Since 1953 when Chevrolet workers built the first Corvette by hand, the legendary sports car has gone through many evolutions. From hydraulic lifters to the mid-engine released last year, the Corvette has proven it can drastically change its looks and still keep consumers coming back for more. There is one iconic look that hasn’t been seen since 2004, however, and that’s the pop-up headlights.
It graced the hood of a wide variety of vehicles over the years before suddenly disappearing. Many car lovers who liked the pop-up headlights look may be wondering why they were phased out, and as it turns out, it has nothing to do with automakers moving on to something new and better. Slate has the full story about why pop-up headlights are no longer used and likely won’t be returning any time soon.
What are pop-up headlights?
Pop-up headlights have a distinctly retro feel and bring to mind vehicles from the ’80s and ’90s. The eye-like headlights go back further than that, however. The original pop-up headlights were first installed on the Cord 810 in 1936, according to Slate. That being said, these strange looking headlights that gave vehicles an anthropological look became a staple on many cars for the next 68 years.
From Lamborghini to Porsche, there was just something about the pop-up headlights that looked expensive. Rather than just pulling into a parking lot and dialing a switch to turn off the lights, drivers had to wait for the pop-up headlights to close. In a day and age when speed is everything, this should have been seen as the ultimate irritation, but it wasn’t. Quite the opposite.
Many assumed that this simple feature made the vehicle more aerodynamic, but as it turned out, that wasn’t the case. That didn’t keep automakers from installing them, however, as many owners loved them.
In the ’70s, it almost became a rebellious move by automakers because new laws required headlights to sit up higher. With pop-up headlights, automakers could install the lights wherever they wanted, and still meet the legal height when they raised up.
Sadly, pop-up headlights haven’t been seen since 2004 when Chevy installed them on the Corvette C5 and Lotus on the Esprit, and most likely won’t be making a comeback anytime soon.
Where have all the hidden headlights gone?
As depressing as it may seem, it was a law that forced automakers to phase out the hidden headlights. It wasn’t an American law, however. It was a European law. There was a good reason for the law Europe created, however, and it revolves around safety standards.
The European law was designed to protect pedestrians in the event of a crash. While the pop-up headlights won’t cause increased damage to pedestrians, European cars must be more readily deformable.
Still, why would American automakers abide by laws that don’t even apply to them? This may seem strange, but to automakers, it just makes sense. They sell vehicles all over the world, and cars are mass-produced. Yes, they could make some cars with pop-up headlights and some without, but this would require them to make a lot of changes on the production floor.
Automakers like Toyota have no problem designing and manufacturing vehicles that will never be sold in the United States, but there are very few other car companies that can afford to do that. When they commit to building a vehicle, they need to sell it in as many countries as they can. Because of this, American companies are honoring European laws.
Which Corvette models had the pop-up headlights?
Over the years, pop-up headlights became synonymous with the Chevy Corvette. In 1963, the C2 was unveiled, and with it, the first set of pop-up headlights to grace the hood of the Corvette, according to Turo. The body had a distinctly flatter, thinner shape than the C1, making the pop-up headlights much easier to hide. The C3 got more curves in 1968, but still added in the pop-up headlights.
The C4 and C5 Corvette models also got the pop-up headlights, but in 2005, Chevy made the hard decision to let the pop-up headlights die out. It was the end of an era, but Chevy made up for it by adding more interior space and installing a 6.0-liter V8 engine that helped the C6 reach speeds of 190 mph. Some might miss the pop-up headlights, but until engineers can figure out a way to install them while still meeting European laws, it appears that they’re a thing of the past.