- Mazda 323F

The History of Pop-ups: Why they were made, and what killed them

Ever wondered why they existed in the first place, and why they stopped being used? Read on!

3w ago

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Most people like pop-ups. They give the car a cool, sleek profile when down, while providing lots of character and personality when up. They were an automotive quirk, something that, unfortunately, we may never see again. Read on to find out why.

Part 1 - The invention

1936

Pop-ups were first used on the 1936 Cord 810, back when the world was living in a dark age aerodynamically. The headlights were stowed inside the fenders when not in use, allowing better airflow over the car. This was in a time when cars still had big, round headlights that destroyed both the car's looks, as well as the aerodynamics. The Cord's pop-ups didn't particularly help much, but it spawned a whole new craze that would erupt in later years.

Part 2 - Lift-off

1963

In 1963, Chevrolet fitted flashy hide-away headlights on the second generation (C2) Corvette. The result was a sleek, flashy design, that many would consider to be one of the best ever. Pop-ups were used on every single Corvette from 1963, up until 2004, which gives it the longest continuous production run of any car with pop-ups. Yeah.

Part 3 - Dumb rules

1970s

Lotus Esprit S1

Lotus Esprit S1

In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, pop-ups hit their peak. They were the big trend, the thing that all performance cars had to have. It wasn't really for aerodynamics anymore. It was to comply with some new rules the US government put out. The new rules stated that a car's headlights must be a certain height above the ground. This gave carmakers two options: Ditch the low, sleek styling for a higher front end, or put in pop-ups. This created many of the wedge-supercars of the late 70s, such as the Lancia Stratos, BMW M1, and Lotus Esprit. The addition of pop-ups on these cars convinced the public that pop-ups were features seen on exotics. This lead to a rise in their use in the 90s.

Part 4 - The peak of popularity

1990s

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Cue in the Miata: The cheap, fun, cute sports car of the 90s. It was the car that everybody instantly fell in love with, and is the poster-child of pop-ups. During the late 80s and the 90s, pop-ups were on nearly every new car. The Honda Accord, Mitsubishi Starion, Plymouth Laser, Chevy Corvette, and dozens of others. They appeared on many 90s JDM legends, like the RX-7, Mk3 Supra, NSX, AE86... The list goes on forever. But something happened.

Part 5 - More dumb rules

Early 2000s

Chevrolet Corvette C5

Chevrolet Corvette C5

In 2004 both the C5 Corvette and the Lotus Esprit were discontinued, the last two cars with pop-ups. Two significant laws were passed just before, both of which would kill the pop-ups forever. The first law was daytime running lights. You may have heard of it before. For safety, it required cars to always have their headlights running. This would mean that cars with pop-ups would be forced to drive around with them always up. Not only does that hurt the image of the cars, it also makes them slower, and less efficient. Of course, carmakers could work their way around this rule, if the other law hadn't been passed. Pedestrian safety. I hate those words. The thought was, that if you were to hit someone in your car with the lights up, they could be seriously injured on the sharp edges. It makes sense, but that just makes the death of the pop-ups even more saddening.

Part 6 - Hope for the future

What if I told you there was still hope for pop-ups? Suppose the car had sensors that could detect when the car collided with a human or animal. Simply whip the pop-ups down as soon as it senses it (like an airbag going off), and the unfortunate soul who just got hit by a car won't snag on them. It could be something similar to the way Rolls Royce has their hood ornament retract in a collision.

Unfortunately, developing something like this costs money. Lots of money. And with new headlight technology allowing carmakers to put their headlights pretty much wherever they want, it's unlikely any new car brands would be willing to spend the money needed to make this step. But there is still hope.

Part 7 - Oddballs

At this point you're probably weeping, as I've turned up a subject you wanted to forget. In order to fix this, here is a gallery of some of the weirdest and coolest pop-ups ever made. Enjoy!

That's all, I hope you aren't too sad about pop-ups. Go buy yourself a Miata.

Thanks for reading, be sure to leave a bump or comment your thoughts!

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Comments (11)

  • I love that pedestrian safety idea! Also, the Ares Panther is the last car to have pop-ups.

      26 days ago
  • POP UP & DOWN HEADLIGHTS - James Pumphrey , Donut Media

      25 days ago
  • Shame, I love pop ups, I still think they look brand new! Some disagree and say they look dated, hopefully someone will bring them back one day...

      26 days ago
    • With proper LED technology, they can look super modern!

        26 days ago
  • Amazing article great job!!!

      26 days ago
  • they should bring it back with modern technology.

      25 days ago
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