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Relaxed behind the wheel of my beloved classic car we cruise along twisty backroads through a postcard scenery. The sun is shining and life is good – almost perfect. Only, it is getting somewhat stuffy in here. But I bought a fixed-head classic for a reason – I just couldn’t be bothered with all the buffeting right now… Ah, the quarterlights of course! I reach across and easily swivel the little triangular window ajar. No wind noise and no buffet whatsoever; just a light and pleasant breeze of fresh air into the cabin. Just enough for a little added ventilation and to let in all those lovely summer scents from the world passing by outside. Now life is perfect.

Sometimes even the smallest and simplest of design features can make all the difference. The opening quarterlight is in my opinion one of them. It’s almost laughable just how simple it is. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not clever nor functional. I use the quarterlights on my classics a lot. The effect that a slightly open quarterlight window has on the interior environment is hugely pleasing. On a hot and sunny day, that fresh breeze of air is a godsent. And if it’s cold outside and the old heater matrix is working at full blast, I always direct all that hot air at my feet and then leave one quarterlight just ever so slightly angled to let a little crisp, cold air reach my nostrils. It really is a fabulous design feature. In fact, even just the mechanical action of swivelling open a quarterlight always puts a smile on my face.

Up through the fifties, sixties and well into the seventies it was common for many – if not most – cars to have the small triangular quarterlight windows which could be angled open to let in fresh air. Some more luxurious cars with focus on rear seat comfort even had similar quarterlights in the rear doors too – such as the Jaguar Mk.II and the Rover P5 Coupé. This left four people with the many joys of opening quarterlights rather than just the front seat occupants.

Opening quarterlights both front and rear in Jaguar Mk.II

Delicate latches for the rear quarterlights on the Rover P5 Coupé.

Of course, if one were of a more sceptical mind frame, it could be argued that these quarterlights only existed due to the poor ventilation systems which most cars had back then. As these were improved upon with fresh air vents ducted through the dashboard becoming the norm, there was less need for the quarterlights. With the introduction of the fully automated climate control, they became entirely obsolete. As the seventies brought on a trend for simpler, cleaner and unadorned designs, there was also a push from this front to kill off the quarterlights as many designers felt they cluttered the lines of their creations. There were even complaints from insurance companies that the quarterlights were too easy to force open from the outside, leaving it a simple task for car thieves to get access to your prized car.

But all of this doesn’t matter the least to me. I love my quarterlights! I enjoy using them regularly on my BMW 02’s just like I used to do on my Triumph 2.5PI mk.I and my Sunbeam Imp Sport. And to be honest, I miss them when I drive my Reliant Scimitar GTE. The earlier Scimitar SE5 had them, but very much in line with the rest of the motoring industry, they disappeared when the SE6 was introduced in 1975. Hmmm… would I be insane to swap my SE6 for a SE5 merely to achieve having quarterlights in my daily car as well?

No ventilation quarterlights for my Scimitar SE6a.

Dear ViaRETRO reader, do you share my affections for the swivelling quarterlight windows, or am I just being overly nostalgic and silly now? Or is it perhaps another entirely simple and functional design feature which you prize so dearly on your classic car? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below…


10 Responses

  1. yrhmblhst

    No, you are correct; vent windows / quarterlights are indeed marvellous contraptions. Even at the tender age of 8 , I bemoaned their loss when Chevrolet introduced “Astro Ventilation” and dropped independently opening vent windows. [among other things I complained about in 68…]
    Not sure I would get rid of my Reliant JUST to gain wing windows, but i understand where youre coming from. Regrettably, none of my cars have them, but my Jeep does. Oddly enough, there APPEARS to be a vent window in the front door[s], but its stationary. :( However, there was a very rare option of an opening vent window in the quarter glass on 2 door XJs. Mine did not have it originally, but many years ago I went searching for a pair, and a friendly acquaintance who owned a salvage finally found a perfect set somewhere in BFE. [dont remember where] I grimaced and wrote the check, Dale had em shipped in and my buddy Jerry the Glass Man installed them. Love em and use the vent windows with regularity.

  2. thunderbird

    Anders, so funny you bring up the quarterwindow/vent window. Yes, it is a great comfort to have them, but to be frank I have never really reflected on this fact. I have just used them, but from now on I will enjoy them even more :-)
    The quarterwindows on my Thunderbird miss the latches as they are electrically driven as the other windows. Standard equipment in 1966 with a switch on the center console.

  3. Tony Wawryk

    @thunderbird power operated quarterlights in 1966! I use the ones on die Zitrone – which are operated via a rotating knurled knob – pretty regularly as long as I’m driving at 50mph or less; above that, there’s a bit too much wind noise for my liking. As I recall though, they were often used to let smoke out of the car…

  4. Tony Wawryk

    I should add that the difference between @thunderbird‘s power-operated quarterlights on that lovely ’66 T-bird and those on die Zitrone epitomise the difference in equipment levels between American and German cars in the ’60s and ’70s – frills compared to function. I mean, who actually needs powered quarterlights, and yet, now I want them…

  5. Anders Bilidt

    @yrhmblhst, I’m glad you managed to get opening quarterlights for your Jeep. Whatever the cost, I’m sure it was worth it… ;-)
    Though to be honest, the comment about swapping my SE6a for a SE5 Scimitar was a bit tongue in cheek. Despite the lack of quarterlight windows, I’m actually entirely thrilled with my Scimitar ownership.

    @thunderbird, electrically operated quarterlights is nothing short of fabulous!! Though to be honest, I quite enjoy the mechanical operation of the 02’s rotating knurled knob which @tony-wawryk mentions. It’s not your usual chromed latch – see pic below…

  6. Dave Leadbetter

    Another up-vote for the mechanism on the ’02. Such a lovely action, mine are always open.

    More importantly though, are you secretly disappointed that nobody has complimented your choice of driving gloves?

  7. Mark Manasas

    Nice nostalgic article! You mention the “rectangular” quarterlite windows several times. Most of the ones in your pictures appear “triangular” though – am I missing something?!

  8. Anders Bilidt

    @mark-manasas, HaHaHa… well, in one blow you just revealed how little I paid attention during geometry lessons in school, and not least why I don’t write for one of the major classic car publications… :-D Needless to say, I did indeed mean to write triangular. I shall correct my mistake immediately. Glad you enjoyed the article despite my lack of geometric understanding… ;-)

    @dave-leadbetter, thank you for noticing buddy! The connoisseur… uhmmm… scratch that… the geek will no doubt appreciate that those driving gloves are a set of very rare gloves which were part of the official BMW Mobile Tradition accessories which they launched back in the year 2002 to celebrate the iconic model which they had introduced 34 years earlier. I got them back then – 17 years ago – and while I have a couple of driving gloves, these have always been my very favourite. In fact, I probably enjoy them just as much as I do my quarterlight vent windows… ;-)

  9. Anders Bilidt

    @yrhmblhst, thx for the link! :-)
    I quite enjoyed that. It’s always nice to establish the history behind designs such as the ventilating quarterlights. And frankly, I didn’t know – until now that is…


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