September 1, 1941 – DeSoto introduces automatic hidden headlights

Since the inception of the automobile, engineers have been working to improve it, though they should have stopped after the Curved Dash. While some ideas floundered (automatic seat belts? Yuck), others we’re right on point and set the bar for years to come. One such innovation appeared on this day in 1941 when DeSoto launched its 1942 lineup featuring hidden headlights. While Cord can lay claim to being the first American car to use such a feature when it unveiled the 810 in November 1935, they were a bit cranky to use, literally. Each Cord headlight opened via a separate hand-crank, one on each side of the dashboard. DeSoto’s electrically operated pop-up headlights marked the first time an American automaker offered this automatic feature to the mass market. Named “Air Foil” lights, DeSoto marketed them as “Out of sight, except at night.”

A headlight design similar to that of the 1942 DeSotos first appeared on two Chrysler show cars from 1941, the Newport and the Thunderbolt. Unfortunately, World War II cut DeSoto’s run of its new feature short. When the assembly line transitioned to wartime efforts, only about 24,000 DeSotos had been built and hidden headlights disappeared (pun!) from DeSotos for good.

Above: 1937 Cord 812 with hidden headlights operated via handcrank. By Stephen Foskett CC BY-SA 3.0. Top: 1942 DeSoto Six Series. By Steve Brown, CC BY-SA 2.0.

The auto industry did not forget about the idea. Hidden headlights started popping up (pun, again!) on cars all over the world in the next few decades. Some of the vehicles to use the feature included the 1963-2004 Chevrolet Corvette, first generation Chevrolet Camaro, 1975-1984 Ferrari 308 GTB, 1984-1999 Toyota MR2 and this author’s favorite, the 1968-1973 Opel GT, which rolled open sideways via a manual lever.

Hidden Headlights Today

Hidden headlights are now stuck permanently closed due to US law, citing safety concerns. Instead, many automakers have opted for streamlined headlights to replicate the aerodynamics offered by hiding the bulbs. The 2004 Lotus Esprit and Corvette were the last cars to feature hidden headlights.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The best way to support This Day in Automotive History is to become a monthly subscriber on Facebook.

Subscriber benefits include:

  • Most importantly, you’re supporting great content about Automotive History
  • Early access to content on Facebook
  • Discounts on our store
  • Special live videos

If you learned something today, please buy me a beer!

No payment method connected. Contact seller.

Categories

This Day in Automotive History - the book!

This Day In Automotive History

By Brian Corey

This book tells fascinating tales, bringing individual days to life with short stories, photographs and illustrations.

This Day in Automotive History

This Day in Automotive History is a transportation history, car history and general automotive history website dedicated to providing informative and entertaining content.

We encourage you to share our page and connect with us on Facebook or sign up for our automotive history newsletter. If you’d like your car featured, reach out to us!

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER!

Connect with us on Facebook or sign up for our automotive history newsletter to keep in touch.

Love automotive history? Support this site!

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER!

Sign up for our automotive history newsletter to keep in touch.