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History Weren't 4 headlights a federal mandate in 58?

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Frank, Dec 1, 2021.

  1. Frank
    Joined: Jul 30, 2004
    Posts: 2,325


    I was just thinking the other day, I thought I read somewhere that all US cars at least, went to 4 headlights due to some federal safety mandate? If so, when did it relax? I am guessing it didn't apply to imports?
    Adriatic Machine and Deuces like this.
  2. Jeff Norwell
    Joined: Aug 20, 2003
    Posts: 13,868

    Jeff Norwell
    Staff Member

    I believe you are correct.....
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  3. Truckedup
    Joined: Jul 25, 2006
    Posts: 4,427


    1960 Falcon had two headlights, 1958 VW had two headlights as did many imported cars...
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2021
    egads and Deuces like this.
  4. Anderson
    Joined: Jan 27, 2003
    Posts: 6,820


    dan c, Stogy, flynbrian48 and 11 others like this.

  5. KevKo
    Joined: Jun 25, 2009
    Posts: 763

    from Motown

    Not a mandate, just a choice from the manufacturers to have the latest style. Not sure if the auto companies or Sylvania et al, but someone had to lobby the government to allow the change. Same thing happened in the '70's with the square lights, and again later with the smooth aero lights of today.
  6. oldiron 440
    Joined: Dec 12, 2018
    Posts: 2,822

    oldiron 440

    I think it was the Feds that finally allowed the four headlamps in 58.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2021
  7. jnaki
    Joined: Jan 1, 2015
    Posts: 6,852



    Chevy had quad headlights in 1958 on factory cars like the Impala/Biscayne.

    The whole quad headlights scheme seemed to stay with our Chevrolet models including the El Camino in 1964-65. Which made the models look well rounded and had the base for additional brighter headlights for high beam usage built in. (although, the 3rd and 4th lights were not legal if you changed the bulbs.)
    Then the El Camino line continued with quad headlights until 1971, when those huge single headlights came on the scene.

    My wife and I bought a 72 El Camino when the necessity for A/C was brought into play. It got terrible gas mileage, though. We still preferred the 1965 red El Camino for style and looks, but at the time, did not want A/C as it robbed valuable HP from the 327.

    As far as headlights, the quad headlights were preferable to the large single units. It just looked more stylish and despite being illegal, if one replaced the inner bulbs with high intensity bulbs, it lit up the pitch black desert roads like daylight during our forays out 100 miles deep. (and dark Baja Mexico highways and dark dirt roads to the surf spots…) No external bolt on accessory lights were necessary. YRMV

    “Separate low and high beam lamps eliminated the need for compromise in lens design and filament positioning required in a single unit. Other cars followed suit when all states permitted the new lamps by the time the 1958 models were brought to market. The four-lamp system permitted more design flexibility and improved low and high beam performance.”

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  8. F-ONE
    Joined: Mar 27, 2008
    Posts: 3,092

    from Alabama

    It was a style thing....
    4 headlights were planned for 1957 but there were some states, (I believe in the Midwest) where 4 headlights would technically be illegal. The 1957 Ford was supposed to have 4 headlights. By the 1958 Model year all this was worked out.
    hrm2k, egads and lothiandon1940 like this.
  9. squirrel
    Joined: Sep 23, 2004
    Posts: 50,927


    A few cars had 4 in 57 in some states, too, just to mess with your car spotting ability.
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  10. 1971BB427
    Joined: Mar 6, 2010
    Posts: 7,264

    from Oregon

    My '63 Falcon had two headlights, and pretty sure that stayed the same for them clear through 1969.
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  11. The 1958 Rambler American only had 2 headlights. HRP

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  12. Squablow
    Joined: Apr 26, 2005
    Posts: 15,868


    Chrysler, DeSoto, and Imperial all offered either 2 or 4 headlights in 1957, as did Mercury. I believe it was legalized in all 50 states by 1958 to have 4 headlights but not mandatory. But seeing as that was the style of the time, most new American cars got them, and of course some aftermarket company figured out some kits to adapt them to earlier models.
  13. 55blacktie
    Joined: Aug 21, 2020
    Posts: 682


    It was all about style. I think Chrysler was the first, going to quad lights in 57; others followed in 58. For the most part, I prefer 2.
  14. Bandit Billy
    Joined: Sep 16, 2014
    Posts: 8,713

    Bandit Billy

    I believe the change to four headlights came at the birth of the custom car movement as it was difficult to tell if the headlights were canted when there was only two of them. :cool:
  15. It wasn't just a style thing, going to four lights allowed the designers to improve the lamp optics on the high beams for better performance. Far fewer compromises in the lens design had to be made. When Jaguar came out with the XJS in '75, they were fitted with 'aero' one-piece Cibie lights for styling except in the US where those weren't legal; the US models got 'conventional' four light set-ups. Those became popular overseas as replacements for the Cibies first because of lower replacement cost but they also discovered they worked better. And it may surprise most to know that the OEM high-beam wattage was actually reduced from the typical 7" light 50 or 55 watts down to 35 watts per lamp and they still got better lighting performance.

    They were intended for a '57 introduction but because of legality issues in a handful of states most manufacturers pulled back. Chrysler made the biggest move, offering them on the Imperial, Chrysler and DeSoto lines but sold two-light versions in states where the four lights weren't legal. The Dodge and Plymouth lines got faux quads with oversize turn lights mimicking the high beams. Ford limited theirs to the high-end Mercurys, but like Chrysler offered two light versions where needed. Lincoln added 'driving/fog' lights to their models for a 'quad look'. GM only offered one model, the high-end Caddy Eldorado Brougham but didn't offer a two-light version.

    The Federal government got involved due to intense lobbying from the manufacturers. Citing safety improvements, the Feds formerly legalized them, in effect overriding the various state regulations. The rest is history....
  16. Zax
    Joined: May 21, 2017
    Posts: 338

    1. 1952-59 Ford Social Group

    I always heard it was made a requirement for any government vehicles to have four headlights starting in 1958. That meant if any vehicle manufacturer wanted to sell cars to the government they had to comply. Being that government contracts were very lucrative almost every manufacturer started using four headlights in their design.
  17. Frank
    Joined: Jul 30, 2004
    Posts: 2,325


    A very interesting and insightful discussion!
  18. squirrel
    Joined: Sep 23, 2004
    Posts: 50,927


    yes, it does shed some light on the situation.
    Joined: Jun 3, 2005
    Posts: 8,587


    Stogy likes this.
  20. lippy
    Joined: Sep 27, 2006
    Posts: 6,110

    from Ks

    And an element of excitement. :D
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  21. rockable
    Joined: Dec 21, 2009
    Posts: 3,790


    I can't think of any sports cars that had 4 headlights, but there probably is one oddball. Porsches, for sure, never had 4 through at least the 80's and there were a bunch of them sold in the U.S.
  22. squirrel
    Joined: Sep 23, 2004
    Posts: 50,927


    I guess corvettes don't count as sports cars?
  23. rockable
    Joined: Dec 21, 2009
    Posts: 3,790


    Ok. I did say there could be an oddball. :D

    I was thinking foreign.
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  24. squirrel
    Joined: Sep 23, 2004
    Posts: 50,927


    yeah, they were usually pretty far behind US styling trends....
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  25. That had more to do with the different lighting standard requirements than styling considerations. Only in the US/NA were 'sealed beam' lamps required, Europe and most of the rest of the world never formally adopted those. Some of those cars had much different headlights if designed for non-US sales. It also depended on where the manufacturer determined their market was. If the US was a large enough percentage of their total sales, they designed around those requirements, but the actual lamps fitted in their home markets could be different.

    The US was slow to upgrade their lighting standards. In the late '70s they started allowing halogen lamps, but still as a 'sealed beam' unit. It wasn't until '83 that the 'sealed' requirement went away here. The US has since brought their requirements more in line with 'world' standards but there's still some differences that affect OEM manufacturers.
    rockable likes this.
  26. Jessie J.
    Joined: Oct 28, 2004
    Posts: 402

    Jessie J.

    Studebaker offered 4 headlights in '58, then returned to only 2 on the '59 and '60 Lark's. 1961 through '64 they gave a choice of either 2 or 4 head lights, but '62 Lark's were only available with 4. It was back to only 2 headlights for their final year in 1966.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2021
  27. I'm not sure about the '58 quad lights but for sure in the mid-60s the outboard pair of headlights had dual-element, high and low beams, and the inboard pair were high only. I knew more than one character who eliminated the inboard pair to run dual "cold-air" ducting into the air cleaner. They would say, "I still have high beams so why not?"
    This was in the suburbs so high beams were rarely needed. I can't say if or how much the "high" performance was curtailed, but the guys I knew were okay with the tradeoff.
  28. Johnny Gee
    Joined: Dec 3, 2009
    Posts: 9,811

    Johnny Gee
    from Downey, Ca

    Was to be the New 1957 Chevrolet.
  29. ramblin dan
    Joined: Apr 16, 2018
    Posts: 2,899

    ramblin dan

    My 58 Rambler has duel lights. 613.jpg But there was also a single light option. 59 rambler.jpg gn08-58ram1.jpg
  30. dan c
    Joined: Jan 30, 2012
    Posts: 2,345

    dan c

    i think that was a state-by-state thing. i've been watching "perry mason," and his '57 caddy has quad lights.

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