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Pop up head­lamps

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week - FUZZ TOWN­SHEND CCW’S MAS­TER ME­CHANIC

‘The hey­day of the hid­den head­light was un­doubt­edly the 1980s-90s’

Pop-up or hid­den headlights were at first a fash­ion item. Al­legedly in­tro­duced to the world in 1936, on the Cord 810, early pop-ups were cum­ber­some, hand-cranked af­fairs, op­er­ated from within the car. It wasn’t un­til the swing­ing 1960s that, by then with au­to­matic op­er­a­tion, they be­came a pop­u­lar aero­dy­namic tool as well as a styling fea­ture.

Hid­ing the headlights away be­low the bon­net line al­lowed car stylists to lower the frontal pro­file of ve­hi­cles, of­ten help­ful when work­ing with aero­dy­nam­ics, but also adding a natty ‘state of the art’ gizmo in an age when progress in all fields of hu­man ac­tiv­ity seemed hugely am­pli­fied.

Amer­i­can leg­is­la­tion of the time also helped hid­den headlights gain pop­u­lar­ity, as it rigidly dic­tated that lamps must be of set sizes, ei­ther round or rec­tan­gu­lar and at a cer­tain height, leav­ing car de­sign­ers some­what ham­strung.

The an­swer was to bury the lights out of sight by day and bring them out in the dark, when fewer folk would no­tice the con­se­quent im­pact on styling and only the driv­ers of the ve­hi­cles would see there were now two an­noy­ing blind spots in­con­ve­niently perched up front.

Of­ten, cars of the 1960s and ’70s used vac­uum-op­er­ated bel­lows to raise and lower the lamp pods, some­times with the fail­safe of a vac­uum reser­voir keep­ing the headlights low­ered, so that if this source was lost, the headlights would pop up, even if switched off.

As a con­se­quence, head­lamp switch­ing could be a cum­ber­some com­bi­na­tion of elec­tri­cal and vac­uum op­er­a­tion, but this at least led to a sat­is­fac­tory re­li­a­bil­ity level.

Time pro­gressed and small elec­tric mo­tors be­came more ro­bust, as they needed to be, op­er­at­ing within the vi­brat­ing en­vi­rons of a mo­tor car. These then pow­ered later pop-up headlights and of­fered con­nec­tiv­ity with elec­tronic con­trol units.

The hey­day of the hid­den head­light was, ar­guably the 1980s-90s, with a plethora of low frontal pro­file car de­signs and a resur­gence in the pop­u­lar­ity of the two-seater sports car, led by the now ev­er­green Toy­ota MR2 and Mazda MX-5.

How­ever, time and newer au­to­mo­tive leg­is­la­tion has not been kind to things that pop up from bon­net lines with the po­ten­tial to cause in­juries in a crash. Per­haps, some­what un­sur­pris­ingly, the hid­den head­light is all but a thing of the past. In fact, I’ll stick my neck out and say that there isn’t a cur­rent reg­u­lar pro­duc­tion car which fea­tures them. But they’re still out there up­front on our clas­sics, pro­vid­ing a talk­ing point for those un­fa­mil­iar with such ex­otic com­po­nents.

Mo­tor or vac­uum fail­ures can leave cars ‘wink­ing’ at on­com­ing mo­torists and, in the lat­ter case, pro­vide plenty of headaches for those un­fa­mil­iar with the type.

Rub­ber hoses in par­tic­u­lar are sus­cep­ti­ble to hard­en­ing and crack­ing with age, lead­ing to leaks, which in some se­vere cases may lead to run­ning is­sues.

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