Tales From the Cooler: Requiem for Hideaway Headlamps

Virgil Hilts
by Virgil Hilts
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tales from the cooler requiem for hideaway headlamps

I bought my first Corvette primarily because of its headlights. Spy photos of the 2005 model had just hit the press, revealing that Chevrolet was dumping the Vette’s hidden headlamps, the heart of the car’s sleek look for 41 years. Corvette purists howled in protest. Convinced that the automotive world as we knew it was coming to an end, I immediately ordered a 2004 Spiral Gray 6-Speed Coupe.

The C5 Corvette and the 2004 Lotus Esprit would be the last mass-produced hidden headlight autos ever built. The feature died due to the weight and complexity of the headlamp motors and the advent of sealed beam headlights. Add in today’s pedestrian safety standards and we can assume hideaway lights may be gone forever.

I say this is not a good thing. Yes, today’s trick LED eye-candy running light look is neat but it cannot compete with flip-top lights. Let’s be clear about the lights of which I speak. I am not referring to the domestic cars of the 60s and 70s, with headlights lurking behind doors which slid up or over to reveal the beams, the lights from a period when American automakers produced more sliders than did White Castle.

I am talking sports cars here, with lights that roll or pop up. As domestic automakers dropped the feature in the 80s, import makers started installing them. From Ferrari Daytona to Opel GT., from Miata to Merak, every cool car had them. I have owned two HH vehicles, the Corvette and a 1994 Mazda RX-7, and there is nothing like flipping up the lights at night and having those twin towers guide you home.

The most significant HH auto ever was not a sports car. Honda brought hidden headlamps to the masses with the striking 1986 Accord Sedan. Dealers’ waiting lists for Accords grew longer as customers loved the look.

When American Honda consumer tested its replacement, the exposed headlighted 1990 Accord, reaction to the styling was so negative, the company countered with a launch advertising campaign featuring the tag, “You Have to Drive It to Believe It!” They may as well have said, “We Screwed Up the Looks, But It is Still a Honda!” The 1990 model marked the beginning of the Boring Accord Era.

Honda did it again a few years later, when the 2002 NSX lost its sex appeal upon converting to uncovered headlamps. Can you name one car that got better looking when it switched to bare lights?

I sorely miss concealed headlights on new cars but I have an idea. It looks like the 2015 Mustang will be some sort of four-cylinder Focus GT, a veritable 1974 Mustang II for our times. Let’s tell Ford they can compensate for their killing of this iconic muscle car by making it the first-ever Mustang with hideaway headlamps!

Virgil Hilts
Virgil Hilts

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  • 360joules 360joules on Aug 22, 2012

    Six letters describe hidden headlight nirvana: OPEL GT. Pull the lever, headlights up. Just don't confuse headlight lever with the parking brake. My wife brought an 89 Ford Probe into our marriage. The HH worked flawlessly & quickly - even when using them to signal using the highbeam relay in daytime.

  • Amca Amca on Aug 26, 2012

    My father once rented an early '70s full-size Ford whose hidden headlamps closed on the planting at a motel, and when he backed out of the space the next morning, he took the plants with him.

  • Ernesto Perez There's a line in the movie Armageddon where Bruce Willis says " is this the best idea NASA came up with?". Don't quote me. I'm asking is this the best idea NY came up with? What's next? Charging pedestrians to walk in certain parts of the city? Every year the price for everything gets more expensive and most of the services we pay for gets worse. Obviously more money is not the solution. What we need are better ideas, strategies and inventions. You want to charge drivers in the city - then put tolls on the free bridges like the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. There's always a better way or product. It's just the idiots on top think they know best.
  • Carsofchaos The bike lanes aren't even close to carrying "more than the car lanes replaced". You clearly don't drive in Midtown Manhattan on a daily like I do.
  • Carsofchaos The problem with congestion, dear friends, is not the cars per se. I drive into the city daily and the problem is this:Your average street in the area used to be 4 lanes. Now it is a bus lane, a bike lane (now you're down to two lanes), then you have delivery trucks double parking, along with the Uber and Lyft drivers also double parking. So your 4 lane avenue is now a 1.5 lane avenue. Do you now see the problem? Congestion pricing will fix none of these things....what it WILL do is fund persion plans.
  • FreedMike Many F150s I encounter are autonomously driven...and by that I mean they're driving themselves because the dips**ts at the wheel are paying attention to everything else but the road.
  • Tassos A "small car", TIM????????????This is the GLE. Have you even ever SEEN the huge thing at a dealer's??? NOT even the GLC,and Merc has TWO classes even SMALLER than the C (The A and the B, you guessed it? You must be a GENIUS!).THe E is a "MIDSIZED" crossover, NOT A SMALL ONE BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION, oh CLUELESS one.I AM SICK AND TIRED OF THE NONSENSE you post here every god damned day.And I BET you will never even CORRECT your NONSENSE, much less APOLOGIZE for your cluelessness and unprofessionalism.