full Size - Optional)
1968 Ford Thunderbird (Optional)
1968 Pontiac GTO (Optional)
1970 Lincoln Continental (Standard)
1971 Ford (Full Size - Optional)
1972 Continental Mark IV (Optional at model introduction; made standard during production)

Image: 1970-1971 Ford Thunderbird Cornering Lamp

Above: 1970-1971 Ford Thunderbird Cornering Lamp was mounted low on front fender and provided a clear steady beam of light to the side when turn signals were operating. It shared its housing with front side marker and reflector, which flashed when turn signals were in use.