QotW: Which JNC had the coolest pop-up headlights?


The pop-up headlight: automotive eyes personified, endearing relic, or just two additional unnecessary points-of-failure? Whatever you think of them, they defined an automotive era. I happen to reap a weird, endless joy from that delay between when you flick the switch and when they actually pop-up or retract.

Which JNC had the coolest pop-up headlights?

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What’s the greatest Japanese nostalgic hatchback?” 


We had strong contenders in this week’s comments, including Censport‘s reasoning for the Honda City hatchback, alvin‘s hilarious categorization of the Nissan Pulsar NX, but ultimately the award for most entertaining this week goes to Brett‘s tale of love lost:

Plymouth Arrow in Nth America; known as the Chrysler Lancer Hatchback in Australia.

I was 17 and drove a MK 1 Ford Escort (2 dr). My girlfriend, Helen, was stunning and suffered occasional lapses in judgement to maker her susceptible to my charms, which were always frustrated by the cramped and difficult interior of the Ford. I upgraded to the Lancer Hatchback, whereupon I had a much a better car, sufficient room to make Helen my own (although she dumped me not long afterwards) and I was left with a bunch of irreplaceable memories. In my fast approaching dotage, I love the Chrysler Lancer Hatchback ; Helen, not so much.

Omedetou, your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop!

JNC Decal smash

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29 Responses to QotW: Which JNC had the coolest pop-up headlights?

  1. Jon says:

    Dome Zero. How could those ridiculous looking lights NOT be the best?

  2. Banpei says:

    The pre-facelift Toyota Celica A60 had the best pop-up headlights!
    They don’t flip up with a 90 degrees back flip or 180 degrees like the Corvette, but they are laid back and visible like ordinary headlights and then flip 45 degrees forward. Theoretically you could light up the sky with them if your pop-up mechanism doesn’t work. 😉

    Visually I do prefer the facelift pop-up headlights as they have dark grey plastic covers that make the front more flush, but in terms of coolness the pre-facelift are way nicer in operation.

    To get an idea how they look/work:

  3. Mike McCarthy says:

    the mazda miata because…. the answer is always miata 🙂

  4. Byron Chiu says:

    As the owner of an 84 300ZX 2+2 Turbo, I testify that the 84-86 Z31 pop-up headlight assemblies were the coolest for these reasons:

    1. The Z31’s headlight assembly’s 4 moving sections (which in itself, also makes z31 pop-up headlights one of the most intricate) make a parallelogram. This allows the headlamps to always illuminate forward. Typical, more basic pop-up assemblies make light “roll out” onto the road, which is a slight hazard.

    2. Fog lamps were fitted into the 84-86 headlight assembly, separate from the low/high-beam lamp. Furthermore, besides the Piazza/Impulse or HB Cosmo, I have yet to know of a JNC with compound pop-up headlights.

    3. Surrounding bodywork contributes to the cool-factor of pop-up lights. All Z31’s had recessions on the nose in front of the headlights (less so for 87-89). This resulted in the “sleepy-eye” look, which I see as a neat 80’s take on S-body Z car’s recessed headlights. Other JNC’s who switched to completely hidden pop-up headlights essentially sacrifice this nostalgic styling touch.
    The recessions in the nose for the “sleepy-eye look” are also great surfaces to mount snacks, your tablet, or your small tools. They are also safety provisions so one can still illuminate some road ahead if the headlights cannot pop-up. Various kinds of headlight covers (clear, smoked, oooohhh body-matched!), including headlight louvers, can also be fitted to them. A Z31 with headlight covers, looking head-on, will look like a Ferrari F40–lights up or down! Because of the nose recessions, Z31’s also had the factory option for headlight washers.

    4. Non-USDM 84-86 Z31’s had 1-piece headlights instead of compound–regional diversity!

    5. Z-cars are life and the Z31 is the only Z-car with pop-up headlights.

    • Stuart Kayrooz says:

      Yeah Z31’s took a very nice approach to the styling of the front end, it’s hard to find a unique take on the pop up headlights. I’d love to say my AW11 is up there, but apart from being 80’s fantastic, the pop-up headlights are fairly generic. And the FD is the most timeless IMO, but sadly isn’t quite “distinguished” (ie. old) enough yet.

      However on your second point, I think you could add the NSX to that list – if by compound you mean incorporating dual lights into each headlight pod. Still a very short list of very nice cars though 🙂

  5. The Black CRX says:

    Of all the cars with pop-up lights, one stands out by being a family sedan: the third-generation (’86–’89) Honda Accord. Countless US luxury cars in the ’60s and ’70s had hidden their headlights behind doors and fake grilles, but those aren’t pop-ups. And lots of sports cars and sporty-ish cars had pop-ups in the ’80s, but that wasn’t all that unexpected in those market segments.

    Best of all, the Accord’s pop-ups were no mere sporty affectation. They made the most of the car’s now-legendary, racing-derived 4-wheel double-wishbone suspension. Together these two features resulted in its extremely low hoodline and cowl, along with exceptional handling for an affordable sedan (or hatchback, or coupe). Pop-up headlights never made any car illuminate the road better. They’re all about something else — aero and styling, usually. Among mainstream family cars, the 3G Accord was something else.

  6. Lupus says:

    As for me the best pop-up head lamps were those of Nissan Z31. When the parking/position lights are on, the whole lamp remains hidden, flush with the hood. And the light still glows from underneath them. Even when retracted do driving/long mode they still have very low profile and don’t affect the aerodynamics as much as most other pop-up’s.

    BTW. The coolest thing revolving the pop-up lams is a simple mod that allows to open only one lamp and create the impression of blinking with the car’s eye 😉

  7. Sleepin says:

    I will depart from my standard answer of Starion (even though those are cool) and go with the Toyota 2000GT pop up headlights. Very few are going to come close. With the headlights up, the 2000GT looks like a whole other car. There is no fancy fascia or anything. Just a body panel attached to a bulb and chrome ring.
    Granted, with the driving lights being so huge, the 2000GT was probably never designed to drive with the headlights up. If you happen to be lucky enough to see a 2000GT in a museum or a show, chances are that the headlights will not be up.

  8. Iwakuni91 says:

    I personally agree with the above two comments on the Z31, if for nothing else than it was factory sleepy eyed from the get go and actually got better looking with time. But 2nd place would go to any JNC that allowed you to flash your high beams with the pop-ups still tucked into their shell (I’m looking at you 3000GT and FC RX-7!).

  9. felix says:

    Lights on the SA22C it made the first gen look even cooler.
    (you could flash the headlights without raising them too)

    On the hatchback note, my first car at 17 was an Mk1 escort too (4 door)
    but the hatch on my next car (SA22C) was perfect for the girlfriend/s 😉

  10. Ed7_owner says:

    Why? Because on the zenki generation they had like this light bar that acted like an indicator, the kouki model replaced it to match the grill molding. Plus its one of the silvias that people dont really know about, however to those who do, props.

    • RonRonThePizzaGuy says:

      Yes!! A Fellow s12 enthusiast! I own the Mk 1 Hatch turbo model and it has exactly what you are talking about.

      Unlike most JDM 80’s era vehicles with pop up lights, an Mk I 200Sx S12 Nissan/Datsun had two indicator housings that would look like the car’s headlights. The lamps would remain hidden when running with your parking lights on which would further deceive people into thinking these were the car’s headlights. When you would finally twist the light switch into its final position, the lamps reveal themselves in all their glory making that fantastic mechanical noise as they propped themselves in their up right position.
      Comparing them to the two most iconic JDM cars that come to mind, AE86 and the Miata, these lamps suited the car proportionally. A Miata had those huge round lamps that would look like your girlfriend’s friend who plucked too much of her eyebrows off making her look like she was always surprised. The AE86 had a great appearance from the front, but when viewed from the side, the lamps looked like someone slapped two small Tv monitors on the car because of the sharp angle given to the lamp’s housing.
      The pop up headlights of the Mk I 200Sx had a perfect wedge shape that complemented the cars boxy rear. This same appearance would then be reproduced in the last of the Silvias with pop up lights, the 240Sx.

  11. Chunks says:

    It’s gonna have to be the AE86 GT-S and not the ’86 or 87 but the ’85. Not only do they look good up but with them being down, the bodywork looks so good with the black trim/grill. And I’m talking about the USDM stuff.

    • ish says:

      and when its popped up it almost has a fang on top, to be the lest pedestrian friendly design they could think of. the 85 has that perfect 80s look.

  12. Nikola323 says:

    1989-94 Mazda 323F BG/Astina/Eunos 100 (five door fastback coupe)

    • Byron Chiu says:

      Oooohh I like the smoked marker lights and the subtle, curved-in grille/slit between them! Bleepboopbleepblahp…the FUTUREE…

  13. Mazdax605 says:

    I’m a bit biased as I have owned so many early RX-7’s over the past 20 years or so. I really love the simple design that Mazda used on them. Mainly because I love round sealed beam headlamps, and that is what the RX-7’s have. I’m glad that Mazda didn’t use the fixed headlamp design they originally had planned. Yes they were still round lamps, but the hide away design is so much better looking.

    Semi funny story about my first RX-7 (an 83 LE some many years ago). I bought it on a whim with a friend of mine who also had an RX-7 at the time. I had always loved the RX-7’s from when I was kid even as it was my first ever car(hot wheels/matchbox). My friend found one a few towns away, and we went to look at it, and bought it an hour or so later for $800. It had a burnt out clutch, and didn’t run great, but somehow we got it home(illegally with attached plates from my truck mind you).

    A few days later I was cleaning it up some to get started on the repairs. While using a vacuum in the interior I accidentally sucked the switch to raise the headlamps for replacement out of the dash panel. In doing so all the small contacts, and springs were removed briskly. I pulled the vacuum apart, and found all the pieces. Put the switch back together as best as my 22 year old self could, and the switch worked perfectly or so I thought.

    My wife and I went out for dinner that evening, and came home a few hours later to what my wife considered at the time a possessed car. Pulling into the driveway revealed the headlamps on the RX-7 doing a sort of syncopated dance up and down, but not at the same time as each other. It seems that they probably started out in synch, but the battery was really weak now, and it was all it could do to operate one at a time. I quickly disconnected the battery, and removed my “repaired” switch. I decided that a trip to the salvage yard was in order to find a new switch. My wife was certain the car was possessed by the demons of the underworld, and wanted me to get rid of it. I’m glad I talked her down, and kept the car for many years later. Still miss that car, and all its quirks, but that day early in our relationship was an odd one for sure.

    So I vote for the demon possessed 1st generation RX-7 as having the coolest pop up head lamps.

  14. Fr3D says:

    Honda NSX, because they don’t stand ‘that’ upright and have a “lazy eyes” look to them.

  15. Cedu says:

    Im biased but… i think it should be the 86 Carorra. Cause when those pop up lights go down on the Touge, you know its on like donkey kong.

  16. cesariojpn says:

    It took one anime to make a certain pop up headlight cool. Initial D, Takumi Fujiwara, and the AE86. While it’s debatable if the tactic of putting down the headlights works in real life, this one single action is what makes the AE86 headlights cool. It was used as an effective weapon in a touge battle. And it worked.

  17. miatadon says:

    Has to be 1st gen Miata headlights. They look like frog’s eyes when up.

  18. Jason R says:

    What about the 1986-89 Honda Accord? How many other mid-size sedans were cool enough to have pop-up headlights? I’d still kill for a green or white ’89 LXi 4-door 5-speed!

  19. Evan M says:

    Without a doubt the RX7 FC. They look fantastic and when you consider the rotary engine they become two of the most reliable parts on the vehicle. That’s a win-win in my books.

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