The first lamps on cars were usual “kerosene lamps”, and it is not quite right to call them headlights – rather they were parking lights, because they shone very dimly. The revolution happened in the mid 1880s, when locomotives began to use acetylene floodlights. The famous aircraft designer Louis Blériot suggested installing similar lighting devices on automobiles as well.
The first electric headlight for cars in 1898 was created by the Electric Vehicle Company of Hartford (Connecticut), which produced electric cars. But the solution proved to be not very popular even on the cars of this brand (pictured), not to mention third-party manufacturers. The filament in the headlights burned out too quickly, especially when it was bad weather outside.
It was not until 1912 that Cadillac, which at the time often indulged in innovation, introduced its electric headlights, which were part of the Delco electric system.
The history of this solution is quite long. The headlamp swivel mechanism first appeared on the Tatra T77a in 1935, which had a single headlamp moving in the center of the car. In the U.S., the pioneer of this solution in 1948 was the Tucker Torpedo Sedan with a similar arrangement of lighting equipment (on photo), and the turning mechanism received a relative mass popularity with the appearance of Citroen DS in 1964. And in the case of Frenchman, it was not a single spotlight in the center.
The World War II has affected the pace of development of the automobile industry, so the serious changes in terms of lighting have happened later, in the 50’s. The French company Cibie, whose fog lights were very popular even in the USSR, introduced headlights with an asymmetric beam of light shifted to the side of the road. This way the main problem – dazzling drivers of oncoming cars – was solved. Since 1957 asymmetric light has been standard for the production of new cars in Europe.
The first non-circular headlights were in pre-war America, on Plymouth cars, but there was still a round reflector behind the rectangular diffuser. Well, full-fledged rectangular headlights appeared in the early ’60s, and the Frenchmen from Citroen were among the first who used it, as you can see on the model Ami of 1961.
An important step, the echoes of which can still be found on cars today, was made in 1962 – Hella introduced halogen headlights to the world. The filament of the bulb was surrounded by halogenides that prevented the rapid evaporation of tungsten. The result was not only a longer life for headlights, but also less heat and smaller dimensions. But the age of incandescent bulbs was inevitably coming to an end.
The first nail in the coffin of halogens was hammered by the same company Hella, which in 1991 provided gas discharge (xenon) headlights for BMW 750iL. In traditional xenon headlights the gas itself glows, which gives a bright white light close to the natural daylight – these lamps are more economical and durable than halogen. However, if the regular bulb of an incandescent bulb is also filled with xenon, you still get a more effective glow compared to halogen. This option is popular as a tuning, but it requires mandatory adjustment and adaptation of the reflector.
A type of headlight that is rapidly gaining popularity today. LEDs began to appear on cars in the early 90s. Mainly as a brake light. In the headlights, they came in 1993, but had little success – the technology was expensive and “raw. The second wave of popularity began in the early 2000s – a pair of LEDs and fiber-optic rings created the famous “angel eyes,” which first appeared on the “Five” BMW in 2001.
The first car whose headlights were fully LED was Lexus’s hybrid flagship, the LS600h (pictured). The car was presented in May 2007. In the same year, but in autumn, was shown the model Audi R8, whose headlights were also fully LED. Later came the so-called matrix LED headlights (again, thanks to Audi), the electronic control unit of which can turn on and off sections in any combination, illuminating the curb, without blinding oncoming traffic and so on.
The most advanced technology is “laser” headlights, which have just begun to enter our lives. In such headlights the light source is not the laser itself – the beam is just directed to the phosphor strip, the reflected light is displayed on the road through the optics.
Laser headlights have been on the market since 2014. The BMW i8 and Audi R8 LMX (previous photo) competed for the title of the first production car with laser headlights, but the Bavarians won this unspoken competition. Now the most modern lighting equipment can also be found on the BMW Seven.