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!
Every F-Series puckup built from ’73-’77, had this arrangement, my favorites were the ’76-’77s. It seems this was mostly done on larger/higher vehicles so it may have been for safety… so the headlights would not be shining directly into the eyes of oncoming drivers at night. From 1992-1996 the headlights were ‘right side up’ and it was easy to spot one at night because the headlights were right in your face.
I also assumed that the headlights on some trucks and vans were put lower so they don’t shine in the eyes of other drivers, especially someone in front of the truck when parked at a stoplight.
In the case of the Chrysler 5th Ave, if the headlights had been above the parking lights, then it would have looked almost exactly like the Caddy and Lincoln of the day. They probably did that just to differentiate the car from the others a bit.
Who cares what position the headlights are in, right-side-up or upside-down? Any vehicle I can drive, such as the Step-Vans, while practically standing up is a winner in my book!
I think what drove the idea for this post was taking an existing headlamp/turn signal design and turning it upside down.
Here’s a pic from a 1969 Chevy Van brochure showing both configurations. Looks like the light-duty Step-Van got the medium duty truck arrangement of headlights on top. The heavier-duty Step-Van (foreground) has the parking/turn signal on top. The front styling in either case is clearly cribbed from the medium-duty Chevy Trucks, and all of those had the headlights on top.
Maybe they did it knowing someday a bunch of us would be blogging about it.
But then they would have had to have known about the internet…or for that matter, the personal computer…anyway I have work to do…it’s calling my name.
Enjoy your day!
Well that brochure taught me something new, I never knew they offered a diesel version way back when, a 3cyl none the less.
3 cyl? Where?
The little 4-53 was the smallest DD that I’m aware of being used in trucks, and with 130 hp, none to powerful But they were very compact (132 cubic inches) and I have actually seen one swapped into a Chevy Suburban. A mite noisy, though.
I will say that I never heard many mid-range Chevy and GMC trucks with the little DDs. More typical was the Toro-Flow 4 cycle diesel, used on school buses in my district in Towson MD.
On the page linked above as the last of the 6 engine offerings it says “and the economical 3cyl Detroit Diesel”
I was looking at the full engine page, the last one in the brochure.
The 3 cyl isn’t listed there. Maybe it was available in the step vans only.
Update: It is there, in the back, next to the sixes, with all of 82 hp! My bad.
Check out GM’s current 3cyl diesel, only then comment about `only 82hp’ (76 net). Abandoning Detroit Diesel (the engines and the company) to Daimler&co was a colossal Deadly Sin.
The wonders of modern technology. Humbug.
PS: On the 3cyl DD engine, is 3==6?
When I did construction work while in college a lot of the dirt haulers had Ford or GMC dump trucks with Detroit engines. When the mufflers blew out you could hear them coming a mile away…if you were not operating a non-caterpillar machine, all of which seemed to use barely muffled Detroit engines.
I can stil hear the roar of a old school DD in my sleep. If you ever heard a DD v12 run WOT under load it is hard to forget.
The 3-53 and 3-71 were common power plants for wood chippers, boats, generators and small tractors etc… I don’t think they’ve ever been in a truck from the factory though.
It is becoming a “fun” swap for Jeeps. There are a few YT vids of the Jeep swaps with the 3-53.
It’s funny how they all sing the same song regardless of displacement.
That’s a cool find. Didn’t know that about the vans, but what I do distinctly remember were 1970s era GM school buses. In my district, the GMC buses had the headlights above the turn signals, and the Chevy buses had a slightly different grille design and turn signals above the headlights. The GM medium duty trucks of the era (these were the ones with the 1960s design language, not the ones modeled after the 74 light duty truck redesign) housed both lights in a rectangular metal bezel.
That reminds me of the Flxible city buses used in the 1960’s – it sure seemed they used the exact twin headlight bezels from a ’59 Chevy!
There ain’t no right-side up, upside down, it’s auto design! Every which way but loose.
(See my avatar for my personal preference…even though my Fury is long totaled and there’s a low mileage ’88 5th Ave out in the drive)
“Every which way but loose.”
Don’t bet money on that….
Well, there are exceptions (the wacky-eyed ’65 RR drophead comes to mind), but my point was that it seems a very narrow viewpoint of what the right position is. Nothing wrong with shaking things up now and then and letting designers try something new (though I doubt there was a designer involved with the step-van’s lights at all).
Many new cars have turn signals and/or separate parking lights above the headlight these days, it’s just not as obvious as the old sealed-beam sets.
To each his own. Somewhere there’s at least three people that like ugly Rolls.
If having the parking/turn signal lights above the headlights makes them upside down, then I can think of more examples. First the 1959 Chevrolet. Second, maybe the most famous upside-down light configuration of all:
Sometimes I mistake a Pontic Aztek for a VW Beetle at night when all I can see are the lights.
See, that’s what I’m talking about!
Yeah I’m with Hank – these aren’t “upside down”: there is no “right” way of arranging the lights on the front of a vehicle.
VW and a few others had the indicators (turn signals) on the inside of the headlights on some models for a while (mk4 Golf for example).
With the exception of a few key details (wheels go on the bottom for example) car design is a free field. It’d be a much duller world if it wasn’t.
The recent “Dame Edna” BMW-5 had upside down lights. I didn’t think they were particularly beautiful – but it was a very recent interpretation.
I drove a number of Chevy (and GMC) step-vans in the 60’s. I was doing laundry delivery service and the headlights were rarely used since the deliveries were mostly done in the day.
I’ve always wondered about the visibility of placing the turn signal immediately adjacent to the headlights – the visibility can be problematic because the blinking signal is adjacent to a bright beam.
Yeah, I was going to post on that too. If they’re too close together it’s hard to see the turn signal with the headlights on.
Actually, I’ve found the ‘upside-down’ configuration attractive on a lot of cars, starting with the Chrysler LeBaron’s. On a pickup truck, it makes a lot of sense to keep the turn signals out of the bumpers since a work truck will usually take a fair bit of damage to the bumpers during that vehicles lifetime.
This is definitely a ‘making a mountain out of an anthill’ moment.
Does it really matter whether the turn signals are above or below the headlights, as long as they’re visible to other motorists?
For the tall trucks I would think upside down would work better in fog. Personally, it makes no difference to me but then I’m just a simple sort of guy.
Actually, the high placement of turn signals makes them more visible to other drivers, which is helpful (if the signals are used, of course). Consider how some designers hid them below the bumper –as if turn signals were something to be ashamed of. Like this:
That’s one thing I am always wary of when driving one of my Chryslers on a multi-lane road. If I have my signal on, someone in an adjacent lane cannot see it. Neither the front turn signals nor the taillights are visible from the side of the car. Most American cars prior to 1968 did not have side marker lights.
It’s something I don’t under stand when vintage car or hot rod owners almost hide the turn signals, as if forgetting the reason for fitting them is they don’t want other drivers to run into their precious vehicle
I have to side with Stainsey on this one..sorta. The ’64 pickup is beautiful and the vans don’t bother me. But I cringe every time I see that new Ford face; it’s just plain awkward! Fortunately, it seems limited to their fleet vehicles.
My ’09 Taurus has the turn signals above the headlights. I’m not a fan; I think it does look upside down. I presume it was done because of the car’s height. Didn’t care enough to let it stop me from buying the car.
The 2010 handled it better with the turn signal between the headlight and grille.
are they the same as worzels upsidedownycakes
There’s a whole heck of a lot more wrong going on with that E Series than screwy headlights.
There are infinite variations of headlights, for sure. I’m really talking about headlight clusters inset in square or rectangular metal bezels that were popular back in the day. Because what it looks like is that the mfgr could easily flip the entire unit over to achieve a new, albeit strange, styling theme, cost: $0. Just tell the assembly line foreman to go ahead and have his crew start flipping them over, and call it good.
So- in my mind, the Beetle (and a lot of other cars) don’t have upside down headlights at all…they couldn’t be reversed without a major engineering effort that affects sheet metal. And trucks are, by definition, functional and it may make sense to have the turn signals in locations that wouldn’t fly on passenger cars.
But… who cares about upside down headlights? Well, me. I care about design and aesthetics on a car. Many, many cars have been made with high levels of functional utility but low levels of style. Even as a kid, this particular issue has always thrown me for a loop because it just doesnt look right to me.
Exactly. We see the front of a car or truck as a face. When its features are in the wrong place it sets off an instinctive reaction, like when we see a defect in nature.
Headlights are the eyes in the face. When they’re not up high on either side of the face, it looks wrong.
For your consideration, this Oldsmobile clay from the fifties, when they were trying to figure out what to do with dual headlights. High beams up in the center, like a diesel locomotive, make good sense, don’t you think?
That Olds clay is a bit disturbing. It’s almost as bad as the hack job quad rectangular lights from the mid to late 70s that made it to production.
This *could* be made to work on a car with a central engine and separate fenders, like an old Caddy or Duesenberg. Pre-WWII design, of course. However, single central headlights work quite well, on the Tucker Torpedo, and the FIAT 1100 Berlinetta(?) for example.
Pretty sure there would be a headlight height regulation at play for the vans, as per the earlier reference that the heavier-duty (ie taller) variant has them upside down – a good solution really
I dont really care where the headlights and turn signals are, but those GMC/Chevy Step Vans have always kinda interested me, I really like clean and functional industrial designs.
Add the Nissan Juke to the list. And my personal favorite in the inverted turn signal game a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda.
The sky-facing indicators/parking lamps on the fifth avenue were intentional. This arrangement dates back to the early M bodies, when the ’77-80 Diplomat had the lamps below the headlamps and the LeBaron had them above. After the ’81 redesign, both changed their faces, but retained this trait- the Gran Fury and Dippy both had the lamps wrap around under the headlamps onto the wings, whereas the Fifth Ave had ‘crystal look’ lamps which wrapped upwards onto the bonnet as shown in the pic.
“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?”
I don’t think that the average demographic of fifth avenue buyers were put off by the arrangements of the turn signals! Indeed, they sold amazingly well to people who wanted a proper car, particularly after ’85 when GM downsized themselves out of a market share.
Furthermore, if indicator/headlamp arrangement were the key to sales, having them below the headlamps did not help the Dippy or Gran Fury to sell to anyone aside from fleets.
I’m of the “there’s no right-side-up” school of thought here. If it works, it works. I always kind of liked the cars with the “flipped” quad marker/headlight arrangement more than the much overused “sheer look” arrangement.
Don’t forget the Colorado or Canyon.
Those drive me nuts.
I have to give a shout-out to the ’61 Chevy. I always thought the front end of those looked good, and the turn signals above the quad headlights worked very well.
The ultimate upside downer – very distinctive at night. I read this was a very last-minute change just before the Hillman SuperMinx intro when they realised the old high headlight eyebrow style was looking dated.
Not to mention those hideous 7 & 6 Series BMW’s. The current model Holden Statesman/Caprice cop car is just as bad.
Allow me to be the Devil’s Advocate. One word explanation: Eyebrows.
What about the Lada Niva? My best guess is they put the turn signals up top to keep them out of the mud.
Or the 2002-05 Avalanche with lower body cladding. And I swear those fog lamp/drl combination lamps in the lower valance are Aztec headlights flipped upside down.
In Europe, we have the so called “Euro-Trucks”, a light truck joint venture between Fiat and Peugeot/Citroen. They were all built under different names in the same factory in Italy. And there was just minor differences between them. While the Fiat and Peugeot had their lights the “right” side up, Citroen differed by having the entire plastic front fascia mounted upside down. I have always wondered if that plastic mouldin is indeed identical and actually just switched vertically, or if there are different pressings of those mouldings. In any way, the end result is that it looks like they just switched it upside down, which is a really unfortunate result if they didn’t.
Back with a vengeance
Looks a bit odd but technically I think it makes more sense with the turn signal above the headlight. Headlight shines straight to down, not up. With the turn signal higher, it should be less blocked by the headlight beam.