Cars With Pop-Up Headlights: A Definitive Guide To The Legends

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Is there anything cooler on the roads than pop-up headlights?

Classic cars become classic cars for a reason. Technology moves on, whether it's engineering improvements or guided by legislation.

In the case of cars with pop-up (hidden until needed) headlights, they are a thing of the past due to pedestrian safety. Still, some of those cars are still out there, and pop-up headlights are cool. They allow the car's front end to be as characterful and aerodynamic as the designers wanted, and making headlights go up and down satisfies everyone's inner child.

Despite the pop-up headlight's heyday being the 1980s and 1990s, they've been around since the 1930s. The first car with pop-up headlights was the 1936 Cord 810, using the system to hide its big gawky headlights when not in use. They became fashionable due to being futuristic, and by the 1970s and 1980s, pop-up headlights were mostly found on sports cars.

Unfortunately, there are no mainstream new cars on sale with pop-up headlights. They aren't banned outright, but safety legislation on how the front of vehicles reacts to impacts has made designing and building them into a car an engineering nightmare in most major car markets. While there are a lot of old cars with pop-up headlights, we're going to concentrate on the most popular vehicles that achieved legendary status. These are the best cars with pop-up headlights.


Mazda MX-5

A Mazda Miata with pop-up headlights is still a wonderful sight on the road. The term iconic gets thrown around a lot in car circles, but the first-generation MX-5 is a legitimate icon.

When down, the retractable lights allow the pointed nose to improve aerodynamics; when up, they add a clear pair of eyes to the Miata's face.

It launched as a 1990 model in 1989 and lasted until it was phased out in 1997. The second generation didn't feature pop-up headlights, as laws had changed in enough countries to make them unsustainable.

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Mazda RX-7

The first generation 1978 RX-7 was introduced with retractable headlights, but the third generation RX7 pop-up headlights cemented themselves in pop culture.

Its sleek styling holds up on the road today and is the cherry on top of its sequential twin-turbocharged rotary engine and agile handling. Mazda and its customers paid the price for the FD generation as its dimensions didn't fit Japanese regulations, which moved it into the luxury sports car bracket.

It was produced between 1992 and 1995, and with only 1,152 official examples sold in Europe and a limited amount coming to the US, it's a rarer car than you would think.

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C5 Generation Corvette

Both the Mazda's above are now subject to the collector, tuner, and drifting tax- meaning, they're expensive if you want to buy one in good condition.

The C5 generation Corvette will get there, but for now, it's reasonably priced in the used market and has been an underrated Corvette for so long. But people are finally realizing how good the sports car produced between 1997 and 2004 is.

However, it's not the only Corvette with pop-up headlights. The second generation (C2: 1963-1967) and third generation (C3: 1968-1982) also have retractable lights. While both older generations are highly collectible, the C5 is streets ahead of both in performance.

It's also noticeable as the Corvette, and Lotus Esprit V8 are the last cars with pop-up headlights. By the end of 2004, it was all over.

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Toyota AE86 Corolla

While Honda embraced the pop-up headlight on other types of vehicles, Toyota mostly stuck to sports cars.

The MK III generation of Supra had its headlights hidden until needed, as did both generations of the mid-engined MR2. Still, the most legendary Toyota with pop-up headlights is the AE86 Corolla. Its worldwide popularity comes from being the hero car in the iconic Japanese drifting anime, Initial D. It made it onto the screen because it was a low-key yet beautifully balanced rear-wheel-drive, lightweight, compact car driven by Japan's most prominent drifters.

Toyota moved entirely away from the Corolla having a rear-wheel-drive configuration, leaving the AE86 model as one of the most desirable JDM cars with pop-up headlights despite being a Toyota Corolla.


Nissan 300ZX

There are only a few Nissan cars with pop-up headlights, and the first-generation 300ZX is the most desirable.

It was sold in the US from 1984 to 1996 and was considered slightly more upmarket than the 240/260/280 Z cars. The 300ZX pop-up headlights were a little different from other cars in that when they were down, the lamps weren't completely hidden.

However, it allowed them to sit lower in the sloping front of the car. If you're wondering about the GT-R, there's a reason Nissan avoids the technology.

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There are two BMWs with pop-up headlights. The BMW 8-Series that appeared in 1981 is one, and the crazy BMW M1 is the other.

It's a crazy car because it was plagued by disaster, most notably because Lamborghini promised to build it but was too broke to follow through on its promise.

It's also BMW's only supercar and ended up as the flagship in one-car race series that ran as a warm-up during Formula 1 weekend. It eventually made it onto the road but is an incredibly rare bird to see. If one does come up for sale, it usually fetches six figures.

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Porsche 944

Weirdly, the Porsche 944 is one of the cheap cars with pop-up headlights on this list.

That's because it's a long way down the list of best Porsches, hasn't aged well in design, and isn't popular with tuners as it's expensive to maintain and the aftermarket is weak. However, if you want a Porsche with pop-up headlights, this is it, and it's an underrated sports car if you can stomach the cost of ownership.

It's also hip with the Radwood crowd as a piece of vintage 1980s automobilia. It is easier to work on than a rear- or mid-engined Porsche, as the four-cylinder engine is in the front.

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Ferrari F40

One of the quintessential '80s cars with pop-up headlights is Ferrari's iconic F40. A total of 1,315 cars were produced from 1987 to 1992. Its rarity and prestige make it the most expensive car on this list.

Formula 1 driver Nigel Mansell sold his in 1990 for a million dollars, and later models now sell for twice that. It was a technological marvel in the 1980s that leaned into Formula 1 technology.

The F40 is also widely known as the last car Enzo Ferrari signed off on before his death in 1988.

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Honda NSX

Because the brand is keen for people to know it injects sporty driving dynamics into all of its cars, you can find quite a few Hondas with pop-up headlights.

The best car Honda made with pop-up headlights, though, is the first-generation NSX. That's not all the NSX has in common with the Ferrari F40. It was also a supercar with technology usually found in Formula 1 cars, its production years overlapped, and race car drivers owned them.

However, the NSX was, by design, a lot cheaper yet still aimed to compete with supercars. And it succeeded. Honda had the Ferrari 328 and then 428 in mind and built a quicker equivalent with a smaller engine - a V6 versus a V8. In 2001, the NSX got a facelift and dropped the pop-up headlights. If you've wondered what the second-generation NSX would look like with pop-up headlights, someone has had a crack at it.


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