Saturday, February 2, 2013

What do hidden headlights have to do with Groundhog's Day?

Well, it’s official. Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow!  That means we’re going to have an early spring.

In an effort to cover all the major holidays with a car-related story—Christmas, Thanksgiving, Groundhog’s Day—I’m once again stretching the bounds of logic to bring you a story about the history of hidden headlights.

Think about it. They pop out of their resting places. They cast a shadow. If Bill Murray was driving a Lamborghini Diablo at night, he’d probably turn on his hidden headlights. It all makes perfect sense!

So, since you came for history—here you go. Most people credit the 1936 Cord 810 as the first car with hidden headlights. I know I’ve seen cars even older than that with them, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what they were. So the Cord gets the nod.

Harley Earl’s 1938 Buick Y-Job one-off concept car takes credit for the second car with eyelids. To say this styling cue was a sensation is an understatement. It was like the Cabbage Patch Kids craze and Tickle Me Elmo all rolled up in one.

Over the years, hidden headlights have found their ways into lots of different car models. One of the most obvious, and a favorite around here, is the Corvette. From 1963 until 2004, Corvette headlights popped, flipped, and blinked in one form or another on every production model. That was sort of a mixed blessing. On the plus side, when the lights were down, designers could create impossibly low noses; great for aerodynamics. Also, they became a Corvette trademark, and folks began to expect them. In the loss column, the big motors required to run them were prone to failure, and that aerodynamic advantage decreased significantly when the lights came on.

In the end, hidden lights just became hokey. Not everyone wants their car to look like the Knight 2000 anymore. And anyway, with the latest bulb, reflector, and cover technology, designers can make things just as swoopy without the expense and reliability issues of flipping candles.

Also, styling isn’t the only thing designers have to think about anymore. They don’t just have to worry about protecting the occupants in the event of a collision. They also need to design the car so that it will do less damage to a pedestrian if they’re struck. Carmakers have to comply with different safety regulations all over the world, and things like hood ornaments that look like rockets, bombsights, and yes, even pop-up headlights, do not fit into the recipe.

The last two cars with hidden headlights ended in 2004, with the Corvette and the Lotus Esprit. Now they join fender skirts, tailfins, and hubcap spinners in the big styling bone yard in the sky.

The slideshow below contains all sorts of cars from car shows around town with hidden headlights.  Or click this link for a better version of the slideshow.  Happy Groundhog’s Day, and enjoy that early spring!


  1. Super cool when they work. The winkers always looked silly. So how do you organize your million or so pictures so you can find pics to support your theme? Must be a daunting task.

  2. Thanks, Tom. Yeah, it can take awhile. I usually just turn on the TV and start going through albums. Once the car events get going around here, I'll be able to take some new pictures!