Back in 1935, the Cord 810 hit the New York Auto Show with a feature that would become legendary: pop-up headlights. This innovation sparked a trend that wouldn’t catch fire until decades later. By the ’60s and ’70s, pop-up headlights had become a hallmark of cool, gracing the fronts of cars from Lotus to Porsche. Here’s 24 of our favorites:

Lotus Esprit (1976)

Image Credit: Calreyn88, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When you think of a car that looks like it was designed with a ruler, the Lotus Esprit tops the list. Created by Giorgetto Giugiaro and later tweaked by Peter Stevens, this car kept its cool factor with pop-up headlights through every design update. The early models came with a mid-mounted four-cylinder engine, giving you either 2.0 or 2.2 liters of power. While the later versions saw a beefy V8, the original Giugiaro designs stuck with these smaller engines. It’s a classic example of how to do sports cars right, with just enough power under the hood and a design that turns heads, especially when those headlights pop up at night.

Porsche 928 (1977)

Image Credit: Niels de Wit from Lunteren, The Netherlands, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Porsche 928 was supposed to be the next big thing, aiming to take the 911’s crown with its front-mounted V8 and sleek design. Winning European Car of the Year in 1978, it was a technical marvel with its balanced weight distribution and galvanized body. But, even with its cutting-edge features and 18-year production run, it never quite outshined the 911. With around 61,000 units made, the 928 is a reminder of Porsche’s bold attempt at innovation, proving that sometimes, even the best-laid plans don’t pan out as expected.

Image Credit: Shadman Samee from Dhaka, Bangladesh, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Mazda RX-7 and its rotary engine are a match made in heaven. Without those iconic pop-up headlights, we would’ve missed out on one of the slickest designs of the era. The compact rotary engine allowed for a lower hood, giving the RX-7 a sleek profile that other sports cars could only dream of. Over 470,000 of these beauties rolled off the production line, but finding one in good condition today is a rare treat. It’s a testament to Mazda’s innovation and a sorely missed design feature in modern cars.

AC 3000ME (1979)

Image Credit: Calreyn88, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The AC 3000ME’s journey from concept to production was a rocky one. First shown as the Diabolo and initially powered by an engine you’d find in an Austin Maxi, it finally hit the streets with a Ford Essex V6 six years later. By then, it was a bit behind the times, and only 101 units found homes before it was curtains for the project. It’s a snapshot of what could have been in the world of sports cars, serving as a reminder of the brutal nature of car manufacturing and marketing.

TVR Tasmin (1980)

TVR took a sharp turn in the ’80s, ditching curves for angles with the Tasmin. This wedge-shaped beast was a departure for the brand, offering a mix of speed, affordability, and a design that was, well, divisive. Initially, it might have seemed like a misstep, but time has been kind to the Tasmin. It’s now enjoying a resurgence, appreciated for the bold move it represented for TVR. If you’re into cars that make a statement without breaking the bank, the Tasmin’s story is one of redemption.

Subaru XT (1985)

Image Credit: ©Subaru

The Subaru XT might have been an oddball with its unique proportions and less-than-sporty performance, but it carved out its niche for those wanting something different. Powered by turbocharged or naturally aspirated engines, it was Subaru’s way of stepping outside the box. Almost 100,000 units later, the XT is a quirky footnote in Subaru’s history, appealing to those who value individuality over conventional appeal.

Volvo 480ES (1986)

Image Credit: ©Volvo

The Volvo 480ES broke new ground for the Swedish brand as their first crack at front-wheel drive and the only model to rock pop-up headlights. Made in Holland, it shared guts with the forgettable 440 and 460 models but stood out thanks to its unique front-end design. Powered by Renault engines, including a peppy 1.7-liter turbo, it was a departure from Volvo’s usual boxy look. A prototype convertible hinted at dreams of the American market that never came to fruition, making the 480ES a cool “what if” in Volvo’s history.

Cord 810 (1936)

Image Credit: Buch-t, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cord 810 was a game-changer with its front-wheel drive and pop-up headlights—a first in the U.S. Its design was revolutionary, featuring a hand-cranked mechanism borrowed from airplane landing lights. Produced until 1940, the 810 was ahead of its time, combining innovation with a style that still captivates car enthusiasts today. It’s a testament to Cord’s vision and a pivotal moment in automotive design history.

Lotus Elan (1962)

Image Credit: ©Lotus Cars

The Lotus Elan brought pop-up headlights back into the mainstream, setting the tone for sports cars in the ’60s. Its combination of light weight, zippy engines, and nimble handling made it a standout. It wasn’t just fast; it was fun, proving that sports cars didn’t need to be heavy to be exhilarating. The Elan is a cornerstone in Lotus’s legacy, embodying their philosophy of ‘simplify, then add lightness.’

Maserati Ghibli (1966)

Image Credit: Reinhold Möller, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Maserati Ghibli was a masterpiece of Italian design, thanks to Giorgetto Giugiaro. Launched alongside the Lamborghini Miura, the Ghibli stood out with its sleek lines and pop-up headlights. Available as a coupe or spyder, it was powered by a robust V8 engine, offering performance that matched its stunning looks. It marked the beginning of a series of Maseratis that featured this iconic design trait, cementing the Ghibli’s place in the pantheon of classic sports cars.

Oldsmobile Toronado (1966)

Image Credit: Greg Gjerdingen from Willmar, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Oldsmobile Toronado was a beast with its 385bhp V8 engine and front-wheel drive—a rarity in its time. The combination of power and design, including those hidden headlights, made it a standout. Though its handling was a topic of debate, the Toronado’s design and engineering were undeniably ahead of their time, offering a glimpse into the future of automotive innovation. It’s a classic example of Oldsmobile’s willingness to push the boundaries of what a car could be.

Matra M530 (1967)

Image Credit: János Tamás, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Matra M530 is one of those cars you can’t help but call quirky. With its mid-mounted 1.7-liter V4 Ford engine, it was anything but ordinary. Designed by Philippe Guédon, who later gave us the Matra Rancho and the Renault Espace, the M530 was Matra’s attempt at making a sports car that stood out. And stand out it did, with its unique looks and the fact that nearly 10,000 were built. It’s a reminder of the era when car makers weren’t afraid to try something different, and the M530 is a perfect example of that adventurous spirit.

Toyota 2000GT (1967)

Image Credit: ©Toyota

The Toyota 2000GT is Japan’s answer to the Jaguar E-Type, boasting a long bonnet and a sleek design that made it an instant classic. With its 2.0-liter twin-cam straight-six engine pushing out 148bhp, it was no slouch. But its high price tag meant it was a rare sight, with only 351 units produced. The 2000GT was a milestone for Japanese sports cars, proving that Toyota could mix it with the best in terms of performance and design. It’s a car that collectors drool over, and for good reason—it’s simply stunning.

Porsche 924 (1975)

Image Credit: Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Porsche 924 was the brand’s first foray into pop-up headlights, taking over from the 914. Designed as a joint venture with Volkswagen, it ended up being a solo Porsche project when VW backed out. With around 150,000 units sold, it was more of a niche hit compared to other Porsches, but it marked an important chapter in the company’s history. The 924 was a sign of things to come, blending performance with a design that was both sleek and functional.

Opel GT (1968)

Image Credit: Arnaud 25, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Opel GT was all about the driving experience, with manual swivel headlights adding a unique touch to its design. Available with 1.1 or 1.9-liter engines, it catered to a range of enthusiasts. Sold in Europe and, interestingly, as a Buick in North America, the GT was a sporty option for those looking for something different. With over 100,000 sold, it’s a reminder of Opel’s ability to produce a car that’s as fun to drive as it is to look at.

Lincoln Continental MkIII (1969)

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The Lincoln Continental MkIII was luxury on wheels, powered by a massive 7.5-liter V8. As Ford’s top-of-the-line luxury model, it was as much about making a statement as it was about the drive. Its design, including hidden headlights, set it apart from the crowd, embodying the peak of American luxury in the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s a car that commands attention, showcasing the extravagant side of automotive design.

Saab Sonett III (1970)

Image Credit: Gunnar Creutz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Saab Sonett III was the brand’s successful attempt at a sports car, with over 8,000 sold. It was the only production Saab to feature pop-up headlights, giving it a distinctive look. Designed as a fun, lightweight car, it offered something different from Saab’s usual lineup. The Sonett III is a reminder of Saab’s innovative spirit, combining unique design with the fun of driving.

De Tomaso Pantera (1971)

Image Credit: Crown Star Images, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The De Tomaso Pantera mixed Italian design with American muscle, thanks to its Ford V8 engine. With over 7,000 units made, it was De Tomaso’s most successful model. The Pantera’s sleek bodywork and pop-up headlights made it an instant classic, offering a blend of performance and style that was hard to beat. It’s a car that epitomizes the supercar era of the ’70s, combining the best of both worlds in a package that’s still coveted by collectors today.

Maserati Merak (1972)

Image Credit: Charles from Port Chester, New York, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Maserati Merak, a sibling to the V8-powered Bora, was a V6 marvel that shared its looks but offered a 2+2 seating arrangement. It was part of Maserati’s lineup that embraced pop-up headlights, adding to its allure. The Merak was about offering a blend of performance and practicality, with its design and engine choice making it a standout in the Maserati family. It’s a glimpse into the era when sports cars were about more than just speed—they were a statement.

Bitter CD (1973)

Image Credit: Brian Snelson, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Bitter CD might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of classic cars, but it’s got a story worth telling. Launched in the thick of the oil crisis, this car was powered by a hefty 5.4-liter Chevrolet V8 engine. Despite the timing, Bitter managed to sell 395 units between 1973 and 1979. It’s a car that blended European design with American power, making it a unique piece of automotive history. The CD stands as a testament to Erich Bitter’s vision of creating a luxury sports car that could stand out even in challenging times.

Fiat X1/9 (1973)

Image Credit: Horry, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fiat took a different path with the X1/9, a mid-engined sports car that was all about fun. Its flip-up headlights and sharp lines made it instantly recognizable. Produced over 17 years, Fiat churned out more than 150,000 of these, later models even wearing Bertone badges in the US. It was Fiat’s way of offering something that wasn’t just affordable but also packed with character and driving pleasure. The X1/9 isn’t just a car; it’s a piece of Italian design history that’s still turning heads.

Bricklin SV-1 (1974)

The Bricklin SV-1 was Malcolm Bricklin’s dream of creating a safe and stylish sports car. With a name standing for “Safety Vehicle 1,” it featured gull-wing doors and was powered by a V8 engine. Despite its ambitions, the SV-1 struggled with quality issues and high prices, leading to a short production run from 1975 to 1976. Around 3,000 units were made, making it a rare find today. The SV-1’s story is one of ambition, reminding us that even the best intentions need solid execution to succeed.

Lamborghini Countach (1974)

Image Credit: Ank Kumar, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Lamborghini Countach redefined what a supercar could look like with its angular design and, of course, those iconic pop-up headlights. Unlike the Miura’s forward-flipping lights, the Countach’s popped up, adding to its futuristic appeal. The Countach wasn’t just about looks; it was a powerhouse, setting the stage for the supercars that followed. It’s a vehicle that embodies the spirit of Lamborghini—bold, brash, and utterly unforgettable.

Triumph TR7 (1975)

Image Credit: Vauxford, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Triumph TR7 marked a radical departure for the brand with its wedge shape and pop-up headlights—a stark contrast to the more traditional designs of its predecessors. Powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, it was a sign of the times, blending performance with a distinctive style. While it might have shocked purists, the TR7 carved out its niche, becoming a symbol of the era’s automotive experimentation. It’s a reminder of Triumph’s willingness to break the mold and try something new.

Author: Abbie Clark

Title: Co-Founder

Expertise: Automotive Industry, Electric Vehicles, DIY Car Repairs

Bio:

Abbie Clark is a writer, blog, and founder of RideRambler, Hey She Thrives, and The Bearded Bunch.

From clever car cleaning tricks to the freshest car features and reviews, Abbie loves sharing her knowledge on everything automotive. Outside of her time writing for her websites, you’ll find her fishing with her husband, deciphering her toddler’s babbling, or baking up something sweet.

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