Home » How Did I Not Know That Chevy’s Most Iconic Late ’60s/Early ’70s Cars Had Headlight Washers

How Did I Not Know That Chevy’s Most Iconic Late ’60s/Early ’70s Cars Had Headlight Washers

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Headlight washers are one of those automotive details that I feel like everyone finds at least a little delightful. I’m not sure why, and I’m certain it’s not rational, but for whatever reason seeing a car squirt fluid onto its headlight-eyes evokes a strange sense of satisfaction to many – perhaps most – people. I’ve covered little-known headlight washers on some iconic cars here before, so I guess that counts as precedent, and now here we are, trapped in this glorious, wet prison of our own making, talking about headlight washers. As most of our readers are aware, headlight washers were not a common thing on cars in America for decades. Now, they’re a bit more common, but back in the 1960s and 1970s it was really only cars for the Scandinavian market or wet-headlight fetish weirdos who had cars so equipped. I’m here to tell you that, despite everything you thought you knew, headlight washers were an available option on two of the most iconic and well-known Chevrolets of the last ’60s and early ’70s. Spread a dropcloth under your chair, beanbag, or, possibly atop your bearskin rug, because your mind is about to get blown.

What are these two iconic cars I’m talking about? Only the most obvious ones! The Corvette and Camaro.

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That’s right! GM offered headlight washers on almost no cars of this era, and yet, somehow, the C3 Corvette between 1969 and 1971 and Camaros for, it looks like just 1969, maybe half of 1970(?) could be optioned with headlight washer systems. Don’t believe me? You don’t have to, because brochures don’t lie!

Vette Brochure

Look at that! Right there, in the 1969 Corvette brochure, they’re telling you about how those pop-up headlights can be baptized with cleansing fluids, though it seems that only the outer low beam is targeted by those nozzles? Seems a bit rude, but who am I to judge?

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The Camaro’s brochure from the same year reveals the headlight-moistening secret, too:

Camaro Brochure

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Camaro or Corvette with headlight washers? Perhaps I’ve been too foolish and self-absorbed to look? And yet there they were, hiding in plain sight in those brochures. I really wanted to see these in action, but I was only able to find one video, though this one also does show the C3 Corvette’s amazing moving wiper-hiding panel, which is cool as hell:

 

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Man, look at that! It’s real! Look, here’s the nozzles:

Here

It appears that the headlight washer shared the same washer fluid resovoir as the windshield washer, and was actuated via a little solenoid that would open the valve to the headlights when the washer switch was held down a bit longer than normal. It seems cars so equipped came with a hang tag that explained the system’s operation:

Hangtag

So, hold the button three to five seconds for the headlight wash, and GM notes that you should pop those headlights up before doing this, most likely because otherwise the whole process would be hidden, and why would you want to deny the world the visual joy of watching headlights be spray-cleaned? Camaros with exposed headlights could be optioned with the washers too, but this was quite uncommon; only 116 cars were so ordered in 1969, for example.

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Why is this so fascinating to me? I’m not really sure, other than GM really only offered headlight washers on these cars, and they just seem like such improbably choices for them. My theory is that the Camaro and Corvette were actually GM’s more popular cars to export to Europe, being such unique expressions of American automotivity, and so they actually needed these headlight washers in some of those markets.

That’s my best guess. But even if I never know, that’s okay. I’m just happy knowing they exist.

 

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EricTheViking
EricTheViking
7 months ago

Not only Camaro and Corvette but Caprice, Chevelle, Impala, and Nova had them as well.

Inexplicably, the headlamp washers were available for 1969 model year only (except Corvette which had the option for 1970) and on aforementioned Chevrolet models only. No other GM brands had the headlamp washers option.

Weirdly enough, the 1970 Corvette brochure showed the headlamp washers, and the 1971 brochure showed the same photo of headlamps without headlamp washers.

And Sweden didn’t require the headlamp washers/wipers until 1972. Saab 99 was first car with headlamp wipers, introduced in 1970.

By the way, Bosch did experiment with taillamp wipers in the late 1960s.

Scott
Scott
7 months ago

I had a ’69 Stingray convertible a million years ago, and I don’t think I knew about the headlight washers (or was it an option?) I mean, I saw the tubes inside, but figured they were just vacuum to raise/lower the headlights.

While the car was parked outside my parent’s house, it was hit by an underage driver in their boyfriend’s mom’s full-size Buick taking a turn at twice the limit. Knocked my ‘vette about half a block down the street. All I have left of it now somewhere is the ‘Stingray’ script emblem, which I found on the ground among all the bits of fiberglass, etc…

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago
Reply to  Scott

RIP

Andrew Bugenis
Andrew Bugenis
7 months ago

That video shows a great solution for the pine needle issue as well.

Camp Fire
Camp Fire
7 months ago

Brochures don’t lie?

If you believe that, you might be interested in this bridge I’m selling…

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
7 months ago
Reply to  Camp Fire

Do you have a brochure for that bridge?

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
7 months ago

Absolutely hate the headlight washers in the south. Headlights don’t get snowy or dirty. All they do is spray schmutz all over the front and sides of the car. I need to figure out how to deactivate them with VCDS.

Mike B
Mike B
7 months ago

I was so happy when the ones on my Volvo stopped working. There wasn’t a separate control for them, whenever I hit the WW the headlights would fire too. I’d be so aggravated if I had recently washed the car. Sounds like you have the same problem.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago
Reply to  Mike B

Why not just disconnect the hoses?

Mike B
Mike B
7 months ago

Never got around to it. It was one of those things I never thought about till it happened, and of course at that point I was driving.

Delta 88
Delta 88
7 months ago

Anyone know if there’s a way to watch that video so the preview thing for the other video doesn’t show up and block what I’m trying to watch? Lol

Isis
Isis
7 months ago
Reply to  Delta 88

If you hit replay at the end it shows the vid w/o the ad the second time.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
7 months ago

GM never fails to surprise with ahead-of-their time ideas that made it into at least limited production, which were then forgotten until somebody else brings it out and it gets the “Why didn’t somebody think of that before?” reaction from the public.

Covered and pop-up headlights are kind of a conundrum particularly in winter. Since they’re closed and protected in the daylight, they don’t get filthy with dirt and road salt film. But then at night they’re opened up, the headlights get filthy, but they’re closed again when the car is parked and the driver doesn’t notice. So headlight washers make perfect sense especially for concealed headlights because it’s easier to miss that they’ve gotten covered with muck and should be wiped off for safety.

Winter driving conditions were why the Scandinavian countries adopted headlight cleaning system as well; anybody who’s dealt with winter in the snowy northern latitudes can appreciate them. No doubt somebody at GM had gotten sick and tired of cleaning off headlights in miserable Detroit winters, too.

Barry Allen
Barry Allen
7 months ago

There was also an option for a “fiber optic” headlight indicator, but I’ve never seen one installed.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
7 months ago
Reply to  Barry Allen

That would have been a derivative (if not possibly a straight grab from the parts-bin) implementation of the little indicator blisters on the front fenders of Cadillacs that had been introduced some years earlier. Fiber optic bundles ran from strategic locations behind the headlights and the turn signals to little raised pods atop the forward ends of the front fenders, within the driver’s line-of-sight. The back of each pod was divided into three sections, with a lens behind each section to magnify the point of light picked up by the optical fibers. The turn signal and high-beam lenses were colored amber and blue, respectively; the headlight indicator was left uncolored to transmit the white light of the headlight. (They were generally only available on cars with four-headlight configurations to allow the separate monitor for low and high beams, although if there was ever a two-headlight version, the blue indicator would have to be absent.)

They were a cleverly simple device, and enhanced safety in two ways — they acted as heads-up visual reminders of turn signals on, and they also indicated if any headlight or turn signal bulb was out. Since they were actually passively illuminated by the bulbs themselves, a dead bulb resulted in its corresponding indicator remaining dark.

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
7 months ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

I remember my dads Coupe Deville had them on the headliner above the rear window too, so you could see if your blinker was on in the rearview. I don’t think those were fiber optic, but they were still cool.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
7 months ago

My great-aunt had a ’77 Coupe Deville with those, too. (And the by then, traditional front fiber-optic monitors, of course.) I’m pretty sure the taillight monitors used LEDs wired in series with the taillight bulbs — so a bulb went out, the circuit was interrupted and the LED wouldn’t light. They came on with the taillights, brightened with the brake lights, and flashed with the turn signals, too.

Eleven-year-old me thought they were pretty cool. 😀

A lot of GM’s old flagship cars had a wonderful “The future, but here and now!” vibe and level of technology. Looking back, much of it was just plain clever engineering. What mattered was that they let the engineers come up with stuff and then actually built it. The cost and potentially lower profit margin per-car was worth it in terms of marketing value and owner satisfaction. (Which was also a good marketing value…)

Unless you were alive during that era of auto industry management, I think it’s hard to describe or fully understand the shift in thinking at the top and what it’s done to cars. But to me, it’s why so many modern cars are barely more than transportation appliances, while ones from earlier eras so often seem like much more interesting machines with style and character.

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
7 months ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

These repeaters were found on a bunch of models. My dad’s ’67 Chrysler Newport has fender repeaters, but I believe they use their own bulbs rather than a fiber optic arrangement.

Barry Allen
Barry Allen
7 months ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

I remember seeing those pods, but I’d always assumed they were repeater lights, not actually fiber optics. TIL!

Chronometric
Chronometric
7 months ago
Reply to  Barry Allen

My friend’s ’69 C3 has the light verification system. Fiber optic strands from each light in the car are routed to little windows on the console so you can confirm that the lights are actually illuminating. They are pretty dim on his 50 year old car but they do work.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
7 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

I wonder if it’s possible to disconnect the fiber optic holder at the lights, or get in from the front side of the headlight buckets/turn signal reflectors, and clean and polish the collector lenses with a q-tip or similar. They’re just a passive light transmitter, so cleaning decades of the dust and road grime that inevitably accumulates in the nooks and crannies of cars might bring them back.

Chronometric
Chronometric
7 months ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

He is an engineer so I am sure he has thought of that. But he is an engineer so I am not sure if he has decided to do it!

Ben
Ben
7 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

An engineer, you say? I expect he’s already designed a fiber optic cleaning mechanism similar to the headlight one. 😉

Barry Allen
Barry Allen
7 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Thanks! I guess they must go in the center gauge/radio stack somewhere? There’s not a lot of room directly in front of the driver in one of those

Chronometric
Chronometric
7 months ago
Reply to  Barry Allen

If I recall, the indicators are little circular windows on the floor shifter console.

Matthew Binns
Matthew Binns
7 months ago

Wipers…wipers are the thing, just squirting water and soap onto your lenses will work as well as…well just try it on your windscreen with the wiper up or removed. I had a Saab 900 with wash/wipe and only one side would wipe. After 30 mins on a slightly wet salty road it was easy to tell who could wipe their arse-lens and who was leaving a salty skid mark.

R53forfun
R53forfun
7 months ago

Torch, the C3 Corvette also has a sweet solution for that pine needles all over (and under) your wipers issue too! What can this vehicle not do?!

Ron
Ron
7 months ago
Reply to  R53forfun

You live in North Carolina too?

R53forfun
R53forfun
7 months ago
Reply to  Ron

No, I was just referring to Torch’s article from earlier this week about his wife’s Tiguan … and watching an earlier but if the video he linked to. My issues in Minnesota are different 🙂

Chronometric
Chronometric
7 months ago
Reply to  R53forfun

What it can’t do – prevent vacuum leaks!

R53forfun
R53forfun
7 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Touche

Pancakeman!
Pancakeman!
7 months ago

First you had an obsession with taillights, now you’re on to headlights. You were the original car booty patrol guy but now it’s chest. California has really changed you.

(But we love all of it… that’s why we’re members!)

Slirt
Slirt
7 months ago
Reply to  Pancakeman!

it’s David in Cali, Jason’s still in NC…

Jonee Eisen
Jonee Eisen
7 months ago
Reply to  Slirt

But Jason used to live in Cali and you can take the nut out of California…

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
7 months ago

Real men lock down the accelerator with a brick, bungee the steering wheel in place, then crawl out on the hood and polish filthy headlights with a soggy beer coaster.

Kevin B
Kevin B
7 months ago

Can you allow us to click on the images to let us see a bigger image? You know, like other websites?

Chronometric
Chronometric
7 months ago
Reply to  Kevin B

You can right click and open in another browser tab which allows you to zoom. Not ideal but it works.

Last edited 7 months ago by Chronometric
Sklooner
Sklooner
7 months ago

I worked in an import repair shop in the 80s and 90s and we ended up with a Corvette as a trade in. The thing had been left on a farm and mouse infested, we stripped the interior, replaced the seats, pressure washed the entire heating box and painted the inside to no avail, finally got it done with an ozone machine. Back on track the windshield washer tank was broken and there was no way to get the new one in, I broke two of them and talked to a specialty shop who said that they pulled the engine, I went and got the soft bag from a Fiat Spider and mounted it inside the fender, job done

DriveSheSaid
DriveSheSaid
7 months ago

You didn’t vette this all that well!

A. Barth
A. Barth
7 months ago

It’s interesting: the hang tag describes in detail the stuff that goes into the washer reservoir, but the brochure simply refers to it as “water”.

Mr. Frick
Mr. Frick
7 months ago

Now I want Optikleen eyedrops.

Data
Data
7 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Frick

WARNING: In case of eye contact, flush with water for 15 minutes. If irritation persists or vision worsens, seek medical attention immediately. Do not ingest.

SubieSubieDoo
SubieSubieDoo
7 months ago

Torch – please don’t ever stop being…well…you.

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