HomeCar CultureEye candy: Headlamps

Eye candy: Headlamps


In Cars: 1886-1930, the first book in the encyclopedic three-volume Cars of the Century collection,  G.N. Georgano, automotive historian (and former schoolmaster and from 1976-81 the head librarian at the National Motor Museum of Britain), writes, “The only form of lighting available on the earliest cars was the candle lamp, inherited from the horse-drawn carriage.

“It was barely adequate to render the car or carriage visible by others,” he continues, adding in wonderful understatement, “but was quite useless as illumination to show the driver where he was going.”

By 1900, Georgano notes, acetylene headlamps were available. The gas to be  burned to produce illumination to light the way was produced by dripping water  onto calcium carbide, sometimes within the lamps, which by necessity became quite large, or, preferably, within a device mounted on one of the car’s running boards.

Though homes began to benefit from electric lights in the 1880s, they proved difficult to use on carriage or car, in part because of the problem of generating sufficient electricity and in part because early light bulbs couldn’t tolerate the vibrations of rough road surfaces.

General Motors engineer Charles Kettering’s invention of the self-starter (based on the electric motor he had used to power office adding machines in his previous job) has been well documented. But Georgano notes that not only did Cadillac replace the crank with self-starting technology for the 1912 model year, it coupled that innovation with electrical lighting systems for its cars.

Not only do headlamps light the way for a driver to travel at night, they serve as the eyes of what designers call the “face” of car.

In this latest edition of “Eye candy,” we take a close look at the eyes of some classic cars.



Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
  1. Can we get a list of the featured headlights I think I only missed two , I should know them all at my Age (50) !
    Now I’m scared , just realizing it !! Nice headlamps baby ! Ha ! ( & I didn’t get Smacked ,excellent !)

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