by Bart McNeil
Probably the rarest and (pound for pound) most expensive items found on an early civilian Jeep are its original taillights. They are so rare in fact that some Jeep owners don't know what they should look like until they make an effort to research Jeep taillights. They seem to have been designed to self-destruct as they make contact with brush, trees and maybe the occasional automobile.
They are handsome lights to be sure, but they are extremely vulnerable to destruction. Perhaps if they were recessed into the rear sheet metal, as are the parking lights in front, more might have survived intact. But most early CJ's were working Jeeps on farms, industry and transportation services. Breaking and replacing a taillight was just part of the normal wear and tear of owning a Jeep. It may be that one of the most significant items for a restoration is the replacement of the taillight or taillights with original or accurate reproduction taillights.
Early CJ's came standard with only one taillight. The second taillight came into common use on Jeeps when turn signals replaced hand signals. As late as 1955 some CJ's were delivered with only a driver's side taillight.
This frame from a 1945 Willys promotional film shows a CJ-2 with the single driver's side taillight and a passenger side reflector (50K JPEG.)
The early style taillight is easy to identify. Its bezel has a full round quality and is held in place with only one retaining screw at the bottom of the taillight. (The terms "door" and "bezel" are used synonymously in this article. They refer to the steel ring surrounding and holding the lens.) The glass window at the bottom allows light to shine on the license plate.
The name NACO is commonly used to identify this taillight but no one seems to know what the initials mean. According to factory documents, the manufacturer of this taillight was Corcoran-Brown Lamp Co., 4900 Spring Grove Ave., Cincinnati 32, Ohio. Heather Walker in Australia suggested to CJ3B.info that the initials may refer to the N. Appleton Co. which was owned by her grandfather Norman Appleton. He was the inventor of the NACO louvre window which is still in use around the world.
This is an original unrestored taillight from a CJ-2A. The housing is marked "NACO" and "STANDARD" and the original red glass lens is marked "STIMSONITE" and "NACO." The clear license lens is perfect. In addition to the taillight a very early original bezel is seen. This black painted door was standard on the earliest of 2A taillights, and was sold as an option to the end of CJ-2A production. Factory documents indicate the chromed bezel was introduced as standard in mid-1946 (CJ-2A 45724).
The second version of the NACO taillight, with chromed steel bezel, was found on CJ's through 1950, and is seen here on Bill Norris' 1947 CJ-2A (160K JPEG). A Service Bulletin issued on 15 November 1950 and scanned by Bob Westerman, indicates that the NACO was actually used up to mid-1950 at CJ-3A 53768, when the change was made to ALA.
This drawing of the NACO taillight from the 1949 2A/3A Parts List may be a very early illustration, because the lens has no "bull's eye" in its center as do all other NACO taillights in this article. The housing is made of stamped sheet steel. Thanks to Bob Westerman for the scan.
See also the factory mechanical drawing (50K GIF) of the taillight assembly, part number 646594.
Note on Painted Taillights: It is a common belief that the earliest of CJ taillights had the housing painted body color, as seen in a series of advertising illustrations in the Saturday Evening Post magazines from 1945. In these hand-painted illustrations the artist depicted the CJ-2A with body color taillight housings. Todd Paisley has examined Willys-Overland production records which do not indicate that the housings were ever painted anything but black, but Bill Oakes and Jim Coffed have identified an NOS housing with apparently original dark blue paint.
In May or June of 1948 a new taillight was introduced, starting with CJ-2A 209952 according to some sources. See a detailed discussion about conflicting information on exactly when the changeover occurred on late 2As or early 3As, in NACO and ALA Tail Lights on The CJ-3A Information Page.
Basically the ALA looks like the NACO taillight but the lens and chrome bezel are slightly different in shape. Lawrence Wade's 55 CJ-3B has the second version taillights, which we will call ALA taillights (from the manufacturer's stamping on the housing). The ALA taillight housing is almost identical in size and shape to its NACO predecessor and from a distance could be mistaken for a NACO taillight.
Lawrence Wade has examined his taillights and reports on the identifying markings on the housing and lens. The top of the driver side housing (40K JPEG) is stamped "ALA". Some passenger side lights (40K JPEG) have no stamping on the outside. The insides of both housings are marked "ALA" and "CB 17674". The outside of the lens is marked "ALA" on top and on the bottom is "A.G.A Stimsonite-No-30" and a circle with "AL" inside. This Auto-Lite symbol is apparently because manufacturer Corcoran-Brown was in fact a division of Auto-Lite.
Matt Reed sent a photo of the inside of the taillight housing (50K JPEG). The ALA taillight is made of cast pot metal (zinc).
Note on taillight mounting brackets: Starting with CJ-2A serial number 209951 in 1948, all ALA taillights were separated from the Jeep body by a mounting bracket. According to Service Bulletin 48-64 dated 15 November, 1948, "The tail lamp and license plate brackets were redesigned so the rays from the tail lamp would illuminate the plate better." The photo above shows that the taillight housing is not mounted on the body but is attached to an intermediate base between itself and the Jeep body. This base is not shown on exploded illustrations in parts lists or service manual views. The 1956 CJ-3B Parts List describes it as "Part No. 669879 Bracket, tail and stop light (Mounting base for tail light)."
The mounting base does serve another interesting function by allowing the same taillight to be adapted to different situations. For instance the Jeepster taillights are the same as those on CJ's, however they use a different mounting bracket (base) to adapt to the slanted rear panel of the Jeepster and give the taillight a sculptured dramatic appearance. The same is true of taillights on the sedan delivery, each having a base designed for the particular needs of the vehicle.
This driver side ALA taillight is owned by John Hubbard. There still may be a few of these NOS taillights around.
Joe Caprio's untouched 1950 CJ-3A (70K JPEG) has one taillight and no reflector on the passenger side. One might assume that law required at least a reflector but apparently not. Several photos show other new early CJ's with one taillight and no reflector. See From Broadway to Halfmoon Valley Road for more on Joe's remarkable unrestored 3A.
CJ Wilson has an early 1955 CJ-5 which originally had only a driver side taillight, and later had a hole cut in for the passenger side light. He says, "I researched the taillights to find new ones and found 2 NOS passenger lights, bought them, and also found and purchased some other driver side lights. Upon close inspection of my originals and the others that I bought, I noticed that they all had the same markings. All had "ALA" on the outside housing, though some were worn and covered with paint. The inside markings were all the same. Some of them had notches on the inside casting nubs for the clear lens for the driver side. This notch was on one of the passenger NOS housings also. It appeared that they were using the same housings and 'cutting' the clear lens hole as they were made. The strangest thing was that on one of the NOS passenger housings, you could see a faint line where the 'cut' should be to make it a driver side housing. Other passenger housings did not have this. It became clear that at some point, if not for all time, the company got wise and made the housings universal for both sides."
This exploded view of the driver's side ALA taillight is from the 3B Parts List of 1956. Another illustration from the book (90K JPEG) shows the taillights mounted on their brackets.
Matt Reed's taillight has the optional painted bezel (40K JPEG.)
The ALA lens and bezel are riveted together while the center hole in the rivet is used for the screws to hold the unit to the housing. This replacement Prestolite lens (part number 801158) appears to be plastic. When comparing it to a Stimsonite glass lens one senses that shortcuts were taken in its manufacture. It seems that the "bull's eye" center is a puddle of plastic rather than a carefully crafted and focused lens. See a larger copy of the photo (100K JPEG).
NOS Prestolite replacement lenses are typically packaged in a plastic bag (40K JPEG.) See also the original cardboard box for a glass lens (10K JPEG).
We recently learned from The Taillight King that this aftermarket lens was sold as a less expensive replacement for the ALA lens and bezel. The interesting thing is that it has no chrome bezel. It may have been quite common as a replacement lens and almost certainly is the rationale for parts dealers to now sell generic taillight housings and plastic lenses without bezels as "Jeep taillights."
Note on disagreeing Parts Lists: According to the 1956 CJ-3B Parts List the ALA taillight was in use from 1949/50 through 1955. The 1962 Master Parts List disagrees with the 1956 3B Parts List and lists the NACO taillight as preceding the Hall taillight on the 3B, the CJ-5/6, and the DJ-3A. I searched for the NACO taillight in use on an early CJ-3B, and found no verifiable examples.
I have referred to "NACO" and "ALA" for clarity as if those are the actual names of the taillights. The Willys parts lists do not refer to them by any name. Interestingly though, the Hall taillight (below) is referred to by that name.
The next development in CJ-3B taillight history took place in 1957 after CJ-3B serial number 57348-34451, according to the parts list. The Hall taillight seems to correlate with the conversion from 6 to 12 volts as standard, and the new instrument cluster on the dashboard. The change from 6 to 12 volts is not directly related to the change in taillight, because the Hall taillight (or any early taillight) can be used on either 6 or 12 volt systems. Only the bulbs are different.
The Hall taillight had already been in use prior to 1957, on the CJ-5. The earliest CJ-5s (60K JPEG) used the ALA light, but this late 1955 CJ-5 belongs to Mark Sinclair. The Hall design is quite plain with no chrome or stainless steel. The housing was originally painted black and is shaped much like half a small grapefruit. The lens is held in place with a retainer ring instead of a bezel. Hall replacement lenses are found in both glass and plastic.
This unrestored 1959 CJ-3B formerly owned by Steve Chabot has Hall taillights. Having a total of seven parts, they are a little simpler than the earlier taillights. See also Louie Larson's very original 1961 CJ-3B.
On the driver's side the extending bracket was still used to improve lighting of the license plate. The passenger side Hall taillight (70K JPEG) was mounted directly to the CJ body with no bracket. (I've lost track of who took these photos. -- Derek) See also Nathan Foust's 1964 CJ-3B. Thanks to Bill Oakes and Adam Sparks for helping to clarify this.
This set of NOS chrome-plated Hall taillights is for use on a CJ-5A Tuxedo Park. On these deluxe vehicles the license plate was mounted on the center of the tailgate and a separate chromed fixture was used to illuminate it. Owner George Bonta comments: "The Hall 701 tail light was used on CJ-3B, CJ-5 and CJ-6, plus the chromed version was used on Tuxedo Park Jeeps. They were also used on Jeep trucks. They used the Stimsonite 701 lens that was held in by a retainer. They are marked Hall 701 (50K JPEG) on the body of the unit, have a plastic insert that goes inside the unit, a Stimsonite lens, and a retaining ring (50K JPEG). Some were made with an opening in the bottom to allow the license plate to be lit."
The exploded illustration in the 1962 Parts List shows the driver's side taillight. Jim Marski located a piece of original Kaiser/Willys artwork (40K JPEG) showing the passenger side taillight. A careful comparison suggests that this artwork is most likely a revision based on the parts list image here. Few, if any, of the parts shown are drawn identically, and it may be for a later parts list or manual. It also appears to have been drawn by a different artist.
In the late 1960s the CJ-5 switched to a larger, uniquely shaped taillight, seen in this detail from John Carroll's Classic Jeeps. The Jeep is a right-hand-drive, Australian-owned 1974 CJ-5. See also a factory photo of a 1974 CJ-5 Renegade (130K JPEG) seen in Sessler's Jeep Buyer's Guide.
The exploded view of this taillight is from the 1965 Universal Jeep Service Manual. It wasn't in use for long; the rectangular housing used until the end of the CJ line, appeared in the mid-1970's.
My interest in taillights was tweaked a few years ago when I saw an NOS early taillight sell on eBay for about $150. At the same time I noticed several merchants selling "CJ taillights." These needed a stretch of the imagination to accept them as real Jeep taillights and their main virtues were that they were round, they glowed red, and they were cheap.
Original early taillights and lenses can sometimes be found on eBay or the Jeep forum boards. This original Willys-Overland station wagon taillight from the 1940s was recently sold on the Willys Tech parts board for a reasonable price. It needs wiring, has some surface rust, but otherwise is in good condition. It is the same taillight as used on early civilian Jeeps. Even the markings on the housing and the lens are the same. Look for "NACO" and "STANDARD" stamped on the top of the housing. On the red lens "STIMSONITE" can be seen at the top in very small letters, while "NACO" can be seen in larger letters at the bottom.
Keep in mind that NACO designated these taillights as "standard". That suggests that they were sold for use on other vehicles (as well as civilian Jeeps) as original or replacement taillights. Bill Oakes tells us that these taillights can sometimes be found on old school buses.
Rich Tolson has a NACO taillight with chromed housing (40K JPEG) on his 1948 CJ-2A. Possibly an aftermarket item, or chromed by a previous owner.
Northstar Willys and other parts dealers sell these good-looking and reasonably accurate reproductions of early CJ taillights. These are probably the only reproduction taillights available for the early civilian Jeep and are priced within reason. Like the originals, they use only one screw to hold the bezel to the housing. The license plate lens appears to be plastic (or milky white glass) while the original taillight has an only slightly cloudy glass license lens. In an advertisement Northstar Willys states: "The metal housing has NACO STANDARD stamped in and the glass lenses have Stimsonite and NACO molded into them just like the originals".
A very common replacement taillight was similar in shape and size and is what many non-restorers have accepted as a reasonable replacement. With a chrome bezel it might have passed for an original. This detail is from a photo of a CJ-2A in Jim Allen's Jeep.
These are so common as replacements that many assume they are original taillights, but to my knowledge they were never sold by Willys and are not found in Willys parts lists. More recent versions may have plastic lenses that snap on rather than being attached by screws.
Many lights advertised on eBay as "Jeep taillights" are not reproductions but replacement truck taillights. Their similarity to original CJ taillights is in the eye of the seller.
One often sees other taillights on early CJ's. To the best of my knowledge they are all replacement taillights, neither original nor reproductions. -- Bart McNeil
Thanks to Bart for his research, as he continues to uncover the story of the "forgotten" end of the Universal Jeep. Thanks also to Bill Norris for finding Service Bulletin 48-64, and to Jyotin, Keith Buckley, Matt Reed, Stig Edqvist, John Carroll, Lawrence Wade, Jim Marski, The CJ2A Page, Bill Oakes, John Hubbard, Mark Sinclair, Adam Charnok, Robert Wolfe, Rodney Walker, Bill Norris, Todd Paisley and A.J. Phillips (The Taillight King) for photographs and information. -- Derek Redmond
See more Universal Jeep History on CJ3B.info.
Elsewhere on the web, see NACO and ALA Tail Lights on The CJ-3A Information Page.
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