10 Reasonably Cheap Cars With Pop-Up Headlights

Pop-up headlights are awesome, so if that's a feature you desperately want on a cheap-ish car, what should you buy? Here are our suggestions
Porsche 924 with pop-up headlights extended
Porsche 924 with pop-up headlights extended

The landscape of used cars with pop-up headlights has evolved significantly over the years since we first pulled this post together. Many neglected models have succumbed to rust, transforming into parts for more modern vehicles. However, the surviving cars have attained a modern classic status, their value increasing due to their rarity and nostalgic appeal.

Nowadays, finding a reasonably priced, single-owner car with pop-up headlights isn't as easy as it once was. Your best bet is to scour enthusiast forums and auction sites to find the car you’re after with a known history and a realistic price.

These are our picks:

Mazda MX-5 (NA)

10 Reasonably Cheap Cars With Pop-Up Headlights

It’s a good job Mazda has made so many Miatas and MX-5s over the years, as scores have been killed off by terminal rot. The starting point for an NA MX-5 survivor is now about £3000 – a price that’s risen dramatically in the last couple of years – although you’ll need to pay a fair bit more for a really nice, original one that’ll last.

Be very careful to check for rust in problem areas like the sills and rear wheel arches, unless you want a car that spends weeks living in a garage being attacked by angle grinders. Once you’ve tracked down a good one, you’ll have an adorable sports car that’s fun, easy to drive and cheap to run.

Also, consider JDM versions, as they are often in better condition than UK-spec cars.

Porsche 924

10 Reasonably Cheap Cars With Pop-Up Headlights

In an ideal world, we’d advise you to buy a 944, but it’s a little late for that – prices have gotten out of hand. Naturally, that means 924s aren’t as affordable as they once were, but it is still possible to find one with the limp 125bhp VW-sourced four-pot for about £5000. Or less, if you want one as grotty as the example picked up by Car Throttle’s YouTube channel in 2023.

Want the S model with its proper Porsche-built, 163bhp, 2.5-litre engine? Be prepared to spend more like £10,000 depending on condition. Low mileage and special edition cars can see this figure double (as we write this there’s one on sale for £35,000), but the 924 is still one of the cheapest entry points to Porsche ownership.

Toyota MR2 (SW20)

10 Reasonably Cheap Cars With Pop-Up Headlights

When it comes to older MR2s with pop-ups, a tidy first-gen would be our preference, but good luck finding one for an affordable sum that isn’t a basket case. Values of the second-generation SW20 MR2 remain in non-silly territory, meanwhile, with the cheapest usable examples weighing in at about £3500, but act fast – they’re starting to go up.

The SW20s have a not-entirely-undeserved reputation for tricky handling on the limit, but so long as you drive smoothly to avoid any lift-off oversteer moments – and/or buy one of the friendlier later versions – you’ll get along with the Mister Two just fine.

Volvo 480

10 Reasonably Cheap Cars With Pop-Up Headlights

It won’t be that quick or particularly sporting to drive, but how can you not be tempted by an old Volvo 480? Not only are they achingly cool with the all-important pop-up headlights and that glass tailgate, they’re also still reasonably cheap.

Numbers are dwindling in the UK, however, with around 200 registered for the road at the time of writing. That’s pushing prices up, so you’ll need to budget upwards of £4000 to get a decent one with under 100,000 miles on the clock. Just be prepared to be looking for a while - a lot of owners are in it for the long haul.

Mazda 323F

10 Reasonably Cheap Cars With Pop-Up Headlights

We’re not going to pretend the Mazda 323F is fast. Or particularly exciting to drive. But, if you want a quirky, dirt-cheap runabout with pop-ups, you could do a lot worse. The price? As low as £2000. For that amount of money, you can forgive the fact it takes more than 10 seconds to hit 60mph from a standstill. Even with that headlight arrangement, the 323F doesn’t exactly scream as a car worth preserving, so there’s only a handful of them still kicking around.

Honda Prelude (third generation)

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Sure, the fourth-generation Honda Prelude might have that fancy digital dashboard and up to 190bhp, but it also has some of the most boring headlights we’ve ever seen. Its predecessor, however, doesn’t just have headlights – it also has a secret ‘feature’ where you can make the car look drunk by turning them on and off repeatedly (see above). Endless entertainment.

The remaining UK population is now scarce (you’re sensing a theme here, aren’t you?). While at one point the third-gen Prelude was unloved enough that £2000 should be enough to buy a usable one, prices are climbing rapidly. You’re looking at the best part of £5 for a good but high-mileage model, and north of £10,000 for a top-class one.

Ford Probe

Ford Probe
Ford Probe

For a long time, the second-gen Ford Probe was a bit of an automotive joke, but time and an ever-decreasing UK headcount mean the coupe is looked upon much more fondly these days. You get the pop-ups, of course, but there’s an additional treat sitting just behind them – a silky-smooth 2.5-litre Mazda KL V6. 

You can get these with a 16-valve inline-four, but you definitely want the bigger engine. Just be prepared for a long wait – at the time of writing, there were only a few hundred left on UK roads. A couple of grand will get you a serviceable model, but rarity now dictates that low-mileage, pristine models command around £15k.

Lotus Elan

10 Reasonably Cheap Cars With Pop-Up Headlights

The most affordable Lotus Lotus money can buy also happens to be one with pop-up headlights. The M100-generation Elan is also Hethel’s sole production front-wheel-drive vehicle, but don’t go thinking that means disappointment in the handling department.

These are properly sorted little sports cars, and for the size, Lotus’ engineers insisted a front-engined, FWD layout was the way to go. Power comes from an overhauled 1.6-litre turbocharged Isuzu engine producing just over 160bhp, which is plenty in a car that tips the scales at around a tonne. Prices look a bit sporadic – expect anything from £6000 to £20,000, depending on condition.

Chevrolet Corvette (C4)

10 Reasonably Cheap Cars With Pop-Up Headlights

If the thought of paying that much money and ending up with a car using an inline-four to propel the ‘wrong’ wheels, allow us to present an alternative. Yes, the C4 ‘Vette was never officially sold in the UK, but a decent number made it here via unofficial channels.

The C4 Corvette is about the size of a Porsche Cayman, lighter than you might expect, and yes, available with a range of V8s. Power levels were low to begin with, but Chevrolet soon fitted the 245bhp ‘L98’ V8 and eventually a 405bhp ‘LT5’. A 1986 example with the former sold at an online auction a couple of years ago for a mere £6000, but today you’ll be lucky to find one under £10k.

Pontiac Fiero

10 Reasonably Cheap Cars With Pop-Up Headlights

Another car to have gone up in people’s estimations over the years, the Pontiac Fiero deserves so much more than being one of the go-to platforms for shonky supercar replicas. The Iron Duke inline-four in the middle isn’t the most inspiring mill, but the Fiero is light thanks to the use of a reinforced composite plastic body which also means you won’t encounter any nasty rust issues.

Like the Corvette, these weren’t ever sold officially in the UK, but there are a handful of import models around. Tatty ones are under a grand if you can find them, but expect to pay at least £6k for one in reasonable nick.


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