Upside Down Headlights: A Brief And Incomplete History

Who ever thought this was a good idea? That’s all I’m asking you.

From the late-50’s to the mid-80’s, car makers answered a question nobody asked: What would happen if we took our original design and turned the headlights upside-down? Won’t cost us a thing… and car buyers everywhere will absolutely love it!

GM made these Chevy Step Vans for about a gazillion years. Great trucks I’m sure, did everything they were asked to, and had headlights that were, just as plain as day, utterly and completely upside-down.

Maybe someone did it as a practical joke; maybe it was for safety reasons; maybe, just maybe, this was GM’s way of making it seem different than brother GMC:

Nope. GMC screwed up too. For some reason, I thought the ValuVan lights were right-side up, with turn signals below. Guess not…

Ok, this ’64 is cool. Clearly, when the fellas in Detroit started designing this stuff in the 50’s and early 60’s, some iterations were more successful than others.

And then there’s this:

Sorry, I know more than a few of you love these cars. The RWD 1980’s-era Chryslers, built at a time when everybody was copying Bill Mitchell’s “sheer look” from the revolutionary Seville. Anyway, I always wondered how many more 5th Avenues ol’ Lido could’ve pawned off on us if he had just ordered someone to turn the damn headlights over! Who do you think was the guy over at Chrysler HQ who made the call to go with this? Was it a last-minute decision by then-new Iacocca, or did he look at the baked-in design?

Except for the upside down part, Chryco’s front clip followed the ever-popular Caddy design language pretty closely, which became even more similar when the GM E-bodies were refreshed in 1980:

…and which was also copied by Ford with their Lincoln “Seville Beater” Versailles:

One could fairly argue that the 2-gen E copied its front clip from Lincoln, actually.

Here’s the point: for nearly all of my life, I’ve wondered why the designers, engineers and bean-counters thought this upside-down thing was a good idea. Why not turn the door handles upside down while you’re at it? At least by the mid-1980s and the legalization of European style flush headlights, I thought we could finally, once and for all, put this bad idea behind us.


Oh no! they’re back and they’re everywhere!

Thanks Ford.