See If You Can Figure Out How A '66 Buick Riviera Hides Its Headlights

Illustration for article titled See If You Can Figure Out How A '66 Buick Riviera Hides Its Headlights
Screenshot: Wikimedia Commons, YouTube

There’s a difference between pop-up headlights and hidden headlights. Pop-up headlights, like on some Miatas and Corvettes and Opel GTs and many other cars are more about the goal of not having to break a low nose and hoodline to accommodate headlamps; hidden headlights are more about the challenge of hiding the headlamps, just for the joy of it. American designers really went bonkers for these in the 1960s, and I think one of the most surprising light setups was on the 1966-1969 Buick Riviera. Let me show you why.

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When it comes to hidden headlights on American cars, there were two schools of thought: you could just cover the lights in some ornate way, but not really hide them; their location would still be apparent, but they’d have some fussy covers over them, like these mid ’70s Thunderbirds or the Mercury Marquis:

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Screenshot: Wikimedia Commons, YouTube

I mean, look at the Mercury on the left there; those headlights have padded, upholstered covers. They look like they’re off some heavy-ass ornate armoire you’ll have to move from your aunt’s house when she dies. It’s ridiculous.

More interesting is the other approach: really try to hide the headlights. Normally, this is accomplished with false grille panels, like on this 1966 Dodge Charger:

...and those are fine, I guess, but the false grille panels aren’t really fooling anyone, with those big panel gaps and all that. The indicators are nicely hidden, though.

To avoid obvious panel gaps, you could do what Oldsmobile did with their Toronado, and just move the whole damn grille up and out of the way:

I respect that commitment, sure, but it’s kind of a ham-fisted approach. Buick’s earlier 1963-1965 Rivieras had a really lovely system, with vertical stacked lights in their own housings on the leading edge of each side-pontoon:

Oh, man, that’s just fantastic. The clamshell/eyelid method of opening has such drama to it! I love it! Great as it is, though, they’re not exactly hidden in the way these others are; you know the lights are in those pods, and there’s not quite the mystery of where will they appear?

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Still wonderful, though.

Okay, let’s get back to our 1966 Riviera pal here. Where do you think the lights are hiding?

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Screenshot: Wikimedia Commons, YouTube

That grille doesn’t seem to have any obvious panels that would be large enough to hide headlights. Those light pods at the outer edges are the parking lamps/turn indicators, so they’re not in there. Does the whole grille flip up, like the Toronado? Hmm.

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Well, let’s see what’s going on here:

Oh damn! Look at that! They flip down, from above the grille, and end up hanging in front of the recessed grille! What a gleefully weird, unexpected solution! I love it!

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Hold on, I want to make an animated GIF of this:

Screenshot: Wikimedia Commons, YouTube
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Mmmmm, yeah, that’s the stuff right there.

(thanks, Tom!)

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

DISCUSSION

tahoe-guy
GMT800 Tahoe Guy

I realize that its more of a safety thing now than anything else (either the weirdo thing wasn’t safe, or making the car safe is so expensive now they can’t afford to put money into weirdo stuff and keep the price down), so there is no comic-book-esque supervillain to shake our fists at...

...but gotDAMN, I miss when cars used to drip with this kind of style. Mechanically these systems would be so much more reliable now than back then too. It seems like the best we can hope for now is classy and understated.