15 coolest pop-up headlights that flipped our minds – AE86, RX-7, Ferraris, and more!
CY Foong · May 29, 2021 12:00 PM
Headlights are meant to help illuminate the way in places with poor visibility. But by literally flipping them, they are transformed into one of the coolest design elements ever.
As iconic as they are, tough pedestrian safety regulations meant that it is unlikely that we’ll see pop-up lights making a comeback on production cars in the near future.
According to Wikipedia’s page on pop-up headlights, there are at least 180 known production models that were fitted with pop-up lights. Putting all would be a long list, so we’ll just feature 15.
Spoiler alert, some models aren’t featured here mainly because we’ve covered them individually, including the Honda NSX, the Mazda Astina, and the Volvo 480.
We begin this list with the one that started it all. Cord Automobile was a luxury American brand similar to Cadillac and Lincoln. It was an innovative carmaker and the Cord 810 was cited as the first mass-produced car to come with pop-up headlights when it was launched in 1936.
In spite of its Art Deco style and innovative technology, Cord went into bankruptcy a year later in 1937. The Cord 810’s tech lived on and its design was subsequently used by other ailing automakers in the 1940s trying to save money.
Chevrolet Corvette C2
Fast forward to nearly three decades later and the pop-up headlights that were introduced on the Cord were adopted by many American carmakers. That includes America’s first-ever sports car.
The Chevrolet Corvette C2 is one of the prettiest American cars of all time and apart from the Sting Ray design, this generation also introduced pop-up headlights. These design elements became a Corvette trademark until the C5 generation, which saw the pop-up lights discontinued.
Over in Europe, mainstream manufacturers like Opel and Saab attempted their own interpretation of a sports car to mixed results. But both the Saab Sonett and Opel GT have one thing in common – interesting pop-up headlights.
We chose the Opel GT over the Saab Sonett mainly for its operation of the pop-up headlights. Actually, they don’t literally pop up but rather rotate counterclockwise. These lights are manually operated by a lever on the centre console.
In the 1960s, Japanese cars faced the same stigma held by Korean cars in the 1980s and 1990s. Looking to show the world that the Japanese can design and build a car that is as good, if not better than established carmakers from the UK, Italy, and America, Toyota introduced the sleek and beautiful 2000GT.
The 2000GT might be inspired by the equally pretty Jaguar E-Type, but it drove and felt better if a little bit cramped based on contemporary reviews. Of course, the highlight was its pop-up headlights which is no wonder it became a topless Bond car.
Some consistent design elements across all three generations of the Mazda RX-7 are the overall design, the rotary engine, and the pop-up lights. The RX-7 was meant to showcase Mazda’s rotary tech in an affordable sports car.
Though maintaining one turned out to be burning a hole in the bank account, the RX-7 was just so cool to look at. This design certainly reached its peak in the final generation, the FD RX-7 which looks absolutely timeless 30 years after it was introduced.
Giorgetto Giugiaro is one of the most iconic designers of all time and in the 1970s, the Italian shaped the quintessential sports car of the seventies in the form of the Lotus Esprit.
Its wedge shape was pure seventies aesthetic and coming from a fairly small carmaker like Lotus instantly made it an underdog you couldn’t help but support. Just like the 2000GT, it became more famous after being featured in a Bond film, this time transforming into a submarine.
At the time of the 928’s development, Porsches were mostly seen as derivatives or collaboration projects with Volkswagen. In the late seventies, the German carmaker wanted to develop its own model and the grand tourer became the first.
Unlike the rest of the cars on this list, the pop-up headlights in the Porsche 928 are not hidden. Instead, they remain in the open and interestingly enough, the lights were similar to the one on the Lamborghini Miura.
A proper poster car, the Lamborghini Countach not only had a bonkers wing but those gigante pop-up lights added some personality to the eighties supercar.
During its 16 years of production, the Countach had undergone numerous changes, each becoming more aggressive as the supercar sprouted more vents and wings. However, those pop-up lights always remain.
Just like the Countach, the Ferrari Testarossa is another eighties poster child icon. In fact, it might as well be the symbol of the eighties with an air of retrowave aesthetic.
The Testarossa also came with a quad headlight arrangement that pops up and down much like its louder-looking rival. Some would prefer the cleaner lines of the Testarossa than the Countach and personally, I fall in the former.
The 1980s was certainly the golden age for pop-up headlights as it has gone global. It was also the golden age for affordable sports cars with two brands from two ends of the world attempt to introduce Ferrari tech for less.
Both the Pontiac Fiero and Toyota MR2 gave the world mid-engined tech for a fraction of a Ferrari but it’s the Toyota that drew in more success. Its styling was certainly a time capsule from the eighties but both the first and second generations were equally timeless with those sexy pop-up lights.
Who would’ve thought that there is a car that epitomises the eighties more than a mostly unknown Subaru sports car? The Subaru XT was Fuji Heavy Industries’ attempt at making a grand tourer and it was introduced during Japan’s Bubble Era.
It has a flat aerodynamic design no thanks to its 1.8-litre Boxer engine and just like most Subaru models, it is available with all-wheel-drive. Those combined with the pop-up headlights make this not only the quirkiest Subaru model ever but one of the most underappreciated.
Four years before Mazda introduced the Astina, Honda gave the world pop-up headlights on a regular car in the third-generation Accord. However, this feature's availability is only in certain markets.
The pop-up light was offered to Japanese units from 1985 to 1987 while the Malaysian market third-gen Accord was given conventional headlamps. Though it kept the same Honda family style of the mid-eighties, called “Crouching form”, the units with pop-up lights enhanced the sportiness even more.
Certainly, this list of iconic pop-up headlights is incomplete without everyone’s favourite driftmeister, the Toyota Sprinter Trueno AE86. Prior to the AE86, the Sprinter Trueno was just a run-of-the-mill sporty variant of the Corolla Levin.
Then drift masters began to realise how tail-happy the AE86 became and it was a favourite among those who fancied going sideways. Once it became immortalised in the Initial D manga, the legend of the AE86 only grew stronger, no less helped by those pop-up lights.
Only 22 units of the Vector W8 were made between 1989 to 1993 but the limited production American supercar at least looked cool. That’s all it is ever good for really as the supercar is plagued with numerous issues.
By the late 1980s, automotive designers had begun to embrace rounder curves as opposed to wedge looks. The Vector W8 is filled with sharp edges, making it appear somewhat futuristic. Its cyberpunk style is complemented by pop-up headlights which showcased a glimpse of what the eighties think the 21st century would look like.
Finally, we have a British supercar that failed to live up to its perceived expectation. At the 1988 British International Motor Show, Jaguar introduced the XJ220 concept which came with a 6.2-litre V12 engine and a sleek design.
However, when the XJ220 went into production, the engine was reduced to a 3.5-litre V6 engine. At least the overall design was maintained and that included the pop-up lights. Except the covers only pop up and down to reveal the quad lights underneath.
Those are some of the most iconic pop-up headlights ever to be featured on production cars. Do you want to see them make a comeback on a concept car at least and which ones are your favourite?