Depending on the design, the headlamps may be mounted in a housing that rotates so as to sit flush with the front end as on the Porsche 928, may retract into the hood and/or fenders as on the 1963–2004 Chevrolet Corvette, or may be concealed behind retractable or rotating grille panels as on the Dodge Charger, Mercury Comet, or the 1960s Buick Riviera, which pioneered the feature.
Hidden headlamps first appeared simultaneosly on the Alfa Romeo 8C 2900A Pininfarina Berlinetta, car displayed at the Museè National de l'Automobile in Mulhouse, and on the Cord 810 in 1936. Each unit had a crank on its side of the dashboard, which was turned by hand to bring out the headlamps when needed. Electric powered hidden headlamps were pioneered in GM's concept car in 1938, the Buick Y-Job and first appeared in a production car on Chrysler Corporation's 1942 DeSoto.
The feature's popularity has waxed and waned over time. Hidden headlamps regained popularity in the mid-to-late 1960s, in Europe but particularly in the US where aerodynamic headlamps were not permitted. A relatively large variety of cars incorporated hidden headlamps in the 1970s, 1980s, and up to the early 1990s. Subsequent strict legislation led to hidden headlamps becoming increasingly out of favor.
For a long time numerous manufacturers used hidden headlamps to get around the headlight height regulation in the United States, for instance Toyota exported their retractable headlight version of the AE86, known domestically as the Sprinter Trueno in favour of their Corolla Levin as the former had higher headlamp height, enough to satisfy US regulations rather than raise body height which affected handling.
US laws now permit aerodynamic headlamps, relative to which hidden headlamps represent added cost, weight, and complexity as well as reliability concerns as cars age. Internationalized ECE auto safety regulations have also recently incorporated pedestrian-protection provisions restricting protuberances from car bodies, making it more difficult and expensive to design compliant pop-up headlamps.