What are Headlights That Pop Up? (Your Complete Guide)

Headlights that pop up were a staple in high performance cars up until a few decades ago, and if you were used to seeing them, their relative absence today must be a mystery.

However, if you’re unfamiliar with pop-up headlights, you may wonder what they are and how they function. If you’d like to find out, keep reading to see what I learned!

What are Headlights That Pop Up?

Pop up headlights are a form of headlamps that remain hidden when they are not in use. There are different executions of this style, but the most common is the one where the lamps are fitted onto housing that rotates upwards and downwards like eyelids. This design was first introduced in the 1930s, and was widely used in the 1980s.

If you’d like to learn everything you need to know about pop up headlights, including their history, purpose, why they went away, future and more, keep reading!

What are Pop up Headlights Called?

Pop up headlights don’t have an official name, but people also refer to them as hidden, flip-eye or hideaway headlamps/headlights.

Why Were Pop up Headlights So Popular?

Pop up headlights gained popularity mainly because they were a means to an end, but the need for these headlights changed over the years.

They first emerged in the mid 1930s on the Alfa Romeo 8C and the Cord 810, both of which were mimicking the design of race cars at the time to boost their aerodynamics.

Both of these vehicles were concept cars and the design would not make it to market until the Lotus Elan in 1962.

As time went on, the perceived improvement to performance and gas mileage was proven negligible, but by then they were popular because they allowed manufacturers to skirt different U.S. headlight regulations.

At the time, the only headlights permitted were supposed to be round, meaning that aerodynamic options were illegal. There were also laws that set guidelines for how high the headlights should be off the ground.

Sports car manufacturers in particular turned to pop up headlights for these reasons. They could maintain the sleek and aerodynamic designs of their vehicles while having headlights that were round and at the appropriate height when they popped out.

One of the most popular examples of this was the Toyota AE86 that was sold in the U.S. as the Toyota Sprinter Trueno, and had pop up headlights because the standard ones used in the original version were too low.

Raising the vehicle was out of the question because it would be more expensive and would affect the car’s handling as it was built to ride at a lower height.

Soon, this design became associated with sleek, high-performance sports cars and this boosted their popularity.

Which Cars Had Pop up Headlights?

In the section above, we determined that they were used mostly for high-performance sports vehicles.

We can’t list every single model that sported the design, but the era’s luxury manufacturers that made them popular included the following:

  • Alfa Romeo
  • Aston Martin
  • BMW
  • Cadillac
  • De Tomaso
  • Ferrari
  • Ginetta
  • Jaguar
  • Lamborghini
  • Lotus
  • Maserati
  • Porsche
  • Vector

Why Did Pop up Headlights Go Away?

Why Did Pop up Headlights Go Away?

As we’ve seen above, manufacturers adopted them largely as a way to work around regulations without compromising the overall design of their cars. When these regulations became relaxed, manufacturers had no need for them any longer.

Local law soon allowed for aerodynamic headlights and the height requirements were relaxed, meaning that manufacturers could build their cars with standard headlamps.

In Europe, however, new laws didn’t outlaw pop up headlights, but they made them more of a bother for manufacturers to include, which will be discussed further below.

With these laws, production costs and the fact that pop up headlights were prone to failure owing to their mechanical parts, they soon stopped showing up on new vehicles.

Why Do People Like Pop up Headlights?

People came to associate pop up headlights with sleek, fast and often expensive vehicles, so they became somewhat of a status symbol.

That said, a lot of people both now and back then agreed that the aesthetic appeal of these types of lights was lost when they popped up, and many vehicles were said to look “froggy” because their headlights had to be round.

In other words, if you think they look ugly when they’re up, then the people who like them probably also agree with you, as the appeal is when they’re down.

Are Pop up Headlights Legal?

Pop up headlights have been legal since the laws requiring round headlights at specific heights were relaxed.

This is the case in the U.S. In the EU, there are different laws in place that make things less straightforward.

Why are Pop up Headlights Banned?

Pop up headlights are not actually banned, but there are some legal requirements in force that make it difficult to implement them in modern cars.

However, these requirements are enforced in the EU, as in the U.S., there are no laws that restrict pop up headlamps at all.

Are Pop up Headlights Illegal in Europe?

Pop up headlights are not technically illegal in Europe, but a lot of their key design principles are and manufacturers see no reason to work around them.

EU vehicle safety laws were updated to require that vehicles do away with any components that jut out from the front.

Getting rid of objects that protrude from this part of the vehicle make it so that in the event that you run into a pedestrian, there isn’t something that can jam into their body or cause more harm beyond the crash itself.

There are ways to implement pop up headlights that are compliant with this requirement, but they would be more of a hassle than just having regular headlights.

These laws don’t apply to the U.S., but it makes little financial sense to have different versions with this one relatively minor change.

What Cars Still Have Pop up Headlights?

These types of headlights have virtually disappeared from new cars from major manufacturers since 2004 with the C5 Corvette and Lotus Esprit.

2018 saw the announcement of the Ares Panther, a redesigned Lamborghini Huracan with pop up headlights.

In 2012, custom wheel maker Forgiato also built a grille with headlight covers for the Chevy Camaro.

To learn more, you can also see our posts on how long do LED headlights last, how long do headlights last, and when to use high beam headlights.

Conclusion

Pop-up, hidden, hideaway or flip-eye headlights are mounted onto housing that rotate downwards and upwards to hide or reveal them, and are popular due to their association with high performance vehicles.

They became popular as a response to strict headlight laws and fell out of use when these laws were relaxed. They’re not technically illegal, but new safety laws mean that they’re harder to implement.

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