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Fascinating Headlight Wiper Designs

Car Culture

Remember when headlights got their own little wipers?

Headlight wipers have pretty much gone the way of extinction now, but in the 1980s and 1990s they showed up quite a bit. There was some good reasoning by brands such as Volvo and Land Rover for making them available. In Sweden, for example, it snows a lot and when the snow gets dirty and slushy, then sprayed over the front of your car, cleaning the headlights without having to stop makes sense. The same goes for off-roading vehicles expected to get covered in dust and, more importantly, mud. However, on your average executive sedan where it didn't snow much, it became more of an aesthetic cue as to how much someone had spent on a car.

Vertical headlights are a thing of the past now though, so aerodynamics tend to take care of thick build-up of things like snow and mud. However, high-pressure nozzles are now used, and mainly in Europe where headlights can get dirty quickly. In some places, headlight washers are a requirement for cars with self-leveling HID units. This also ensures a healthy amount of people still accidentally spray the front of their freshly detailed vehicle with washer fluid when they accidentally hit the headlight wiper switch instead of the windscreen wiper.

In honor of the now lost goofy headlight wipers option, we've gone back to find our favorite cars and designs for clearing the sludge from headlights.

Mercedes-Benz W123/W124 E-Class

The W123 chassis E-Class still holds up as the epitome of Mercedes-Benz quality in engineering. Mercedes went with a simple and elegant engineering solution here with a 150-degree arc for the wiper. They could also be operated independently of the windshield wipers, which wasn't common way back in the day.

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Saab 99

The Saab 99 was a pioneer in many ways and was the first car to feature headlight wipers all the way back in 1970. The design is kooky by today's standards, and it looks like the world's tiniest person is hiding behind the grill and operating a mini squeegee with each arm. This is Swedish over-engineering at its finest.

Volvo 240

It would be easy to assume Volvo came up with the headlight wiper first but they, in fact, followed Saab's lead here. Volvo's early design on the 240 is pretty sloppy with the wiper blade actually coming up over the hood at the top of its arc. Later on, the style Volvo used in the video below was more efficient, and a lot of fun to watch being used. More recently, smaller blades and a better mechanism make Volvo's headlight wipers more efficient.

BMW E30 3-Series

How do you deal with clearing two pairs of circular lights at the front of a car? Simply use four headlight wipers and pretend it doesn't look silly at all. Even on an E30 M3. As you can see in the video, BMW solved the problem of cleaning a circular light on its cars by using a straight arm on a fixed pivot and not holding the top of the rubber blades in place so they could bend inside the outer housing. It's a very simple solution and works brilliantly until the rubber starts to degrade and the ends fall off.

Jaguar XJ-S

In the 1990s, Jaguar went with the rather brilliant pantograph system for the XJ-S that you'll have seen on the front of buses, boats, and RVs. Or, if you're a Porsche nerd, on the rear window of a 928. Jaguar's system is so nerdy we couldn't find a video of someone showing it off, but we did find a video showing how the pantograph works backed by some wonderfully cheesy music to enjoy.

Volvo S60

At the beginning of the 21st century, most of Volvo's competitors had switched to using pressure nozzles to clean headlights on the move, but Volvo still offered the wiper option on the S60 for a while. By then, it had figured out a cute little mechanism that allowed the wiper to get close to a 180-degree arc.

Range Rover

The L322 generation Range Rover was the last Range Rover to have actual headlight wipers fitted rather than pressure nozzles. It's also, arguably, the last generation of Range Rovers that were bought by people to actually go off-road with. The beauty of these headlight wipers is how it looks light the headlight arrangement was designed so the arc of a simple wiper mechanism would cover them perfectly.

We couldn't find any close-up footage of the L332 Range Rover wipers in action but did come across the newer Range Rover's nozzle system in slow-motion action.

FSO Polski Fiat 125p

Back in the Eastern Europe's communist regime era, the Polski Fiat (Literally translated as Polish Fiat) was built and sold by the Warsaw-based FSO company under license from Fiat. The headlight washer is a delight to watch as it spins in a circle to not quite clean the whole of the lamp.

Lada Niva

Staying in Eastern Europe, the Lada Niva is one of the weirdest underrated off-roaders out there. It's the most successful Soviet-made car made in terms of global sales. It's also the Iron Curtain's equivalent of a Jeep Cherokee or a Range Rover but, to us here in the west, it's more like a Suzuki Samurai or Jimny but even more agricultural in build quality and comfort. Throughout its lifecycle, the Niva managed to be both shoddily built and incredibly resilient. The level to which the Niva was under-engineered is what makes the headlight wipers special, despite them looking suspiciously like the same concept BMW used for its round lamps.

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