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Top of the pops: Does ‘cool’ factor of pop-up headlamps boost market value?

Words: John Mayhead | Illustrations: Hagerty

There once was a time when every serious sports car seemed to have one element of design in common: the pop-up headlamp. Flat-faced lights weren’t only passé, but they also interrupted the aerodynamically flowing lines of the wedge-shaped cars that hit our roads from the 1960s onwards. Lights that emerged at the touch of a button were cool – and they remain so, as my seven-year-old son will confirm.

Although concealed headlights were first placed on cars before World War Two, the 1937 Cord 812 was a rarity. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the pop-up er… popped up more often. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that the hidden light reached its zenith, with 39 percent of all hidden-headlamp models in the Hagerty Price Guide falling within this decade.

It was a feature associated with the most impressive cars of the era, with an average engine capacity of 3500cc compared with 2488cc of other ‘mortal’ cars. V-configuration engines thumped away under the bonnets of 62 percent of them. They were a feature of the very best cars in the world: Ferraris, Maseratis, Corvettes and De Tomasos, BMW with the M1 and 8 Series… Also, Lotus made the feature its calling card for more than three decades. If a ‘standard’ manufacturer wanted to make the headlines, then it too added a bit of pop: the Triumph TR7 and TR8, the Fiat X1/9, the Toyota Supra Mk3 and the ubiquitous Mazda MX-5.

The ‘pop-light roll call’ includes some of the biggest names in the business – Miura, Countach, NSX and F40 – but does desirability translate into value? Not necessarily.

The problem is, the ‘standard’ light group contains some real heavyweights, including the Ferrari 250 GTO and 250 SWB, and the McLaren F1. It contains all the Aston Martins, Jaguars, Mercedes-Benz and virtually every Porsche of value. Given that array, it’s actually quite impressive that the average Hagerty Price Guide value of an ‘excellent’ condition car with pop-up headlamps is £137,567, compared with £194,081 for everything else. But concealed lights have maintained their value – just – a little more than their normal counterparts, losing 2.4 percent of their value on average since 2022, compared with 3.3 percent of other cars in a market that is correcting after the post-Covid boom.

My forecast for these cars is good, though. The wedges and box-arches of the 1980s are all the rage at the moment, and these styles go hand-in-hand with the ’emerging’ headlamp. Will they continue to rise to the occasion? I think so.

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