Our 10 favorite hidden headlights

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Modern car designers have it easy. They can sculpt jewel-like housings for their headlights and integrate them into the car’s bodylines almost seamlessly. Back in the days of sealed-beam headlamps, however, there were only so many options to choose from. And while many designers got creative, integrating the lamps into the car’s overall design, some of our favorite cars were available with headlights that were virtually invisible until needed.

We know, headlights go up, headlights go down. We love pop-up headlights too, but that’s for another discussion. Pop-up headlights are a form of hidden headlights, but we’re being completely arbitrary and defining those in this list as stationary headlights that are revealed when a panel opens up to reveal them. Here are 10 of our favorites.

1942 Desoto

Bring a Trailer

We didn’t dig deep enough to see if this was the first mass-produced instance of hidden headlights, but it very well could be. The rounded square panels that hide the DeSoto’s headlights give the front a lot of personality, even when closed, and help focus your attention on the toothy chrome grille.

1965 Buick Riviera

When the 1963 Buick Riviera debuted for 1963, it already looked like a concept car. It had gorgeous lines and impressive Nailhead powerplants, although the quad headlights were a bit busy. For 1965, Buick kept the striking sheet metal and cleaned up the front end by hiding the stacked headlamps behind the trim at the leading edge of the fender. The clamshell design is unique among cars on this list. Has there been a more beautiful Buick since?

1967–69 Camaro Rally Sport

1969 rs copo camaro convertible

The first-gen Camaro’s Rally Sport option came with several appearance modifications, including different backup lights. The most noticeable addition, however, was in the grille. A pair of vacuum-actuated doors hid the lights until they were turned on and the doors pivot inboard. The 1967 and ’68 models look similar, while the 1969 models used three horizontal bars over the headlight doors for a more dramatic look.

1967–68 Mercury Cougar

1967 Mercury Cougar

Mercury had interesting sequential turn signals in the rear of the Cougar, and the headlights didn’t disappoint either. Just like their Camaro rivals, Cougars used vacuum power to lift the covers off their headlights, this time revealing a pair of lights on each side.

1968–70 Dodge Charger

1968 Dodge Charger R T Hemi Mecum

The sleek, Coke-bottle styling of the 1968-1970 Dodge Charger doesn’t need a flashy grille to distract from its elegance. Its slim, full-width grille disguised four headlights, just like the Cougar, and the grille panels opened in a similar fashion. The previous generation Charger also high headlights behind its grille, but it’s this generation that really nailed the muscle car look.

1968–69 Pontiac GTO

1968 GTO Royal Pontiac

Another muscle car with quad headlights, the GTO’s vacuum-operated headlight doors dropped down to let the light shine. The hideaway lights were optional in 1968 and ’69.

1970–71 Ford Torino/Ranchero

1971 Torino Front 3-4 BJ

It seems like these muscle coupes and utes get overshadowed by the Ford Mustang, yet the stylish mid-sizers have plenty to love. Whether in coupe, Sportsroof, or Ranchero form, they all have great lines. As much as we love them with their headlights on full-time display, the hidden lights make them look that much more sinister.

1968 Ford Galaxie 500

1968 Ford Galaxie 500 Front 3-4 BJ

Another criminally overlooked full-size coupe from the muscle car era, the Galaxie 500 featured powerful V-8 engines and amazing looks.

Jaguar XJ220

Jaguar XJ220 front three-quarter
Silverstone Auctions

With its supercar lines and oval headlight covers, you’d be excused to think that the exotic Jaguar XJ220 features pop-up headlights. Instead, those covers drop down to reveal fixed headlamps in the fenders.

1969–75 Iso Grifo Series II

1973 Iso Grifo GL Series II
RM Sotheby's

The Iso Grifo, along with its Italian cohorts Alfa Romeo Montreal and Iso Revolta Lele, used partially hidden headlights with “eyelids” that lifted to reveal the full glow of the headlights beneath. Even though they’re only partially hidden, we love the look.

OK, we stopped at 10, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot more out there worth mentioning. Full-size Mopars, K-cars, perhaps some ’80s Japanese models with headlight eyelids like our beloved Iso Grifo. Sound off and list your favorite if we didn’t have room for it.

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    The ’65 Riviera lights cool looking and the clamshell design looked cool in operation.. The ’67 Riv also very clean. Your choices of Charger Ranchero Camaro are right on hankering me back to my Hot Wheels in ’67. I would add a ’37 Cord for striking early use of hideaways and Jaguar XKE while not hidden were beautifully integrated into the design. I didn’t like the first-gen 300zx and its squinty /drunk/hungover look. I have a soft spot for the Opel GT like my niece owned back in the day for the quirky operation of their headlights. They were manually operated without motors. You’d pull back this console mounted lever the size of a parking brake and the lights would flip over sideways with a satisfying ‘clunk’ . Flip the lever back and forth at stoplights for a headlight dance to startle and confuse pedestrians. Hidden lights need a comeback to put an end to headlight refinishing kits

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