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Where Did Pop-Up Headlights Disappear?

Remember all those 80s & 90s movies that featured cool sports cars with pop-up headlights? Yes, those cars are no longer around. Sad! Pop-up headlights were an iconic feature of some of the most beautiful cars ever designed, and the world has truly lost something with their disappearance.

Pop-up headlights were a popular thing in the past because the headlight height requirement was higher than some sports car manufacturers would have liked. Thus, through pop-up headlights, manufacturers could maintain a low front-end height for aerodynamics & aesthetics and still meet homologation requirements. Some of the coolest cars with pop-up headlights included the Lamborghini Countach, the Ferrari F40, the Ferrari Testarossa & the BMW M1. One of the funky things about pop-up headlights was when they'd fault and start blinking. I have never seen anything that funny! Too bad that the last mainstream cars to feature pop-up headlights were in 2004, the C5 Corvette and the Lotus Esprit.

The disappearance of pop-up headlights had to do with pedestrian safety. Now I know that some purist pop-up headlight lovers would say, "let the pedestrians be run over", but that's not how the world works (although I might even say the same sometimes). And the government never even banned pop-up headlights. Most people believe that pop-up headlights are forbidden. But, in fact, they are not. They are just subject to stricter restrictions. These regulations are primarily applicable in the EU, but car manufacturers like to work with designs that pass homologations worldwide. Sort of like a one-size-fits-all approach. The EU regulations just say that a car's front end needs to be deformable and absorbent and have no dangerous protruding elements at the front end. I wonder how the Spirit of Ecstasy or any other hood ornaments are legal, then?

So this regulation didn't precisely ban the pop-up headlights outright. They just meant that the pop-up headlights needed to retract almost instantly in case of a collision. This is what made every manufacturer shy away from these beautiful design elements. This would require a lot of development hours and, more importantly, a lot of Benjamin Franklins. Even then, this would mean that these new pop-up headlights would be heavier and more expensive to fit.

It's a shame, really. It would be astonishing to see what modern-day production cars with pop-up eyes could look like, especially with all the technology being integrated into the headlights these days, like automatic and adaptive headlights. And yes, we did see a slight resurrection of pop-up headlights in the Ares Panther in 2019, but it doesn't mean they're coming back anytime soon, although I hope they do…fingers crossed! 

Words: Sresht Garg

TopGear Magazine July 2024