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Hidden Headlamps, Where Did They Go?

Many of today’s car designs are built on iterations of car designs from the past.  Whether it is the lines of a fender, a raised hood air intake, or any other part of a car’s design, chances are that design was inspired by a design from the past.

So, what happened to hidden headlamps?  Well it seems that tough legislation coupled with increasing costs of production to satisfy that legislation pretty much put an end to pop-up headlamps in 2004.  It was the C5 Corvette that was the last American car to adorn the hidden headlamps.

Two of the most iconic cars from back in the day that sported the pop-up headlamps were arguably two of the most popular pin-up poster models as well. The Lamborghini Countach and Ferrari F40, their design is instantly recognizable if you were into cars in the 80s and 90s.

These two superstars were certainly not the only ones to hide their headlamps.  Plenty of European, Japanese and American cars followed this design style and we think they deserve some recognition.

Cord 810/812

The Cord 810/812 was way ahead of their time when it came to design. Most of engine, exhaust and suspension were masterly concealed inside the vehicle’s body design. Wanting to keep its sleek lines and smooth curves of the body style, they also recessed the headlamps into the front fenders.

It is one of the first vehicles in the world to have retractable headlamps. Each vehicle had a hand crank on the side of the dashboard.  Drivers would have to turn the crank in order to raise the headlamps when needed. Electric powered hidden headlamps were first pioneered in GM’s concept car in 1938, the Buick Y-Job, and first appeared in a production car on the 1942 DeSoto.

Buick Riviera

Hidden headlamps were first seen on a Buick in 1963.  They were on their concept car called the Buick Riviera Silver Arrow.  Production cars for that same year however did not have the expensively hidden headlamps concealed in the fender grilles.

It was in 1965 that the headlamps, now vertically arranged, were hidden behind clamshell doors in the leading edges of each fender, as had been in the original design.

Ford Torino

The Brougham trim models took the Torino design to aa new level with additional exterior and interior trim, better upholstery work, wheel covers, exclusive emblems, added sound insulation and “Hideaway” headlamps. “Hideaway” headlamps had covers that were styled to look just like the grille. When the lights were turned on, vacuum actuators would flip the covers up and out of the way to expose the quad headlamps.  The fifth generation Ford Ranchero also offered a grille that featured hide-away headlamps.

Mercury Cougar

Certainly, to us one of the coolest grilles on a muscle car has got to be the first-generation Mercury Cougar.  No way could they have had headlamps showing and still have that stylish front-end design.  The vertical slatted grille was often referred to as the electric shaver grille due to its appearance.

Plymouth Superbird

There are only a couple thousand of these cars in existence and only a small number of them that are still around and restored.  We have seen them at auctions, and they bring a pretty penny.  The car was originally designed for NASCAR racing so it makes sense that it would have retractable headlamps (on the street version) to help with aerodynamics in the daytime.

Pontiac GTO

Without question this muscle car is a favorite amongst classic car enthusiasts.  It was Motor Trend Car of the Year in 1968 and for good reason.  It had it all… power, performance and style.  The ’68 and ’69 models were also equipped with hidden headlamps and in our opinion is what makes the car look so irresistible.

There are actually hundreds of cars that were equipped with hidden headlamps and we bet with all the new LED technology that modern car design is using that hidden headlamps may very well something that is brought back into future designs.