Why we don’t see pop-up headlights anymore and likely never will again

  • Pop-up headlights reached peak popularity in the 1990s
  • In 1998, a new set of rules made obsolete
  • No new cars can be sold with pop-up headlights today, but there’s no blanket ban on them

Published on Jul 05, 2024 at 3:08 PM (UTC+4)
by Alessandro Renesis

Last updated on Jul 09, 2024 at 9:21 PM (UTC+4)
Edited by Tom Wood

Pop-up headlights were one of the coolest features ever – buyers loved them, and many people still do today.

The problem is that modern cars sold today don’t have pop-up headlights, and there will probably never be a brand-new car with that type of system.

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This is down to two major factors.

In essence, pop-up headlights are no longer a thing for one specific practical reason and one specific legal reason.

From a practical standpoint, they look great, yes, but they’re infamously unreliable and they tend to break quite frequently and easily.

From a legal standpoint, which is the one that matters at the end of the day, a new car with pop-up headlights would break all kinds of rules regarding pedestrian safety today.

It all started with a little-known car

The first car to go into production with pop-up headlights was an American-made car called the Cord 810.

This V8 car, launched nearly 90 years ago in 1936, had a manual lever that allowed the driver to hide or pop out the headlights.

Through the years, a long list of manufacturers adopted this feature for a variety of different cars.

Mazda used it for the MX-5 and BMW did it with the 8 Series.

Even some of most iconic Ferraris, including the Testarossa, came with this feature, as well as the Lamborghini Countach.

The regulation that ‘killed’ pop-up headlights

In 1998, the European Auto Union released an updated set of guidelines for pedestrian safety.

The new regulations placed stricter limits when it comes to size, and in some cases presence, of sharp edges where cars may come into contact with pedestrians.

This pretty much killed pop-up headlights because they were deemed unnecessary, just an additional sharp edge (which equates to another risk factor deemed unnecessary) put there for bonus style points.

Unfortunately, regulations sometimes do kill nice things.

Emission regulations, for example, are the main reason why Nissan hasn’t even tried to homologate, and sell, the Nissan Z in Europe.

But there’s a silver lining to this particular cloud.

There’s no hard ban on pop-up headlights, so that means that any older car with pop-up lamps available in the pre-owned market, and there are many of them, is there for the taking.


Alessandro Renesis

Experienced content creator with a strong focus on cars and watches. Alessandro penned the first-ever post on the Supercar Blondie website and covers cars, watches, yachts, real estate and crypto. Former DriveTribe writer, fixed gear bike owner, obsessed with ducks for some reason.