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Here's the Hilarious Story of the Ferrari California's Brake Lights

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author photo by Doug DeMuro February 2017

When the Ferrari California first came out for the 2009 model year, it didn't exactly gain a lot of support for its styling. Although I always kind of liked the California, most people didn't. Most people thought it was a bit homely. And by "a bit homely," I mean that some people considered it to be the ugliest Ferrari in decades.

One of the reasons for this was the rear-end styling, which was laughably bizarre: There was a tremendously high rear deck, for no apparent reason, with quad exhausts oddly stacked on top of one another on either side of the car and a giant black plastic strip in the middle that contained the license plate. The whole thing was about as cohesive as the debris field from an airplane crash.

Well, one of the many reasons why the Ferrari California was so unattractive in back is rather humorous: Ferrari forgot about the brake lights. Admittedly, they didn't forget to add the brake lights, because that would be truly insane, but they forgot where they needed to put them. Allow me to explain.

Here in the United States, our federal government has a regulation stating that no major exterior lighting -- headlights, brake lights -- can be placed on a movable piece of bodywork. This is why the rear end is fixed in a Ford GT, even though the entire middle section of the car lifts up as a hood. It's also why the Audi Q5 and Q7, the Lincoln MKC and MKX and the MINI Clubman have a second set of brake lights in the rear bumper: because their primary brake lights are on a movable piece of bodywork, so the secondary set lights up the moment that piece of body work is opened, thus satisfying the government regulation. Only the early MINI Cooper seems to have gotten past this regulation, as its headlights were mounted on its hood -- but newer models have the lights fixed in place, thus complying with the government.

And this brings us back to the Ferrari California.

When the Ferrari California was designed, it seems the intent was to make the brake lights be the small circles on either side of the deck lid. This much is obvious: This is the brake light placement in every single Ferrari, including all of the California's contemporaries, so it was clear Ferrari would just stick the brake lights there like they do on all the other cars.

Except there was a problem: Unlike on all the other Ferrari models, which weren't convertibles, the California's rear deck lid opens to let the top down. In other words, it's a movable piece of bodywork. The brake lights can't be there.

Apparently realizing this too late in the design process to change anything, Ferrari stuck the California's brake lights there anyway -- except they don't light up. Instead, they just sit there, and they come on as taillights when the California's headlights are on. But when you press the brakes, the center-mounted third brake light comes on, and those lights do nothing. They can't do anything, per government regulations. So if you have a Ferrari California, it looks like you're driving around with your brake lights permanently broken.

Of course, Ferrari still had to fit some sort of brake lights to the California, and they did. They are total afterthoughts -- dimly lit halogen lights placed in the black plastic rear area, which confusingly light up when you brake, instead of those brake lights on top of the deck lid. So when you push the brakes, you get the third brake light -- an LED on top of the deck lid -- and you get the two dimly lit halogen bulbs, and the things that actually look like the brake lights do absolutely nothing.

Interestingly, when it came time for Ferrari to update the California and turn it into the California T, I thought for sure they'd correct this glaring flaw -- but they didn't. They did, however, vastly improve things: They got rid of the weird black plastic span across the back of the car, and they transformed the rear lights from halogens to far-more-attractive LEDs.

Despite this, however, sitting on the top of the California T's deck lid, they still remain: two nonfunctioning circles where Ferrari thought the brake lights would sit, until regulations told them differently.

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Here's the Hilarious Story of the Ferrari California's Brake Lights - Autotrader