My Car Quest

April 23, 2021

Hideaway Headlamps: Do We Miss Them?

by Wallace Wyss –

In one way I do. I remember the coffin-nosed Cord had them, but they didn’t catch on most American cars until the ’60s. My ’69 Corvette had them. On the ’63 Corvette they weren’t so much a lid flipping up but a rollover.

Cord

Cord

Sometimes one door would stick. Worse yet, in an accident the body might be shifting a bit to impinge on the door. Still they gave a car a certain mystery as the headlights only would show when needed.

Corvette 427

Corvette 427

Then the plastic headlamps came all as a unit, instead of large glass bulbs and headlight designs became part of the design. I don’t think many automakers will go back to hidden. But I have one beef about the plastic bubble lenses of today. They are fading with time, becoming all pitted. Sure there’s guys that sell you a renewal kit but why can’t the automakers, in their advanced aging tests, anticipate the lens will “fog out” and go for a different more durable mix of plastic? The NHTSA should order all automakers to replace the outer lenses free on cars that fogged over that are less than 10 years old.

Iso Grifo Series 2

Iso Grifo Series II with partially covered headlights

So that’s what makes hidden headlamps look better-in retrospect–the lenses were exposed only part of the time but now that headlamps are also used for model i.d. (say Dodge Challenger with an LED ring around them) the automakers want to exploit that styling opportunity.

And the aftermarket offers many different LED options and headlight bulb options that wouldn’t exist if we go back to hidden. But changing to LED from automaker’s stock halogen doesn’t always improve lighting. They may look better cosmetically which is why I’m tempted…

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Design critic Wallace Wyss reviews car design regularly on Autotalk broadcast from KUCR FM Riverside.

 
 
 

 

 

Other Hideaway Headlamps

De Tomaso Mangusta

De Tomaso Mangusta

Triumph TR7 Advertisement

Triumph TR7

Lamborghini Islero

Lamborghini Islero

Maserati Indy

Maserati Indy

Alfa Romeo Montreal

Alfa Romeo Montreal

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

OTAS/Lombardi Grand Prix

Summary
Hideaway Headlamps: Do We Miss Them?
Article Name
Hideaway Headlamps: Do We Miss Them?
Description
What makes hidden headlamps look better is the lenses were exposed only part of the time and did not age and fog over.
Author

Comments

  1. Trevor Gaunt says

    My Lotus Elans, 1972 and 1991 have pop-up headlamps. They’ve been reliable, but repairs can be difficult. My Porsche 928 has roll-back rather than hidden headlamps. They too have been reliable, but as with the Lotus, repairs could be awkward. I think they improve the cars’ appearance when not in use. Of course, in Canada the headlamps are in use all the time the engine is running.

  2. Fred Johansen says

    I have a ’37 Cord, and there is a crank on either side of the dash. By turning the cranks some 8000 revolutions, you activate the hidden headlights via a thick speedometer cable action. I can only activate one at a time whilst driving, so I guess it gives the winking effect!

  3. I have serviced my own Corvette headlight issues myself. Like Trevor said, it’s awkward and even difficult, but also gives an opportunity to access other areas to inspect, clean and polish under that hood. I look at the legacy the Corvette has, the options for the 5th generation, and am happy that I chose to restore the intended function. Until they pop up! Here I am driving a car with graceful, curvy features, then these squared – off sharp edged features are there at the front of my long, curvy hood. Yikes! Good thing they’re only up when it’s dark!

  4. Rob Krantz says

    I always loved the hidden headlight look, particularly the mid year Corvettes as well as the clamshells on the 1965 Riviera. Even the more bread and butter American cars like a 1968 – early 70’s Ford LTD or Chevy Caprice (the luxury sedans) of that era had them. Would love to see auto makers recreate that look again.

  5. I should have included a photo of the ’65 Riviera.

    I miss some of the hidden headlights. I had them on my ’75 Triumph TR7.

  6. Wayne Watkins says

    You forgot the World’s top selling sports car , the original NA MX5 ( Miata) introduced in 1989 . I have owned mine for 18 years with no troubles at all in headlight operation and no fogging or fade in the genuine glass lights , unlike the next NB . I agree with your comments that all manufacturers should replace ineffective ones if they fog or fade within 10 years of manufacture .

  7. Robert Feldman says

    It would be a great idea if auto makers started to reincorporate hide away headlamps on cars again. The problem is that in the old days headlamps were old fashioned incandescent filament and later on halogen. The glass breaks easily with a stone hit. Polycarbonate (Lexan) lenses allow for unlimited design, but they do become sand blasted over time, they take on moisture, and fade in the sun. Replacement headlight assemblies on some cars can be very pricy! Real deal headlight restoration is time consuming. There is no easy solution.
    Let’s hope if the automakers bring them back that they use electric motors and not vacuum. My 74 Corvette is a “one eyed winker” and I am chasing a vacuum problem to resolve.

  8. Marc Haller says

    I was able to spot the car in each photo with the exception on the one captioned Triumph TR7. Are you certain that there is a car in that one?

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