One of the coolest features found on some cars has been gone for a while. Let’s reminisce about some of the nostalgic cars with pop-up headlights.
Turning on a car’s headlights is hardly a “cool” affair. That is, unless you have some pop-up headlights. While LEDs, projector headlights, and daytime running lights have become the modern-day aesthetic when it comes to frontend lighting, pop-up headlights used to be an eye-catching alternative to the typical headlight assembly. With the flip of a switch, these headlights would pop out of their hidden compartments by the hood area and light the way.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a modern day use of the pop-up headlight design, and we unfortunately might not see it again due to changes in production practices and regulations. At least we can still appreciate some cars that have had the chance to showcase this interesting car feature. Here’s ten of the best cars to ever feature pop-up headlights that can still be found popping those lights up and down.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata first popped up on the car scene back in 1989 with the NA model. The MX-5 NA was a fun little rear-wheel-drive sports convertible and it was one of the only versions of this car to feature pop-up headlights. Aside from the lower cost and availability of aftermarket parts, those headlights on the Miata added to its allure for nostalgic car enthusiasts. It’s pretty common for owners of these cars to “wave” at each other by flipping the headlights up and down. Some have even gone as far as to make their headlights alternate to “wink”. Not sure if I consider that Miata modification cute or creepy.
Another fun tuner choice as of late is the Nissan 240SX, and the S13 version features the all-important topic for today, pop-up headlights. The 240SX features a lot of the same components that made the Miata the sought-after model it is today. It had an easily upgradable inline-four, RWD configuration, and could be easily thrown into turns. It isn’t uncommon to see a drift missile 240SX sliding through a big curve while flipping its headlights up and down. Performing this flex through a turn is equal parts funny and impressive. That is unless the 240SX spins out, then it’s just funny.
People always think of the 90s MKIV or the recent revival of the model when the name Supra comes up, but the Toyota sports coupe is more than just those examples. While the Celica Supra and MKIII versions of the Toyota Supra don’t have as large of a following as their successors, they did have a quality that is unique to them. That is, of course, the pop-up headlight. The early Supras weren’t the only Toyota models to feature pop-up headlights though. The Corolla, MR2, and the non-Supra Celica all have been seen popping those lights up and down over the years.
While the Mazda RX-7 is fondly remembered for its use of the Wankel rotary engine in a sports car design, it’s also one of the few cars to feature pop-up headlights throughout all of its different generations. From the first RX-7 SA all the way to the iconic FD models, the RX-7 has incorporated the hidden headlight design. Not all owners kept the quirky flip-up feature though, with some swapping them for more aerodynamic headlight assemblies like the ones used on the VeilSide RX-7 body kit showcased in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
It’s not all JDM cars out there flipping their headlights, US based Pontiac showcased some pop-up headlights too on the third generation Firebird. The Firebird already had a reputation for being one of the coolest muscle cars of its time in the late 70s and early 80s, but the addition of the pop-up gimmick gave it something a little extra. The Pontiac Firebird may have one of the largest pop culture followings on this list of cars with pop-up headlights too, due in part to its inclusion in the Smokey and the Bandit movies and the Knight Rider series.
GM’s venture into the use of pop-up headlights on cars didn’t just start with the Firebird. The legendary Chevrolet Corvette has featured hidden headlight designs ever since the C2 models. The Corvette was also one of the last examples to include a pop-up setup on a mass production car with the 2004 C5 models. Chevrolet Corvettes went through multiple different ways to display their headlights, with a few being more eye catching than others. For instance, the C2’s headlights do a full 180-degree rotation outwards as they’re built into the front facia instead of being flat sections near the hood like other examples. Then there’s also the C4’s pop-up headlights that also do a full 180, but are integrated into the hood area and flip backwards to reveal the lights.
Looking for a little Euro flare when searching for a car with pop-up headlights? Well, you’re in luck! There have been plenty of European models to feature pop-up headlights, like the Opel GT, Lotus Elan, Maserati Ghibli, and Lancia Stratos. But the Porsche 928 is the easily one of our favorite sports cars from the area with pop-up headlights. The German sports car was created to replace the 911 and is one of the first Porsche models to ever feature a V8 engine under the hood. While the 928’s pop-up headlight setup is unique in the fact that the lights themselves are visible at all times, they still feature a flip up motion when switched on, so still counts in our opinion.
Alright, last JDM car example with pop-headlights, but it’s worth noting. The Acura NSX was Honda’s foray into the mid-engine sports car world and was created to take on the likes of Ferrari in terms of performance, but at a more approachable price point. Honda squeezed all the power they could out of the 3.0L VTEC V6 engine to make it competitive against the V8s from Ferrari. The original NA1 models are some of the most coveted for collectors, with their prices skyrocketing as of late thanks to the news that the gas-powered model ending soon and rumors of an electric rebirth. The Acura NSX NA1s were also the only ones to have pop-up headlights, which is why it’s here if you hadn’t guessed already.
Speaking of mid-engine sports cars, we can’t forget to mention some of the Italian cars seen in the posters that graced our teenage bedroom walls. A popular one in particular is the Lamborghini Countach. The Countach wasn’t the fastest sports car necessarily, but its aggressive, angular exterior design looked awesome. It also had scissor doors, a leather interior that looked like “modern art”, and there were the all-important pop-up headlights installed. Lamborghini recently decided that the Countach nameplate needed to be brought back, so hopefully they provide an option to include the hidden headlight design for this new model. Probably not, but I can dream.
The final car with pop-headlights on this list is another Italian sports car classic that I don’t think I’ll ever get my hands on, the Ferrari F40. Inside of the F40 was a 2.9L twin-turbocharged V8 engine that blasted the sports car from 0 to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and could reach over 200 mph. The entire design screamed high speed racecar too, with the large vents, big rear spoiler, racing inspired sliding window cut-outs, and less than five inches of ground clearance. The Ferrari F40 also featured some of the largest pop-up headlight assemblies around too. Probably could have cut a little weight by slimming those things down a bit.