8 Legendary Cars That Featured Pop-Up Headlights

Image: Jaguar

Pop-up headlights are arguably the coolest features to ever grace the world of cars. However, that dream would soon be unravelled as it was deemed costly, aerodynamically inefficient and expensive to fix when they eventually broke. By 2004 the pop-up headlight era was all but over with the Lotus Esprit and Corvette becoming the swan song of this icon of modern car design. Today we’re taking a look back at some of the coolest cars to ever rock the pop-up headlights.

This story was originally published on D’Marge.

Lamborghini Countach

The famed Lamborghini Countach from the raging bull is one car that set the rivalry against its other Italian counterpart back in the day. Enjoying a lengthy life cycle which spanned from 1974 through to 1990, the Countach remained constant with one thing and that was its signature wedge design featuring bold edges and those iconic pop-up headlights. A mid-mounted V12 finished the job off nicely.

Jaguar XJ220

One of the most recognised Jaguars to ever roll out of the factory is the XJ220, a project which saw production from 1992 to 1994 and wore all the right hallmarks of a supercar of that time. Besides the 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 which sat in a rear-midship layout, the car also featured one of the most intuitive headlight designs of its time. Rather than popping up to break the fluid lines of the car’s body, the headlight covers dropped down at the flick of a switch to reveal fixed dual headlights on either side. Pure British aesthetics at play.

Ferrari Daytona

The Ferrari Daytona features a sublime set of headlights (no pun intended) which are designed to follow the organic lines of the body when closed. Once switched on, the path ahead is lit up with quad circular globes rising to give the silhouette an entirely new character. Lest we forget there’s also 4.4-litre V12 up front which loves to sing.


If ever there was a BMW M car which stood out above the rest, it would be the M1. Developed and hand built between 1978 and 1981, the M1 was the Bavarian car maker’s first ever mid-engined car to be mass produced under racing homologation rules. The second mid-ship would come more than 30 years later with the i8. Besides the powerful 3.5-litre six cylinder engine, it also sported a gorgeous set of pop-up lights that bonded perfectly with the wedged shape sportscars of that era. The result is a one-of-a-kind BMW design never to be repeated.

Opel GT

The first generation Opel GT which went into production between 1968 and 1973 is one of the most attractive offerings to come out of the marque’s German plant. Designed as a styling exercise for the 1965 Paris and Frankfurt motor shows, the car sported flowing lines and headlights which didn’t actually pop-up but rather flipped 180 degrees to reveal single globe headlights. The mechanism is bound to see issues over time but that doesn’t make it any less mesmerising to watch.

Toyota 2000GT

The original Japanese supercar driven by Sean Connery’s James Bond was, believe it or not, a Toyota. Toyotas were a bit different back then as they were attempting to break the cheap and nasty mould during the late 60s. As a result, the Japanese carmaker teamed up with Yamaha to create a limited-production, front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-seater coupe. The design? Definitely on par with its British and European competition with hints of Jaguar E-Type along with the all-important pop-up headlights which sat directly above the equally bulbous fog lights. A true classic which can fetch up to $1 million today.

Honda NSX

The Japanese supercar which set the standard for drivability and reliability against its European counterparts didn’t just score its DNA from the late Ayrton Senna. The first generation NSX design which came out in 1990 also sported the mandatory pop up headlights, making it instantly recognisable amongst the more conservative looking competition of its time. A high-revving, mid-mounted 3.0-litre V6 in naturally aspirated form gave way to supercar levels of response without compromising on daily usability.

Pontiac Trans Am (KITT)

Fans of Knight Rider (or um, David Hasselhoff) will recognise this iconic television car known as Kitt. The thinking, talking, crime fighting car was near indestructible on screen but in the real world it was a modified 1982 Pontiac Trans Am with kick-ass pop-up headlights. Beyond this it boasted signature American proportions in a two-door, front-engined rear-wheel-drive layout with a 5.0-litre Chevrolet V8.

Random Fact: The new Kitt in the revamped Knight Rider series is voiced by Val Kilmer.

This story was originally published on D’Marge.

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    Didn't know the Countach looks exactly the same as the Daytona.

    I would have like to see the Mazda MX-5 on this list. Pretty iconic since it's the best selling and one of the most affordable sports cars ever made.

    I would have it over the Daytona or XJ220 here.

    Last edited 26/10/16 2:30 pm

      A shame that it's only the original body shape that had the pop-up lights. You don't see them too much these days with the NB series seeming a bit more popular.

      I would have included the RX-7 ;)

      I don't really think an MX-5 is "Legendary"

      While they are iconic and a great platform for basically any time of racing etc they're not at that "legendary" Status.

    Man... that's the weirdest looking Countach i have ever seen. :P

    The XJ220 doesn't have pop up lights, it just has a cover over the recessed lights.


      Good to see someone else who knows about this. Despite what the article says about the XJ220 being one of the most recognised Jags to ever roll out, most people have no idea what it is.

    Drop the XJ220 and put in a 300zx (preferably z31)

      Kudos sir/madam. I was outraged the Zed wasn't iconic enough to get a shoutout, but you made the world right again.

        Thank you. I love your handle. Whaddaname! Whaddabulge!

      Eugh. The 300ZX was so ugly it hurt. The Mitsubishi 3000GT / GTO from the same era was a much nicer looking vehicle.

    The Testarossa is my childhood and still dream car

    :( Missing the RX-7 and also the Mitsubishi Starion. (chrysler conquest for the Yanks...)

    I hope popups make a comeback!

    loved my 180's mainly due to popups :P

    i clicked on the article to read about the 180SX and was upset to not see it.
    Good to see the original celica/supra child in the 2000gt though and the mention of the start of the relationship with yamaha to produce some wonderful engines (I miss my 18RG :( )

    After seeing the image of the BMW M1 I had flashback to a Christmas in the early 80's (maybe 81-82) when I got a very similar looking BMW remote control car (well, it was in a cable so not quite like a regular radio control). Anyone else have one of these? http://www.jomitoys.com/2012/09/1970s-e25-bmw-turbo-vintage-wire-remote.html

    Good times those '80's.

    my wife cried when we sold both of our Bertone Fiat X-19 .. super little pop light flying wedge, but Fiat cocked it up putting a 1.3 in instead of the Arbath 2 liter :/

    but hey, what about roll over or hide-aways? I've got the same block in my Plymouth Fury and though the sport came out with them, the Aussie 4 door version did not sadly. If I can grab a donor though, these are going right up front of my Mopar

    how could you go past the 1988 Integra!
    biggest bomb of a car i ever had but somehow was also the most fun

    Lol, list about legendary cars, no mention of Ferrari F40

    The death of the pop-up headlight was nothing to do with aerodynamic efficiency (or lack thereof), cost or reliability. As regulations around crash safety improved, manufacturers had to change designs. It was pedestrian safety that killed the pop up headlight. Sharp-edged protrusions like pop-up lamps did not present soft and cuddly surfaces for pedestrians to bounce off. Secondly, making the bonnet / hood of the car deformable required leaving more space between the bonnet and the engine. This tended to require cars to have more rounded or higher fronts, which kinda eliminated the need for pop-up lights to begin with.

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