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20 Unforgettable Cars With Pop-Up Headlights

Pop-up headlights era seems so distant now in the second half of the 21st century’s second decade. It seems like a dream we once had, which comes back to us every once in a while. Such was the effect that hidden headlamps left on most of us. Although they definitely died out with Lotus Esprit and C5 Chevrolet Corvette in 2004, their golden era were eighties and early nineties. Be that as it may, pup-up headlights were first introduced on 1936 Cord 810. It was an intelligent design tweak which allowed designers to hide unappealing large rounded lights of the time. It took a while for them to catch up general population’s attention, and when they did, there was no turning back.

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Throughout 70 years of hidden headlamps’ production, around 200 cars were adorned with this unforgettable feature. We have decided to present 20 of them we deem most unforgettable. It’s roughly 10 percent of all cars that were ever fitted with pop-up headlights. It was tough to single out the following models from such a large pool of cars, but it needed to be done. Feel free to tell us what you think we should have included that’s otherwise missing. Furthermore, you can take a look at our list of most forgotten and obscure supercars. Some of them will feature here as well. Oh, and finally, feel free to watch this video which pays tribute to this remarkable car feature we all loved. And before I forget – only one nameplate per manufacturer, so don’t expect half of the list to be populated with Ferraris and Lamborghinis.

Cord 810

Years: 1936-1937

It’s only right to start this list from page one, and that would be the first car to implement the pop-up headlights. Not only that Cord 810 was the first car to feature hidden headlamps, but it was also the first American car with front engine – front-wheel drive layout. Part of the Auburn Automobile, the Cord brand didn’t survive the 1937, and along with it went the 810.

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Chevrolet Corvette

Years: 1963-2004

We’ll continue with the car that ended it all. The Last of the Mohicans was also the car with longest running pop-up headlight feature which was present here for 40 years. C2, C3, C4 or C5 – it doesn’t really matter. Every single Vette looked good with the streamlined hood and unassuming crease on its bottom sides.

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Aston Martin Lagonda

Years: 1976-1989

Only 645 Aston Martin Lagondas were produced during almost a decade and a half long stint, but that was enough for it to become one of the most iconic British cars. Apart from being extremely expensive at the time, they also came with hidden headlamps sitting upon one very sharp nose.

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BMW M1

Years: 1978-1981

The unlucky BMW M1 might have been produced in only 453 units, but again, that was enough to earn it a cult status. What started as Lamborghini/BMW cooperation, ended up being BMW’s first foray into the supercar market. At least it kept something from Lamborghini. You got it – hidden headlights.

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Lancia Stratos

Years: 1972-1973

Although produced for five years (between 1972 and 1977), three times World Rally Championship winner only featured pop-up headlights for two years. Nevertheless, it’s one of the best known cars ever to be fitted with the feature.

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Ferrari F40

Years: 1987-1992

It’s a travesty making the list of unforgettable cars with popping headlights and leaving Ferrari F40 out of it, so here we are. During its time, F40 was the fastest and most expensive Ferrari to date, so it doesn’t surprise us it followed the fashion trends of the time as well.

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Lamborghini Diablo

Years: 1990-1998

No Ferrari story is ever complete without their arch rival Lamborghini, so here we are yet again. Diablo still stands for one of the best-looking Lamborghinis that were ever offered with hidden headlights. And Diablo wore them during half of its life span.

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Toyota Supra

Years: 1982-1992

It weren’t only Italians who knew how to stick popping headlights on a car. In fact, the feature wasn’t exclusively reserved for supercars alone as well. When Japanese did it in the eighties, common man was given the chance to get his hands on one such car. Second and third generation Toyota Supra was only one of these Japanese handsome affordable cars.

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Mazda RX-7

Years: 1978-2002

We could have gone with MX-5 Miata here, but RX-7 had hidden headlamps longer – almost 25 years to be precise. In fact, every single Mazda RX-7 ever produced came with this feature. That’s as good reason as any in my book.

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Nissan 300ZX

Years: 1984-1989

First generation (Z31) of the sleek sports car might not have looked as good as the second (Z32), but at least it came with headlamps popping out of the car’s hood. Now we have 370Z which has its charms galore, but still lacks this remarkable feature.

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Porsche 928

Years: 1978-1995

Just like Mazda RX-7, Porsche 928 never knew anything but pop-up headlights. Its headlamps weren’t covered or hidden, but they popped out of their socket nevertheless. That’s exactly what they needed to do in order for 928 to find its way to this list here.

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Opel GT

Years: 1968-1973

Opel’s two-seat sports car had two stints of production with second one starting in 2007, and ending shortly after. We’re more interested in first generation here which featured rotating hidden headlamps. Apart from short-lived Speedster, that was German automaker’s only foray into the sports car market.

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Acura NSX

Years: 1990-2001

NSX was one of the more affordable supercars of its time, but that didn’t hinder it to offer pop-up headlights. It’s still one of the handsomest cars ever to be adorned with this beloved feature, and new generation will be handsome as well – although without the hidden headlamps.

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Buick Riviera

Years: 1965-1969

Although not technically fitted with pop-up lights, we had to include the Riviera for its cool hidden headlamps. Second generation Riviera was among the coolest cars of its time which quickly propelled it close to the of its class.

1965 Buick Riviera GS; top car design rating and specifications

Pontiac Firebird

Years: 1982-2002

For two straight decades, Pontiac Firebird came with hidden headlamp design. That includes Trans Am and Formula models as well. Both third and fourth generations of Firebird were mean and sleek – mostly thanks to their headlamps.

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Lotus Esprit

Years: 1976-2004

Shoulder to shoulder with the Corvette, Esprit was the last car ever to feature pop-up headlights. It was produced for almost 30 years, and always came with the feature included. All 10,675 models built had it. That’s why it deserves to be with the rest of these prominent popping headlight bearers.

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Plymouth Superbird

Years: 1970

Fitted with 426 Hemi or 440 Super Commando powerplants, Superbirds were never gazed upon with admiration for their headlamps. It was their performance that mattered. Nevertheless, hidden lights upon their long and sharp noses are what makes them what they are – almost as much as NASCAR performance.

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Vector W8

Years: 1989-1993

Vector W8 is still considered as one of the unluckiest and most obscure supercars. Its performance wasn’t to blame, and so weren’t the looks. It was tough to compete in supercar market back in early nineties, and the company pulled some wrong decisions. That’s pretty much it. We can still admire its flawless headlights from time to time. If we manage to stumble upon one of these rare beauties, that is.

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Maserati Ghibli

Years: 1966-1973

Maserati Ghibli is currently enjoying its third production cycle, but it wasn’t since 1973 and the end of the first generation that it featured popping headlamps. Back in the day, Ghibli was one of the most advanced cars in terms of its design, and its headlamps were first among equal features that had made it so.

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Cizeta-Moroder V16T

Years: 1991-1995

Although official production of the Cizeta ended up in 1995, pop-up headlights were still a part of few additionally produced models, up until 2003. This is one of the most obscure supercars ever produced, but having no less than four popping headlamps, it makes us wonder why. In any case, we hope you enjoyed seeing some nostalgic pop-up headlights and cars which made the best out of them.

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Nikola Potrebić
About Nikola Potrebić

Despite driving a piece of junk, Nikola still manages to survive the harrowing experience called "A road trip in a Yugo," day in, day out. On the other hand, precious few things move him as muscle cars do. Especially those from the bygone golden era, which makes him wonder why wasn't he born a few decades earlier? Well, at least he's been given the opportunity to enjoy the likes of the Pontiak Aztek, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Fiat Multipla, and other lovely millennials, right? Come to think of it, I'll stick with my Yugo. Thank you very much.

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