I can’t think of a single modern car that uses pop-up headlights still, but that doesn’t mean the collective automotive lighting fetishistic community doesn’t long for them, every day. That’s why I’d like to take a moment to share with you the patent for pop-up headlights, filed for patent 83 years ago last month.

The patent itself actually dates from June 15, and that’s when our pals at the U.S. Patent & Trademark office tweeted about it and when they probably would have preferred I wrote about it, but, you know, things happen.

The patent shows H.T. Ames as the inventor. Ames was president of Duesenberg at the time, and the best decision he made was to hire designer Gordon Buehrig. Among other cars, Buehrig designed the legendary Cord 810 (later 812), the first car to feature pop-up lights. Really, it’s Buehrig who should be getting the ‘inventor’ credit here, but I suppose there’s some advantages to being the boss.


The design shown in the patent is actually a bit different than the final production model, which moved the light units to the front of the fender instead of the way they’re shown in the patent, on the inner sides of the fender, set at an angle.

The patent shows some great views of the hand-cranked mechanism used for the pop-up lights, in all their gleeful complexity.


On the Cord, there were no electric motors to get in the way of opening the lights; just your own hand’s torque providing the twisty-power to get those lights up, delivered through a nice, beefy knob on the dash:


The justification for the pop-up lights, since I guess you can’t just say ‘because they look cool’ on your patent, was described like this:

I also really like this wildly overcomplicated way of describing what headlights are:


“Thereto to project forwardly two beams or columns of light” is what every car should have inscribed on their headlight controls.

The idea of having the body panel on the flipside of the light unit, as has been used in so many pop-up headlight applications from the Miata to the Corvette to the Opel GT, originates here.


Now that headlights can be made to fit any aerodynamic shape you can imagine, and, as in the case of the recent Prius, some you should never imagine, pop-up lights are effectively obsolete.

They’re still fun, though.