Dual Headlights

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In 1949, a wealthy client in Sicily commissioned Italian car design firm and coachbuilder Pininfarina to design a one-off sports car. Known as the Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS, the elegant coupe is believed to be the first automobile that adopted dual headlights. Photo by Ronnie Krabberød - Right On Magazine.
Styled by Ghia in Italy, Motor Trend's Bob D'Olivio described the 1953 Dodge Firearrow I concept car as "the most successful meeting of European and U.S. designs." Featuring dual headlights mounted underneath the front bumper, the sporty roadster made its debut at the Turin Auto Show in April of 1953. The sporty roadster was introduced to the American public at Chrysler's New York showroom later that year, and an estimated 38,000 people came to check it out. The response was massive, and in January of 1954, Chrysler president L.L. Colbert announced in Motor Trend that the Firearrow could now be purchased on a special order. Unfortunately, that never happened, but the desire for the car was there, and in 1956 people who had drooled over the Firearrow could buy a Dual Ghia instead. Photo courtesy of Chrysler Corporation.
in April of 1954, the Storm Z-250 made its debut at the Turin Auto Show in Italy. Winning the first prize for style and design, the Storm Z-250 concept car was built by Sports Car Development Corp., a company founded by Fred M. Zeder Jr., and Gene Casaroll. Fred was the son of well-known Chrysler profile Frederick M. Zeder, and the car incorporated as many Chrysler components as possible, including a Dodge Hemi engine. A complete chassis was shipped to Italy, where Bertone fabricated a body for the car. While Dodge had predicted a future where dual headlights were placed side by side, the Storm Z-250 introduced dual headlights that were stacked on top of each other. Photo courtesy of Michael Lamm.
An ad for Cadillac's concept cars for 1954. Both the El Camino and the La Espada featured quad headlights, and General Motors have often been credited for starting the four-headlight vogue.
George Barris started his career watching Northern California customizer Harry Westergard restyle cars in the late 1930s. With Westergard as his mentor, young George set out to restyle his first car in 1941. Like most other men in the trade, European sports cars and coachbuilt customs served as inspiration for Barris and Westergard in the 1940s. Photo courtesy of George Barris, from The Brad Masterson Photo Collection.
In California, George Barris realized that four headlight beams were considered futuristic, so sometime before March of 1956, he installed quad headlights on Martin and Morris Srabian's 1954 Ford F-100 truck. Seven years behind Pininfarina, he still beat Detroit production cars by almost a year, and Barris Kustoms is known as the first shop to install dual headlights on a custom. Known as the "Wild Kat," the Srabian Ford was, unfortunately, one of the lost cars in the Barris fire.
Frank Maratta was another early customizer experimenting with dual headlight conversions. Based on the East Coast of the US, Frank debuted a customized 1953 Buick Skylark with dual headlights at the 1956 Hartford Autorama. The show took place in February of 1956, and Frank's buddy John Bozio believes he completed the build late in 1955. A close race between the West Coast and the East Coast, and if Frank actually beat George to the finish line, we might have to rewrite the history books. Photo from The John Bozio Photo Collection.
Dual headlights - The 1960 look for 1957 Fords! An ad for a bolt-on dual headlight conversion kit for 1957 Fords from Motor Trend September 1957. Up to 400% more light!
In the September 1957 issue of Motor Trend Magazine, Joe H. Wherry looked into the crystal ball, trying to predict how the ‘58 cars would look when they hit the market. The predictions were based on rumors floating around Detroit, and Ron Simmons provided illustrations for the article. This drawing looks like a customized 1957 Ford. Canted quads are not mentioned in the predictions for the 1958 Lincolns in the story.
Wednesday, December 4, 1957, during a windy and wet early evening storm, a power line strung along the boundary at the back of the Barris Kustoms shop, sending a shower of sparks that started a smoldering fire. 14 cars were destroyed in the fire, and this photo shows the remains of Bobby "Chimbo" Yamazaki's ill-fated 1954 Mercury. The Merc was actually in the shop being upholstered by Roy Gilbert, and the front end had been restyled by Jay Johnston at his Jay's Custom Shop prior to that. Chimbo's Mercury is the earliest custom car with canted quads we have been able to trace. Depending on when the work was done, it might have been restyled before Ford Motor Company introduced its brand new 1958 Lincoln to the public. Chimbo was supposed to pick the car up the next day. That never happened. Photo by George Barris, from The Brad Masterson Collection.
Part custom, part hot rod, The Ala Kart was one of the few cars that survived when fourteen cars were lost in the tragic Barris fire on December 4, 1957. Luckily for owner Richard Peters, the car was parked in a separate room, and it was spared from the fire. The car made its debut at the National Roadster Show two months later, where it won its first America's Most Beautiful Roadster award. Photo by George Barris, from The Brad Masterson Collection.
Dean Jeffries' 1956 Porsche 356 Carrera of Lynwood, California. Dean bought the car in 1957, right after he had sold his 1947 Mercury Convertible. At the time, Jeffries was a talented custom painter and striper, and he was working out of the Barris Kustoms shop in Lynwood. As he wanted to expand his talents into customizing, he began restyling the Porsche at the Barris shop right after he got it. The brand-new car was gutted inside and out, and Dean stripped the paint off down to the bare metal. During the construction, the car was almost lost in the 1957 Barris shop fire.
Canted quad headlights became one of the most striking features of the completely redesigned 1958 Lincoln. Featuring a unit-body construction, it was the largest and heaviest post-war American car ever built. We haven't been able to find out when the 1958 Lincolns first were revealed to the public, but we have looked through all issues of Motor Trend for 1957, and the readers of that magazine weren't introduced to the brand new Lincoln before the December 1957 issue hit the newsstands.
Did Lincoln really introduce the canted quad headlight to the public? While canted quad headlights became one of the most striking features of the new 1958 Lincoln, they were old news in Italy. In 1952, Fiat introduced their legendary 8V coupe at the Geneva Salon. Designed by Luigi Rapi, Fiat supposedly produced 34 cars between 1953 and 1954, and the 1954 model featured canted quad headlights. Photo by Ronnie Krabberød - Right On Magazine.
The evolution of quad headlights begins with headlights that are placed next to each other. That evolved into stacked quads and canted quads. Canted quads are dual headlights positioned at an angle.
Bob Hagerty's 1931 Ford Model A Tudor Sedan of Wheaton, Maryland. Bob, who was a member of the Coach Masters of Wheaton, built the car himself. The build took two years, and it was completed in 1964. The car featured dual headlights. Bob's tudor was shown on the East Coast as "Jade East."
David Rolin's 1957 Ford of Sacramento, California. Dave's Ford was restyled by Dick Bertolucci of Bertolucci Body & Fender Shop and Harris' Body Shop between 1956 and 1958. Later on the same year, the car, named "Tormentor" received a paint job, pinstriping and eventually a scallop paint job by Dick Katayanagi of Katayanagi Custom Paint.
Jim and George Bernardo's 1948 GMC Pickup of Milford, Connecticut. Jim and George ran Bernardo Auto Body in Milford, and the truck acted as rolling advertisement and parts hauler for the shop. The build was completed around 1958 - 1959.
George Mizzi Jr.'s 1950 Mercury Convertible of Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Mizzi was a member of the Driving Deuces car club, and his Mercury was restyled at Monego's Body Shop. Named the "Purple Bug," the build was completed circa 1958 - 1959, featuring quad headlights.
Don Ellis' 1955 Ford Thunderbird of Portland, Oregon. Ellis was a member of the Ramblers of Portland car club, and the Thunderbird was restyled by several of the guys in the club. The build was started in 1958 and completed in 1959, featuring dual 1958 Chevrolet headlights.
Doug Osterman's 1957 DeSoto of San Jose, California. Doug's Desoto was first restyled by Flyer Tabata at Flyers Body Shop in 1959. This version was fit with quad headlights.
Jerry DeVito's 1957 Ford Fairlane of San Jose, California. The third version of Jerry's Ford, was completed in 1959, featuring quad headlights. Jerry was a member of the San Jose Rod and Wheelers car club.
Dan Hiramoto's 1941 Buick Century convertible of Cleveland, Ohio. Built by Dan and his brother Ken, the car went trough several iterations between 1951 and 1962. This photo shows the car as it appeared in 1961, after Dan had fit it with quad headlights.
Ron Volpe's 1957 Ford Convertible of La Salle, Illinois. Ron was a member of the Illinois Valley Mis-Fires. Between the years 1960 and 1963, he took the car through five different stages. This photo shows a mild iteration of the car as it appeared circa 1961. By then, the car had received quad headlights.
The matching front and rear grille openings were the most striking features of The Adonis. The front end featured quad headlights that Mike and Larry mounted in a canted manner. Tubular chromed grille bars were then made and fitted with plastic tubes at each end that extended over the headlights. Photo courtesy of Alex Walordy.
Vic Collins' 1955 Chevrolet truck of Rahway, New Jersey. Vic's truck is a clone of George Barris' 1955 Chevrolet truck, the Kopper Kart. Restyled by Customs by Flash and John Maurice, the build was started in 1999, and completed in 2008 featuring dual headlights, just like the original Kopper Kart.


Since the dawn of the automobile, the desire for individuality has been a motivation for customizing cars. It began with rich and famous people commissioning coachbuilders to create unique one-off designs. Back then, "Custom Jobs" were used to describe cars built from the ground up, while a "Restyled Job" defined a stock auto that somehow had been altered from the original design. George Barris started his career watching Northern California customizer Harry Westergard restyle cars in the late 1930s. With Westergard as his mentor, young George set out to restyle his first car in 1941. Like most other men in the trade, European sports cars and coachbuilt customs served as inspiration for Barris and Westergard in the 1940s. In 1951, after moving to Southern California and successfully establishing his own custom body shop, George decided to go to Europe to study automotive styling. Visiting Italy, Germany, and France, his primary purpose was to observe current styling trends and see what some European coachbuilders were up to.


The First Dual Headlights

Italy, especially Turin, seems to be a central place when it comes to the birth of the dual headlight. A couple of years before George Barris arrived in Europe, a wealthy client in Sicily commissioned Italian car design firm and coachbuilder Pininfarina to design a one-off sports car. Known as the Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS, the elegant coupe is believed to be the first automobile that adopted dual headlights. Inspiration for the build is said to have come from an Alfa Romeo cabriolet that Pininfarina had developed for Prince Aly Kahn, the husband of Hollywood actress Rita Hayworth.


Cars Featuring Dual Headlights

Bob Hagerty's 1931 Ford Model A Tudor Sedan - Jade East
Dan Hiramoto's 1941 Buick Century Convertible - Raven
Jim and George Bernardo's 1948 GMC Pickup
George Mizzi Jr.'s 1950 Mercury Convertible - The Purple Bug
Vic Collins' 1955 Chevrolet Truck - The Kopper Kart Klone
Don Ellis' 1955 Ford Thunderbird
Dean Jeffries' 1956 Porsche 356 Carrera
Doug Osterman's 1957 DeSoto
David Rolin's 1957 Ford - The Tormentor
Jerry DeVito's 1957 Ford Fairlane - The Maze
Ron Volpe's 1957 Ford Convertible - Red Robin II




 

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