Sequential Turn Signals
For All 1983-88 Cougars / Thunderbirds
Page Revised: 10 May 2019
The 1967-73 Cougar (or a 1964-73 Thunderbird) had one of the coolest and most unique features: the sequential taillamps, where the turn signals flash in sequence in the taillights. At the time it was called "gimmicky" but now this cool mod is enjoying a comeback. In fact, Ford brought back the feature for the 2010-up Mustang. The best thing is that it's part of the Cougar's history—you need not feel like it's a passing fad; it's here to stay. Now until a few years ago, you either had to try and splice in a system from the original Cougar (VERY problematic, and difficult to do), or try to find someone who could build a solid-state control box with Radio Shack parts. Well, thanks to newer companies, you can simply buy the pre-built kit and install it yourself in just a few hours.
We are not aware of any "plug-and-play" kits for our cars, so that means you'll need a universal-style kit to retrofit your car. Below is a list of known, quality vendors that sell sequential kits:
- Cougars Unlimited has created one of the first mass-produced, modern era kits. This is the kit we used because it was the best available at the time. Please check their website for current price information.
- Web Electric Products sells a universal, low-cost sequential kit that is popular with hot rodders and car enthusiasts of all kinds.
BEFORE YOU INSTALL
There are a few things you need to know before you buy the kit and begin installation. The kit you purchase will need to work with any vehicle that has 3 brake light/turn signal combo bulbs per side (except those specifically designated as a 2-bulb system). All 1983-88 Cougars and most Thunderbirds have 3 bulbs per side, but one of the bulbs is for marker lights only, not for brake lamps. Which leads to the next point: there is some rewiring and modification to the taillamp wiring harness in order for the 3-light sequencer kit to work. We've figured out a way to significantly reduce the need to hack up your stock harness, and those pointers will be made below.
What comes in the kit?
The kit consists of a control box, wiring harnesses, mounting screws, a new heavy duty flasher, and instructions.
How does the kit work?
In a nutshell, the control box acts as a central brain or junction box for the brake signals and turn signals that go to the rear taillights. With this system the box controls everything automatically; this is why you need to do the rewiring. Also, you will replace the stock flasher with the special heavy duty unit supplied by the kit.
What do I need to start?
Basic hand tools (wiring strippers, screwdrivers, sockets), electrical tape, butt splice connectors, and 6 additional taillight bulb sockets (if bypassing the stock harness). A test light is also very handy to use here.
The following photos are a step-by-step tour of installing the Cougars Unlimited sequential turn signal system. It may or may not be similar to other kits. This section is only meant as a supplement to the instructions that come with the kit. You assume responsibility for any actions herein.
NOTE: All photos are taken from a 1986 Cougar. Your car's setup may vary from the car shown.
1) Disconnect the battery before attempting to install this kit.
2) When connecting wires, use butt splices or solder all connections. The principle behind this box is that it bypasses the stock wiring for the turn signals and brake lamps. In other words, all faith is put into this box. Therefore all wiring MUST be secure and permanent or else you run the risk of losing your brake lamps and/or turn signals as you drive. And make sure that no wiring will get in the way of moving parts (i.e. brake pedal).
3) There are two wiring harnesses associated with the box: one is for power input, the other is for power output. The input harness is where you should start first. For that, you will need to get a pure brake signal, and a pure turn signal for both left and right signals. NO CHEATING HERE. If you own a 1986-up vehicle, the brake signal can come directly from the third brake lamp in the rear window. For all pre-1986 cars, you MUST run a wire all the way up to the brake switch on top of the brake pedal (green wire), as there is no other place in the car to get this signal.
4) For the turn signals, all cars must get the signals from the switches on the steering column. You don't have to strip the wires on the column or for the brake lamp; you can use a simple Scotch-Lok connector to piggyback those wires. Wiring may vary from car to car so you'll have to get the signal yourself. To get the signals you will need a test light. Remove the steering column cover. Temporarily connect the car's battery and carefully turn the key forward, but do not start the car. Put the driver's side turn signal on, and test the wires in the turn signal harness on the column. You should find that one wire flashes the test light—that's the wire you will need to hook up to the box. Repeat the same for the passenger side signal, then disconnect the battery again. Piggyback the wires and run them to the box. It's easiest to run the wires underneath the carpeting along the driver's side of the car.
5) Once all the input signals are taken care of on the box, go to the other harness for the lamps. Each socket will have 3 wires going to it: one for the brake/turn signal, one for the lamps on, and one for the ground. It's helpful to chain all the grounds together, then to one master ground (either a ground wire or bolted to metal). You will also need to chain all the lights-on wires, tapping power from one such wire from the main taillight harness. Take your time and follow the instructions carefully. Once you have all the output wires situated, plug both harnesses into the box.
6) Before you reconnect the battery, you must change the flasher under the dash to the new heavy duty unit. This is because you've added more sockets to share the signals. If you were to use the stock flasher, the sequencer would work too fast and you'd lose the effect. The provided heavy duty flasher slows down the signal to the box and lets it sequence perfectly. After changing the flasher, reconnect the battery—it's time to test the turn signals and brakes. A helping hand is good here.
7) Hopefully you'll get the sequence in the first shot. If not, you'll be checking the wiring extensively. Be patient! Once you're working fine, double check all of your connections, then properly secure all wiring away from metal and out of the way.