1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long Term Road Test

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Bugeye

December 07, 2010

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Bugeye

Driving this car home at night, it's kind of a surprise to see the popup headlights floating there on the Miata's hood. When the Miata was first introduced for 1990, it was kind of a big deal to have popup headlights on such a small, affordable car.

Of course, you can see what the consequences might have been otherwise, as the Miata could have looked just like the 1958 Austin-Healey Sprite MK I, the famous Bugeye Sprite, of which 48,987 rolled out of the old MG plant before the more conventional Mk II appeared.

Popup headlights were introduced by Gordon Buehrig's Cord 810 in 1936, then Harley Earl copied them for his Buick Y-job concept car in 1938. The 1963 Corvette Stingray popularized popup headlights. Lotus also was an early adopter, and I remember a field of unsold Lotus Elite Type 75s at Lotus East in Millerton, New York, sadly winking with one headlight up and the other one down because their vaccuum-operated systems had leaked.

Plenty of cars had popup headlights during the 1980s, but as DOT regulations about headlight height and positioning relaxed, the design fell out of fashion. Only Corvette guys seemed to notice when the C6 ended the whole popup thing when it was introduced with conventional exposed headlights in 2005.

These days popup headlights just seem wacky, but it's kind of fun to see the Miata get all animated when it opens its eyes at night and becomes a tribute to another cheap yet incredibly influential sports car of long ago.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 127,165 miles

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