Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Dark Side of Lighting.

Fair enough, you want to be seen, that’s cool. You guys in the ‘States have had DLRs and orange side marker lights for years. It was mandatory. All you chaps in Northern Europe, too, used to have permanently engaged sidelights. We became quite fond of 245GLEs cruising about with their little lights reminding us of their presence, not that Ye Olde Malmo Brick was particularly easy to miss anyway.....

Today, on the winding roads of little old England, daytime running lights are back with a vengeance. And far from the olden days where they were innocuous enough to be quite likeable, today I absolutely positively hate them.

In fact I’m going to broaden the context of this particular tirade to encompass the “signature” headlamp, which has also begun to irk me a little. In 1999 BMW launched the Light Conductor Ring onto an unsuspecting public on the facelifted E39 5-Series; they became colloquially (and nauseatingly) as “Angel Eyes”. They were terrific. A clever bit of lateral thinking from Munich which served to give BMWs a completely separate identity to anything else on the road, and with it an easy way for car-geeks to spot which E87s or E90s were fitted with the optional Bi-Xenon headlamps.

It seemed ridiculous that nobody had thought to do this before. I mean, there have always been unique, distinctive headlamps. There are countless cars you can identify in the dark just from the pattern of light coming towards you out of the night, but this was some next level stuff. Audi were next out of the traps, following BMWs lead with their famous LED eyelashes that began to appear on their cars. Then Saab did a similar thing, their interpretation being a slightly feeble line of LEDs atop the existing headlamps of every 9-3 and Land Rover joined in with their utterly pathetic ring of seven or so LEDs around the headlamp elements, looking for all the world like the result of ten minutes spent in the workshop with sellotape and a drill.

Within minutes of these things appearing, it was only natural that the aftermarket world would follow suit. “Angel Eye” headlamps (see eBay) now grace seemingly every modified MkIV Golf across the country, just as “Lexus Lights” as soon as the original IS200 was released. Aftermarket headlamps and taillamps, I think we can all agree, look horrible and are utterly pointless. Why should a product thrown together on the Pacific Rim as a kneejerk marketing endeavour be better / nicer to look at than a pair of light clusters that your multinational automotive conglomerate has spend multi-millions of dollars developing? It doesn’t. It looks silly. 

In fact, come to mention it, all the crappy LED stuff you can buy to glue on the front of your ’96 Mondeo looks silly. We know it didn’t look like that when it left the factory, we know that what you’ve done is gone to Halfords and spent fifteen quid on rubbish to nail to the front of your car. At least the dickheads who see merit in having pretty little lights glowing away on the front of their cars are doing us a favour by warning you that there’s an utter prat in the car following you, you can therefore give him all the roadspace he’s likely to need as he weaves his way past you, phone in one hand and Big Mac in the other.

But my main complaint hinges around the LEDs employed on current and future Mercedes-Benz machinery, where, on the C and E class they have been fitted in the place of front foglights. The result of which is that, with the factory default being that they are switched on, it looks like you’re permanently driving around with your front foglights on. This makes you look like one of those idiots who drive around seaside towns in circles in their lime green Citroen Saxos with their foglights switched on ‘cos it looks wikkid. I could never work it out, suffice to say that I used to think that having extra lights on your car was incredibly cool. When I was eight. 

The local constabulary used to take a dim view of this practice, and would pull boy racers over every evening to tick them off sternly. It isn’t foggy, why are your fogs on? It’s a valid point. I wonder if these new low-mounted Daytime Running Lights, which to all intents and purposes look and behave exactly like LED Foglights, have been the source of any confusion between Her Majesties finest?
“Hello! I’m here! In your rear view mirror! See me? I’ve got my lights on!” Yes, very good. Now switch them off and stop drawing attention to yourself.