(first posted 10/21/2011)
All cars have headlights. They’re a basic part of our image of a car, the eyes on its face. At night they need to be up high and far apart to light the road for the driver, and light the car for everyone else. But during the daytime, they’re just blocking the airflow and taking up space. Style the front end however you like, but you must include those lights. What if they were hidden, and only came out at night? Designers answered this question in an amazing number of ways over seven decades. But now hidden headlights are gone, never to return.
Gordon Buehrig and his team of stylists designed the first hidden headlights in 1935, for the radical front-drive Cord Model 810. Modified Stinson landing lights disappeared into the fenders with dashboard hand cranks. Without a pair of big lamps taking up the space between radiator and fenders, the grille could extend around the sides of the Cord’s “coffin nose”. Just clean shapes of nose and fenders, a sleeker look than anything ever seen on the street. It was the hit of the New York Auto Show (movie here, lights at 0:35).
Then Harley Earl hid the lights in his 1938 Buick “Y-Job”, Detroit’s first concept car. Finally, for its brief pre-war run, the ’42 DeSoto featured new “Airfoil” lights. “Out of Sight Except at Night!” First hidden headlights in a mass-market car.
Close inspection of a video shows the headlights remained fixed, with rotating covers. Certainly easier to keep the lights aligned when they don’t move. Headlight covers have practically no effect on the airflow, they’re mechanical devices with no functional effect, just appearance. Strange isn’t it? Imagine if ’59 cars had power fins.
After the war the ’46 DeSoto had the same front end, but with conventional sealed beams where the lights were hiding before the war. Why did Chrysler drop them? They could have been DeSoto’s style trademark. Imagine a Forward Look DeSoto front end with nothing but chrome grille from hood to bumper.
The ’42 DeSoto marks the end of the “classic era” of hidden headlights. For all the wild excess of gizmos and gadgets in fifties American cars, every single one exposed its lights. Going to duals was the big story in late-fifties headlights. No hidden headlights popped up in any 1950’s production car, anywhere in the world, so far as I can find.
Then came the British Invasion of style and sports cars. In 1962 Lotus hid its lights to cheat the wind and preserve the racing lines of its fenders. Like the Cord, these are pop-ups. Perfect match of form and function. When Emma Peel brought her Elan to American TV screens, it made a big impression (not just on teenage guys like me).
Larry Shinoda’s sensational Sting Ray Corvette followed in ’63. Its headlights rotate up. With that, headlights started going into hiding all over the place, especially at style-leader GM.
For 1965, Bill Mitchell moved his Riviera’s dual headlights out of the main grille, to vertical stacks behind its LaSalle-inspired fender grilles, which opened with amazing eyelid action. Siblings Olds Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado followed in ’66 and ’67, joined by the Pontiac Grand Prix and Ford Thunderbird. Hidden headlights defined the new class of personal luxury cars. In the ’68 Toronado the whole grille rotated up!
Muscle cars put their shades on too: Dodge Charger in ’66, Chevy Camaro and Mercury Cougar in ’67 and that rubber-nosed ’68 GTO we saw last month. Charger lights rotated up from below, Cougar had covers going up, and Camaro used a clever sideways sliding panel.
These years also saw the launch of the Brougham epoch. Ordinary “full-size” cars inevitably adopted the mark of personal luxury and performance: hidden headlights. The sixties-standard fender-to-fender rectangular grille with dual headlights at each end made LTD-eification easy. Just design a full-width grille, cut some flaps to hide the headlights, and you’ve got the Eldorado look.
Check out these ’68 Fords, the name-debased Galaxie 500, and its broughamification, the LTD. Ford used vacuum-operated flat covers, going up. If there was a ’68 Ford model kit, I’ll bet it had two grilles to choose from, just like on the assembly line.
It’s said on the web that certain early FoMoCo headlights had a persistent problem with the vacuum system. The issue is that headlights must come on quickly when needed, and opening the covers with engine vacuum was too slow. So Ford engineered an opposite solution (the technical term is ‘kludge’). A vacuum reservoir held the covers closed, against a spring that quickly opened them on command. While parked, the stored vacuum held the covers closed. Until it started to leak. Then the covers would slowly start opening partway, giving the car that special ‘half-asleep’ look. On used car lots, they had to be started every night to recharge the vacuum and hold the covers closed all day. Reliable electric drives eventually replaced all this.
By the end of the sixties, the fuselage Plymouth Gran Fury / Sport Suburban and Chevy Caprice / Impala SS (with optional vacuum-operated rising covers) joined the Ford LTD / XL with full-width grilles, first seen in that ’65 Riviera. At Chevy, Ford and Plymouth, hidden headlights marked the top-of-the-line big cars, at least briefly.
This brings us up to 1970, the high water mark for hidden headlights in American cars. Where did the changing tides of style, taste, regulations and technology take them? What do hidden headlights say about how cars look to us humans? Keep watching for part two, real soon now.
Love the exaggerated perspective on the ’42 DeSoto poster! Makes the car look longer, wider, and much lower than the actual car.
The “need” for hidden headlights disappeared when the auto makers could use some other shapes/sizes than the round sealed-beams that were required for years. First we got rectangular sealed beams and then eventually the stylists could shape the headlights to any shape to achieve appearance and aerodynamic goals.
The shape/size of the headlights can have a profound effect on the styling because the height of the bumper is specified by law and if you place a headlight above it – you have determined the frontal profile.
One of my favorite hidden headlight example is the recent Corvette which had headlights that rotated open/closed – the headlights had a sort of “bulging frog” type look. The lights looked fairly aerodynamic when open.
In your next installment I hope you don’t forget the Opel GT. While it’s not technically American, it was a GM car and was sold here at your friendly, neighborhood Buick-Opel dealer. Can’t think of another car that has headlights that rotate on the same axis as the little Opel. Also can’t think of another that used similar mechanical linkage.
As a kid, nothing was more thrilling that being permitted to tug on big lever in the center console of Dad’s Opel to open the headlights. Kathunk!
That ’42 DeSoto was incredibly neat from the front – it’s a pity that they cheapened the design down for ’46-48. Then again, why spend the extra money when people were virtually willing to kill for a new car?
Ahh, Emma Peel and the Lotus Elan. In my mid teens, I discovered lust – in both ways. Never missed an episode of ‘The Avengers’ on Friday nights, even the time I was hit by a car on my way home. Still made the opening credits.
Also, the Bugeye Sprite was supposed to have retracting headlights. Not sure why it was dropped, most likely cost. That’s why that car always had that incredibly odd looking front end.
“Ahh, Emma Peel and the Lotus Elan.”
Don’t get me started! “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. ‘Nuff said.
I’m the one who introduced my lady to the James Bond movie franchise. I own almost all of them including “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” which featured George Lazenby in his only turn as Bond. Stacey told me after watching it: “This guy had potential, to bad he bowed out after one film.”
“OHMSS” was the wrong movie to see as an 18-year-old in the Air Force just after arriving in Northern California! Holy cow! What a beauty – and that goes double – for Diana Rigg and the red Cougar convertible she drove! Talk about walking out of the theater lusting! For her and the car!
My all-time favorite James Bond movie!
Totally agree Zak,
OHMSS is one of my fav Bond movies too, and mostly for the locales and sets – and that red Cougar RX7.
Have to agree, Ms Riggs was pretty classy in that film.
Not to mention….the Cougar in OHMSS had hidden headlights too!….maybe it was in her contract.
An RX7 is a Mazda. The Cougar XR7 is the car you’re thinking about.
Count me in in the Emma Peel appreciation society. Though, I discovered that series in the 90’s, when my favorite channel showed endless reruns of The Avengers and Mission: Impossible. As a slacker in those days, I used to fall asleep and wake up to the tune of that channel. Just what is it about the 60’s? Diana rigg as Emma Peel and Barbara Bain as Cinnamon Carter formed my view of the perfect but unattainable woman. They are still my ideal.
Confound you! Now you REALLY got me going by mentioning Cinnamon on Mission: Impossible! Drop. Dead. Gorgeous.
I absolutely loved seeing Miss Rigg in those skin tight black suits she wore on “The Avengers”. Teenage fantasy stuff!
Agreed about that DeSoto, but in that seller’s market they could have charged more to cover the cost of those lights. Maybe that would have stepped on the Chrysler’s market. Postwar Chrysler Corp. was intensely conservative.
Diana RIgg had a huge effect on a generation’s idea of what’s attractive. She must have been one of the first women on TV with the wits, capability and charm to prevail in any situation.
Yes, the Bugeye was due to the bean counters. Else it would have been the first postwar popup. As it turned out the Sprite had one of the brightest faces ever. We’ll see the Bugeye in Part 2.
Yep, cost – they even dropped the trunk lid to save cost!
And weight and complexity it was a light weight sports car after all.
When these were new (and I was young), I thought: “what a great idea”! Now, not anymore.
I had hidden headlights on our 1992 LeBaron convertible, and…they always worked very well, but I saw lots of them either winking or both doors retracted, so there were issues no matter what car they were part of.
I am probably getting into part II, but my 77 New Yorker was always a problem in winter. The electric doors pivoted and lowered. If you drove for awhile in bad weather with the lights on, the ice buildup would prevent the doors from shutting fully, causing some nasty noises or stripped gears. It was common for folks to unplug the plug with the lights on in these cars in the late fall, and re-connect them in the spring.
Another issue was going through the car wash – do you want clean lights or clean outer covers? You had to choose by either leaving the lights on or off as you went through the wash, or else remember to clean the lights when you got home (which I usually forgot to do).
Thanks for reminding us about the ice-up problem. We get wicked ice storms in Portland that can make it impossible to get a door open, much less covered headlights.
The Columbia Gorge is beautiful, but can work as a nozzle injecting cold, dry continental air into our usual moist air from the coast. Metro Portland is built like God’s Ice Maker.
I thought many of these cars had switches on the dash to allow you to keep then up if need be.
I know of this as I had a 1988 Honda Accord with the popup headlights and there was a switch to leave them up, which I eventually had to do after a minor collision.
Plus I had to have the whole headlight wiring harness replaced as the wiring for the right headlight wore out, but by then, the car had around 130K miles or so.
Not in the 70s. All of them that I was ever familiar with were switched through the headlight switch. There was no control independent of the light switch. The Chryslers were electric. If you wanted to keep the doors open with the lights off (mandatory in winter, as I discovered), you had to turn on the lights, then go under the hood to find the plug to the motor, unplug it, then turn off the lights.
We had an 88 Accord too, and I recall thinking to myself what a great idea that switch for opening the lights was, because it was completely new to me.
I had a 1970 Plymouth Gran Coupe. The motor that operated the headlight covers had a knob on the bottom that could be rotated by hand after the power was disconnected. Mine were very reliable. They did make a loud noise when closing. It sounded like the hood was being slammed shut.
I too had 1970 Fury, it was a Sport Fury 4 dr sedan. I disabled mine and left them up all the time. It is interesting that you mentioned the Gran Coupe, it was a separate Fury model available only as a 2 dr sedan, where the only sedan in Sport Fury model was a 4 dr. Doesn’t really seem a logical lineup but then a lot of things Mopar did defied logic.
Those Accords had a similar glitch — if the popups were stuck in any way (even if it wasn’t visible), the battery would drain. So the switch was worthwhile preventative medicine in icy conditions.
The 70 Fury Gran Coupe was a post coupe because that was fhe only two door Fury with that roofline in 1970. The planners didn’t want the pimpletop hardtop for that car.
My 88 Accord had a switch on the dash to pop up the lights without turning them on. As long as I remembered to do this if snow or ice were in the forecast, life was good. If I forgot, I was hosed. Another note, my Accord had a chronic headlight issue. All of the ups and downs of the headlight assembly would eventually cause wires to loosen or short out. The worst case was when I turned them on late one night and found one light dead and the other dimmed to about a quarter of its normal intensity.
My ’86 Accord had that switch – made for hours of fun! I remember driving it with a friend, behind a station wagon with 3-4 young kids in the rear. One kid was staring at us, so I flicked the switch twice and the lights shot up and down. Only that kid had seen, and got the others to look. My friend and I remained expressionless, and the lights stayed down. The other kids didn’t believe it, so went back to their squabbling. So I flicked the switch twice again. Same result: only the first kid saw them, my friend and I retained our deadpan expressions. Boy was that kid watching the Accord intently! I did it a couple more times over the next few kilometres, and when it became obvious the other kids were going to inflict pain on the one they thought was lying, I left the lights up. When they were all looking, I flicked them up and down a few times. Smiles and laughter all round!
I eventually had to prop up my aging ’88 Accord’s headlights because one of the plastic servo-arm fasteners kept failing due to acid [fumes?] from the battery nearby. This plus the inability to flash ’em soured me on the concept, though in most other respects I loved that car.
I still think that the Cord 810 is one of the most beautiful cars ever built (in Connersville, Indiana, by the way).
I remember very well the Ford vacuum system for the headlight covers. Most of these systems would leak down after about 3-5 days, even on newer cars. My Dad had a couple of Lincolns of the early 70s and the doors would slowly open routinely.
I also recall that some of the cars leaked worse on one side than the other, and the cars would kind of wink at you as they sat.
And count me as another fan of the 42 DeSoto. I would imagine that these were killed after the war mostly for cost reasons – they could sell every car they could build, and I suspect that the mechanical headlight system was fairly expensive for the day.
Nifty-keen idea to write about “peek-a-boo” headlights (A term I believe was actually used buy one of the auto manufacturers back in the 1960s).
I recall the advent of the rectangular headlight and the resulting commencement over time of an assortment of headlight shapes AND the HUGE increase of replacement price in so MANY vehicles (with variances etc. depending if only a small plug-in new-fangled bulb needs replaced or if an entire sealed unit has to be replaced, etc. and whatever).
Dismantling yards reveled in the profitability of the new-style headlights… with some makes/models ofering BIG profits.
And to think…. the cost of the “old” round head lights. A pittance.
We gave them away free just to build good will in the 80s when round-light bearing vehicles were common. Gave away the square lights, also.
If she was cute or the asker elderly, we would install the dern’ thing, just to be neighborly.
You make a good point here, thanks. Like most motorheads, I’ve long thought the US sealed beam standards were kind of dumb. We sure got tired of looking at them. But standard lights drove the cost down so low that everyone had lights that were good enough, and they could afford to maintain them. I never thought about it that way. Surely that saved some lives.
Having said that, I’m very glad we’ve moved on. I’ll talk a little more about that next time.
They were cheap, durable, interchangable and never hazed up. I miss them.
The ’93 Miata I just got has some cheap aftermarket halogens with a pretty bad beam pattern. I’m thinking of putting the stock sealed beams back in.
I miss them also. They never got glazed over.
And they limited the stylists to sensible round or rectangular lights.
Most of the weirdly shaped modern headlights are worse looking than simple, functional, round or rectangular lights.
I so agree with this. Designers had it way harder to style all new front end designs every year, model to model when working around the same tried and true headlight shape everyone was using, and had used for decades. Composites basically led to designer shapes a generic car – designer draws two squiggly shapes on the front of it – and the headlight shape is done.
Ten years on, the comment still deserves a resounding: AAAaaaay-men!
“They were cheap, durable, interchangable and never hazed up. I miss them.”
That comment, and those seconding it.
My cheap-assed father bitched like hell when I replaced the still working yellowed 12V sealed beams on my ’70 Karmann Ghia with crisp white halogens when they became affordable. I guess he didn’t care about seeing things at night. I thought ( no, I knew! ) that the halogens were a fantastic improvement. It’s now a matter of routine for me to put brighter bulbs on my car after I buy it,
GM management issued a corporate-wide edict banning them starting in 1970, except for Corvettes. Obviously rescinded at some point, witness late 80’s Toronados, Reatas, Sunbirds and SkyHawks, not to mention Fieros.
Interesting. I noticed that in the sixties GM resisted using hiddens outside the personal luxury class. On the ’68-’69 Caprice it was a rare option.
Oh, a topic dear to my heart. The Riv and Eldo above are two of my favorite GM cars.
Note that my girl is sleeping eyes-open in my avatar. The gearbox and/or relay is kaput. I’m sending it to a guy who put so much effort into fixing his ’66 Charger’s doors that he’s now in business as “The Headlight Motor Man.”
Incidentally, the 70’s Mopar system was much simpler than that Charger’s. One motor, one gearbox, one relay, two doors attached to a springy rod.
The Mopar system could really slam shut! I could never get mine to be quiet.
The first-gen Charger may have my favorite hidden headlamps. I can’t think of another car so-equipped that looks as good with the headlamps on as with them off. Everything else seems to have a gaping hole around the lights when exposed, or in the case of pop-up lights, an aerodynamic and visual obstruction.
I never realized that no 1950s cars had hidden headlamps, but yeah I can’t think of one either.
I’m a big fan of the 70 Sport Suburban above!
Lotus Elans had a similar problem and solution to Ford. The early Elans used vacuum to raise the headlights against gravity which meant that hard running or vacuum leaks would cause the headlights to slowly retract. The solution used on the final series Elan was to spring load the headlights in the up position and use vacuum to pull them down to a latch.
On the subject of US headlights, some malaise era Mopars had clear headlight doors, the Dodge Mirada comes to mind.
I didn’t know the Elan used vacuum, assumed it was mechanical. Well, they were entitled to some bugs in the headlights, being the pioneers. Thank goodness they weren’t Lucas openers.
Oh yes, clear covers on headlights is a whole other topic. I may try to inflict a history of headlights on this gang sometime, if it’s not too esoteric.
“…if it’s not too esoteric.”
WHAAA? Have you been here long?
Do you realize the audience here?
What could we find here that is not esoteric, if not completely arcane, cryptic or abstruse? (I should get kudos for that last one…)
Just yankin’ yer chain. 😉
Try us. You’ll get loads of responses. I promise.
Well, we have (re)covered sun visors: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/instead-of-writing-a-cc-i-give-my-poor-old-ford-its-annual-wash-inspection-and-an-upgrade/#comment-15112
How about U-joints?
How about HIDEAWAY WIPERS?!
Can’t get more esoteric than that. And – since I was a little kid when they first came out – they fascinated me; especially the articulated ones where the driver’s wipers partially pivoted to meet up to the A-pillar.
Sure, heavy equipment and trucks had wipers that held to vertical with a second rod, for decades. But…the unclean genius who figured out how to arrange that rod so it only PARTLY pivoted…he was either a mad geometry student, or was using some really good drugs.
Hmm. Anyone remember the Subaru XT/XT6 – not only did it have hideaway headlights (Subaru’s only attempt at this) that came on automatically when the lights were turned on, with the flash-to-pass switch, or when the “impending ice storm headlight stay button” was activated, but it also had a hideaway wiper with a winter mode hold switch (that left the wiper a couple of inches from being hidden under the hood so that it could be cleared of ice and snow). Note also that I said “wiper” in the singular – there was only one, on a trick pivoting arm arrangement.
My Falcón XB, has this curious (today) system on wiper’s side.
I actually did one on the evolution of the automotive key and it’s off shoot, the immobilizer for my own online journal on LiveJournal in the last year or so. 🙂
Hideaway wipers? Headlamps?… What about headlamp wipers?
“if it’s not too esoteric” – no such thing here. I had mulled over the idea of a similar piece on windshield wipers (maybe I’m the only one fascinated by them), but have not found time. And if you feel the urge to move on to another automotive subsystem after the hidden headlights, feel free 🙂
Yes! Windshield wipers! I’ve always been fascinated by them. You can segue from these to windshield shapes, especially the wraparound designs of the 50s and the various shapes of front vent windows that were a direct result.
Ha! I know, that’s why this site is so addictive! And yes, Jim, I look forward to your piece on wipers. (Don’t forget the MG-B.) As for myself, I might move on to grilles next…..
The 1965 Chryslers and Imperials had fixed-glass covers over the headlights. They were discontinued midyear (maybe recalled?) due to headlight laws in some states. I think there was also a problem in the glass fogging up and affecting the efficiency of the lighting. The 1965 full-size Fords also had glass covers as an accessory.
What I want to know about wipers is why they seem to move away from articulated wipers that can vary its length? The Mercedes W124 started it, then it started to become popular, then poof, they’re gone! Is there any cars today that still use them? I wonder why? They seem like a good idea. Could cover much larger area that way.
Also, today’s cars seem to prefer highly asymmetrical wipers, the driver’s side blades are usually much, much bigger than the passenger’s, sometimes twice as big. It used to be they were roughly similar size. I wonder what’s the reason for this.
The current Prius has an articulated driver side wiper. So did the second generation Dodge Durango and its Chrysler Aspen offshoot.
Yes, and now the plastic covers fade yellowish and cloudy. You can tell the vintage of just about any make as a mark of the late 1990s-early 2000s and just about ALL have clouded covers – from a Luxury Lexus to a Frugal Focus. They look awful and I wonder if today’s plastic covers will be doing the same thing in a few years?
Absolutely, I’m already seeing 4-5 year old Nissans starting to haze over
Thanks, Mike! I have a 74 1/2 MGB. It, along with earlier Jaguar XKE’s had THREE windshield wipers to meet U.S. safety standards. I just thought they were cool. Also, nobody mentioned the fact that the 1965 Buick Riviera was the only car made with Stacked hidden headlights (until Laborginia made a model recently). Check out George Barris Kustoms for some really interesting hidden headlights. BTW: my 1992 Pontiac Firebid has both hidden headlights and hidden wipers.
You’re thinking of the Magnum, thanks for putting me onto that.
Always thought that pop up or hideaway lights were cool until FWD K-car based Chryslers started sporting them.
I always thought they looked good on the Daytonas.
Only pop-up headlight car I’ve had is an 86 Celica. A short caused the lights to flip up one night and drain the battery, making me late for work. Can’t complain, the car had over 300,000 miles and ran great!
Wow, 300K! I had an ’87 Celica GT. Nearly flawless in spite of the oil filter catastrophe I confessed last week. After 11 years it developed a persistently leaky hatchback weatherstrip, with sloshing sounds from the fenders, and we needed a proper back seat for my 6’4″ stepson.
I was just thinking about this sorta headlight the other day. Why will they never return, exactly?
Have you seen the size of some of the headlight assemblies on new cars? They’d have to engineer retractable fenders to bring this back.
Rotating fenders ala ’70s Opel GT would be so damned cool!
I don’t know why, I’ll never understand why, but when I was a very young boy (all of 4 years old), I fell in love with the original Mercury Cougar. (44+ years later, I still want one.)
To me, that car had all of the cool stuff a car could ever have. I don’t even know how I knew that at that age. But the real kicker for me was the hidden headlights. I thought that was just so cool. As if when the headlights came on, the car was “awake”.
I guess it’s just the weird associations little kids make, anthropomorphizing their pets into playmates and the like. I just did it with two tons of steel. If Knight Rider had been a TV show in the late sixties instead of the early 80’s, I would have been a huge fan…
It’s been a series of circumstances that I never acquired one, but maybe as I’m getting closer to being done raising kids, I can put a few bucks away to get my very own…
Me too, although I was about 8 when the Cougar came out. I still want one too. The sequential turn signals were the icing on the cake. It didn’t hurt that a Cougar was among the first batch of Hot Wheels cars.
Part of my Cougar-love was sated when one of my best friends owned one in high school. It was about a 10 year old car in northeast Indiana, so of course it was rusty. Freezing locks, and the usual other weaknesss of these cars. But I still think they are cool.
How could I forget the turn signals! Wow…
Yes, growing up in Northeastern Ohio, similar to Northern Indiana, you see your automotive fantasies dissolve in a solution of saline. Everything would rust away to junk. I had a buddy who had one back in college, by then this would have been a 14 year old car, and those cars did not age well.
I had a chance to buy one in the early 90’s but my first daughter came along then. Priorities and all that. Then, shortly after my second daughter came, I ran across another one of my childhood faves, a (1973) AMC AMX. Beautiful car, well preserved, not a horrible price, but… Priorities, and all that.
Solution to tinworm:
The WINTER CAR!!
I have some writings of that concept on file…if I could just get off my duff to update them, find a hook…
But anyway…it’s a Po’ White Trash solution to brine rotting your pride and joy. Find a beater and run it all winter, and then Old Betsy stays strong.
Ohh, being from the industrial midwest, winter beater is not just a car, it’s a lifestyle. Many of the guys I hung out with back in the day had a ‘good’ car, a nice Mustang or Trans Am etc. Then they had a work or winter beater, or more precisely, a beater.
But the issue we ran into is who had the nicest beater? Occasionally, the competition between us got downright stupid. In fact, it’s how I ended up putting a NOS 289 in my 1974 Maverick; it’s because I wanted a sleeper/beater, which would be faster than my friends’ beaters. It ended up being a pretty significant project for a beer buzzed ‘what if’ bull session.
Since I moved back to the midwest, I’ve worked in the downtown area, I don’t like to drive the nice car to my office. We share a parking lot with another business, and it’s not uncommon to find lots of broken glass in the mornings when we come in to work.
So, I’ve been living the beater life, and for the most part, it suits me fine. I’ve got a 16 year old Pontiac that I drive around town, park it anywhere, no worries, Of course mechanically, its in pretty decent condition, as I cant tolerate a car that will strand me, or not do well in the stoplight Grands Prix.
I’d love to be piloting a nice V8 ponycar around town, but for where I have to park, it’d be ruined pretty quickly. The beater gets the job done, and I actually enjoy the anonymity it provides.
Beater life, yo.
Here in the southeast US, it’s somewhat common to have a summer beater, saves your good car from sun damage, sand and salt air damage from the beach. During the summer, I mostly drive my truck and leave the Mercedes garaged.
To hell with the problems, they had they looked great. I saw one as a 10 yearold in Auckland on a shopping trip we were behind it at lights I was busy reading the bootlid and watching the 123 turn signals never forgot that car it would have been brand new had a LHD warning tag and very rare over here even now.
Yup. I have that Hot Wheel. Another victim of my 10yo repainting “skills”.
Also modified it to carry the surfboards from the beach bus Hot Wheel, by drilling holes in the back window.
For some.reason it didn’t attach the picture. Let’s try again:
The Cord convertible had pop-up lights, but the saloon/sedan in the video had lights which seemed to pop sideways. Maybe this was an early model – can’t see the point in making the two models different.
Yes, good spotting. In the video the cutouts are on the inboard sides of the fenders, not on top as we see in pictures of the production cars. Wikipedia says, “Cord had rushed to build the 100 cars needed to qualify for the show, and the transmission was not ready.” Must have been an early version of the headlights.
If you’ve seen the Jeff Bridges movie “Tucker, the Man and His Dream”, you can imagine what it must have been like to get those Cords ready for New York.
I loved hidden headlights. When I was little, my grandparents had a black ’77 T-Bird and a navy blue ’77 Mark V. When we would visit, I’d always ask if they could turn on the lights so I could see the covers open and close. 25 years later, I still think they’re cool!
I saw a Bugatti Royale (replica) at the Schlumpf museum in France that did not have any headlights – or more accurately, they were in a box in the trunk – as its owner did not drive the car at night. If stopped by the police the lights could be taken out and bolted on – a rather extreme solution!
This is probably pre-empting part two, but on the McLaren F1 Gordon Murray did not want pop-up headlights because they upset the aerodynamic balance of a car when they are up. Not something that affects most cars of course!
1932 Bugatti 41 ‘Royale’ cabriolet Weinberger.
Just say ‘no’ (to headlights).
The Ford vacuum system never got any better. I had a ’77 T-Bird with the same setup. They all develop leaks. Mine got to where the covers would open fully in a few hours. The leak could be in any of a whole bunch of different places, many of them inaccessible without a lot of disassembly, and as a result the usual response was to put up with the problem.
Arrggghhh! Hidden headlights! Functionally useless, yet it completely changes a car’s personality. At least, as judged from the curb…
At best, they add a great deal to the total package. At worst, they look silly and contrived. Good examples include the first and second generation Charger (as a kid I always thought the original Charger’s face looked positively menacing – and I was fascinated that the Coronet looked exactly the same, with the headlights where they belonged. The second-gen Charger looked businesslike rather than threatening).
The 1968 Ford LTD series also pulled it off well. Dimensions were just right for it – unlike the 1969 and later, with a tall front and obvious doors for the headlights. The peek-a-boo lamps did well for the mid-eighties Firebird; and a Corvette wouldn’t be a Corvette without them. (Yeah, I know; 1953-61)
At worst, they were just plain silly. Lincolns and Torino-Thunderbirds looked absolutely laughable with those things. The first-gen Camaro did better with the bulbs naked.
But, for better or worse, they’re gone now. As noted, the move away from sealed beams and the arrival of faired-in lamps renders them an obsolete, expensive frill.
Always been fascinated by hidden headlights…and always wanted a car with them. Finally got a Chrysler LeBaron convertible. A month into ownership the headlight doors only closed halfway. Turns out the previous owner had bumped the front bumper into something and pushed the bumper in, preventing the covers from closing fully.
Mentioned that to my mechanic. He said, “You want the cheap fix or the expensive fix?” I told him the cheap fix. He came back with a reciprocal saw, opened the lights, and cut the fiberglass bumper inside so the covers would miss it. Ingenious solution. I finally had my hidden headlights.
As a kid I absolutely loved Hideaway Headlights, I think it may have been Chevy who called or referred to them as PEEK a BOO .
I LOVED the 67 Mercury Cougar Look… so much better than the T Bird of that same year… How close were they in size? The Cougar( to me as an 8 year old) seemed liked getting a Thunderbird for the cost of barely more than a Mustang which of course was barely more than a lowly Falcon.
I Remember a 67 Corgi Camaro Convertible I had that I loved had the Hdlt covers. The lights themselves were rhinestones if I rem correctly. It had Wheels you could change and lock with little levers, Oh what an improvement that would be when fixing a tire.
ElDorado’ front RULED, seconded by the Toronado & thirdly the Riviera Front End. Among Full sized specialty coupes.
I Favored GM styling by a mile basically… Ford & Chrysler Corp. cars looked cheap to me by comparison in the 60s and early 70s. Chrysler looked like 5 year older outdated designs compared to GM, at least to me.
YET That actually is not true, The cars I dreamed of back then were Turquoise Mustangs and Thunderbirds mostly. With White Leather and a White top.
Tom Joslin of Jalopnik fame must read CC, because fresh this early Sunday morning is a new Question of the Day, about what your favorite hidden headlights are.
Of course Tom also pointed out the Cord’s lights and so forth.
You’d think they would at least wait a couple weeks with the story in the can before so blatantly ripping off an idea for a discussion…
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Thanks for the heads-up!
Of all the cars my family had while I was growing up, my favorite was our 1970 Plymouth Sport Suburban, like the one pictured above except dark green. We got it in the spring of 1972 and road-tripped from Rhode Island to Disney World that summer.
Now there’s simply nothing like a pair of peekaboos is there dear
A positive aspect of hidden head lights, especially in the not-so-recent past AND currently, in some areas.
Gravel roads and flung-up rocks and rocklets.
At least in the daytime when headlights not needed head lights protected when vehicle in front of you sends gravel aloft.
Back in 1978 when delivering refrigerators, washing machines, etc to small-town appliance stores across North and South Dakota (14 separate deliveries during one load) US Hwy 2 I believe it was, was gravel in lengthy places… nary a bit of pavement in those sections.
Very little traffic.
I flung a lot of gravel aloft.
Went 45 mph.. the safe max speed as I could determine by “wheel feel; steering and tire-based feel.”
Other rural areas have ample gravel roads.
Tough on paint jobs, light lenses/covers, etc.
You urbanites may seldom experience life in the boonies with ample unpaved roads.
Some are merely dirt packed down, some gravel covered, others with a thin bit of asphalt with gravel atop.
As time marches on I see the asphalted roads slowly gaining ground in the rural areas.
So unlike areas such as well-paved urban California with their Bot Dotted freeways.
Locales requiring snow plows found solace, where funds permitted, by placing below-surface-level Bot Dots that are usable during non-snow periods.
No “rumble effect’ to assist in staying within a lane but when the torrential rain hits and the in-ground reflectors do their reflective duty it helps the driver to stay within their lane.
Wait… SOME areas did have “rumble” effect… likely due to using LARGE “internal” Bot Dot devices.
Respect the Bot Dot. Who knows how many wrecks they have prevented?
The fanciest Bot Dots reflect red to inform the bewildered they are driving against the normal traffic flow.
Remember to wear yer’ seat belts.
I loved the looks of the pop up lights on my Probe but they would constantly ice up in the winter. I wouldn’t want a car with them again.
Had couple cars with hidden headlights, a ’73 Dodge Monaco wagon and a ’90 Probe. Had problems with both, especially the Probe’s. The hinges would seize up at the mere mention of salt. A buddy of mine had a ’77 T-bird that I, er, did a “modification” to… one day I opened the hood and rearranged a couple vacuum lines and voila!!! It winked! As in when the lights were off, one side was closed and the other open, turn the lights on and the opposite happened. Boy was he pissed…
I love pop up lights especially on Lincoln cars. I have had 4 cars with pop up lights. On the Lincolns they come on automatically and you know it since they go hiss clunk clunk. I like the vacume controls. Other than leaks in lines I’ve never had a problem. Ugly as new car lights are they really should hide them again.
The 1963-1967 Corvette had a separate headlight open-retract switch. GM used a standard power window switch, mounted under the dash in a special bezel, marked “HEADLIGHTS,” and a red warning light illuminated in the instrument cluster if you turned on the headlights while they were retracted. GM thus provided for the problem reported by Pon T. Yak on his Honda (which Honda apparently did not anticipate).
I think sports car/supercar styling PEAKED with popups. I was devastated as a youth witnessing Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lotus, Corvette, ect. revert to fixed headlights with clear covers one by one. B O R I N G.
I will say though the only ones I don’t like were 70s-80s Lincolns with them, the 77-79 Thunderbirds, 70s imperials and whatever else used the upright blunt nosed body color headlight doors, I never understood the purpose or logic of that look. Hidden headlights blended into the grille – YES, Hidden headlights blended into the aerodynamic bodywork – YES, hidden headlights just hidden at random under clearly visible doors? – Uhh NO.
One car in my fleet, has flip-up lights… My Nissan Datsun 200sx.
Owned quite a few cars with hidden headlights.
The best two with no mechanical light issues, Toyota AE86 1984 Corolla SR5 and AE92 1990 Corolla SR5. The worst, 1989 Ford Probe LX… Never went up electrically, had to manually raise them by turning a dial.
Plan, to put another flip-up light car in the collection, another 1986 AE86 Corolla.
Love the lights on my Datsun. Exposed lights are BORING.
I too had an 85 Corolla SR5 with the hidden headlights. Mine never failed me. Great gas mileage during the day, but a slight hit to the mileage at night. Those big ole square lenses really cut into the wind on that little car.
When I realized that even the Corvette designers have dropped the idea of hidden headlights, I thought to my self: That’s the end of a really cool automotive stuff.
I had two cars with pop up lights, 84 Pontiac Firebird, motors failed twice in 3 years of ownership, 93 Dodge Stealth, replaced the bulbs many times but the lift system never failed in 20 years of ownership.
CC effect works even on this…..I saw the first Mazda 323F for many years on Saturday. Sadly it moved before I could get some shots.
I like the cast grille and hideaway headlight covers of the ’68 LTD, XL and Country Squire much more than the stamped grille with exposed headlights of the other full size Fords. It appears that, in 1968, a lot of Ford wagon buyers did too. The Country Squire outsold the perennial top seller Country Sedan by some 23,000 units. The hideaway headlight doors on my ’68 LTD didn’t work when I bought it, and they still don’t. Luckily, they stay closed. So, for night driving, I lift them open. They are incredibly heavy! I’m amazed that the single, center grille mounted, vacuum actuator could have ever be able to lift them.
Being a Cougar owner, I just had to post a photo. One amazing thing about these old FoMoCo headlamp systems…though they are run by vacuum, there is quite a bit of force behind them when in operation.
And, being an owner of a certifiably Broughamtastic ’73 Marquis Brougham, a photo of it as well.
I think the 1992 Pontiac Firebird was one of the most beautiful cars ever made. It was based on the Banshee concept car.
Totally out of the blue and all, but I did find a ’50s car with hidden headlights: the Deutsch-Bonnet HBR5. It came out in late 54 and stayed witht he hidden headlamps until 1958. Panhard 850cc flat-twin, FWD and fiberglass body.
The 1969 and ’70 Chrysler 300’s had electrically operated single motor doors that I think really looked good on the car,open or closed.
Those cars were so big I thought they had separate four cylinder motors on each side just to operate the lights. Why not? Go big or go home I say.
Actually I never say that, but maybe I will start to.
Lancia Aprilia Pininfarina.
I always thought hidden headlights were cool, well, until they started to fail. Then they just looked ridiculous. A good friend of mine had an early 90’s Prelude that had the whole cock eyed look going when one of the (actuators?) failed. Looked like it lost a fight or something.
Not to mention the countless 80s Firebirds that looked they were “winking” at you or else looked like they were stoned.
I still want one though, but it will never happen.
I remember the “Flash To Pass” function (or whatever its called) on my ’85 Corolla SR5, where the lights would quickly pop up and flash and quickly close. You could also set the switch for them to stay up but off, presumably for washing the car, or in icy conditions perhaps.
I had an ’89 Accord coupe with pop up lights, but damn if I can remember anything about them. I wonder if that says something about me or the car.
Hidden headlights were not available on any 1968/1969 Impala, SS or not. Many cars have been retrofitted during restoration, leading to some confusion on the subject.
I had a 1992 Oldsmobile Trofeo with hidden headlights. I loved the look, but I thought the audible “clunk” inside the car when the covers opened was out of place on a car with premium aspirations. I also had a tendency to forget to deactivate the automatic lights before taking it through a car wash, so I often had a clean car with dirty headlight covers.
My 1967 Ford Thunderbird, with one of the nicer looking hidden headlight front end/grill designs – in my opinion. Unfortunately, Ford used vacuum to activate the headlight covers. Over time, the covers open unevenly and very slowly or not at all. I converted mine to electric, and now they work in unison and very fast – almost too fast, as I like having time to watch the motion of opening and closing.
Here´s mine. 1971 Mercury Marquis 2 door Hardtop Coupe
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