A brief, incomplete and highly subjective history of pop-up and hidden headlamps.
Ever since the Cord 810 caused a sensation at the New York Motor Show in November 1935 with its staggeringly sleek and futuristic looks, pop-up headlamps have been subliminally associated with high performance, aerodynamic efficiency(1) and technical sophistication. It matters not that many of the cars on which they subsequently featured, for example the 1985 Honda Accord and 1989 Mazda 323F, were otherwise pretty humdrum devices.
Electricity is magic so I won’t explain the energy that brings the light but headlamps are a rather complex arrangement of lens and reflector. Until the advancement of computer modelling enabled engineers to design differing types of reflectors most headlamps before the 1970’s were fairly similar and simple. In essence they have a bulb which shines light onto a parabolic reflector and then through the lens into the area in front of the car. The parabolic reflector takes the light from the bulb and directs it parallel to the bulb’s axis in straight lines which means that the light is therefore organised (like a torch) and more useful than the scattered light of say a candle flame. The filament of the bulb will be positioned at the focus of the parabola making full use of the reflector to give the greatest light quantity. The parabola has makes all the light waves nice and straight and organised and the lens can do its work to direct the light. The reason why these early cars had round headlamps was that it is the resulting shape for a parabolic reflector. The ribs on these headlamps’ lens’ aren’t for your pleasure they are called flutes, and it is their job to direct the light into the required direction. Nominally downward away from an oncoming driver’s eyes and to the off driver’s side direction.
We’re not still sticking lights on the front of our cars, are we? Time for some fresh thinking perhaps.
Modern life isn’t necessarily rubbish, but on balance, it is somewhat disappointing. Not just the gnawing pointlessness of so much of it, but the nagging sense that the brave new world we were promised back in the 70s has decisively failed to materialise. Because laying aside for a moment the jet-scooters, orgasmatrons and robotised dogs we were all expecting to enjoy, there remain aspects of the motor car which really should have met the rendezvous with the eternal.
Once upon a time a trip to France from the UK was special. Not only did the cars look different but, at night, the roads came alive with lamps that were, uniquely, amber coloured. I admit that I enjoyed this. It gave French cars the same ‘interesting’ look that Jean-Luc Godard’s tinted glasses gave him. French cars were more intellectual.