Solving the Great Ford Headlight Debate: Round or Square?

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Ford Bronco

Is the shape of the headlights enough to determine the model year of a ’78/’79 F-Series or Bronco? Turns out, the answer is no.

Without fail, it happens every time we post anything about a 1978 or 1979 Ford Bronco or F-Series pickup truck. Whether that truck sports round headlights or square (rectangular) ones, countless commenters immediately chime in. “That’s not a ’78, it’s a ’79!” or vice versa, they say. Rinse and repeat. The great headlight debate rages on like an uncontrollable wildfire, but that’s why we’re here to set the record straight.

To do that, all we have to do is resort to our experts in the Ford Truck Enthusiasts forums. So, we did just that.

After a little research, it became pretty clear why there is so much confusion surrounding this topic. However, the answer to this question isn’t so crystal clear.

It all started innocently enough with this post, which highlights a beautiful (alleged) 1978 Ford Bronco. But the square headlights prompted a typical response.

Ford Headlights

Seems simple, right? Well, as many other folks point out, maybe not.

Ford Headlights

So perhaps it’s just a matter of when, exactly, your F-Series or Bronco was built? To seek a little clarity, we headed to the forums. And it’s there that we found some more clarifying(?) information. But it’s also worth noting that this debate is nothing new – it’s been going on for years! This thread on the topic, to be exact, is nine years old.

“Custom trim levels in ’78 had round headlights,” said 75F350. “Higher trim levels had rectangular. ’79 used rectangular headlights in all trim levels. Grille shells and inserts are interchangeable. Buckets are different for obvious reasons.”

“The radiator support is also different with rectangular headlamps,” adds NumberDummy. “The support is dished inwards on both sides behind the headlamps to allow the rectangular headlamp bulbs to fit correctly. The round bulbs are shorter than the rectangular bulbs.”

But 81-F-150-Explorer notes there are some exceptions to that rule.

“There are a few rare exceptions. The 1978 brochure lists them as optional. Standard on Ranger trim and higher.” 

“Ford made a running change in spring of 1978 to discontinue the round headlights,” adds Jermafenser. “Thus late ’78 Customs had rectangular headlights as standard equipment.”

Confused yet? Well, we still weren’t totally satisfied. But thankfully, we found further confirmation of this information in this thread from resident expert NumberDummy.

“All 1973/77 F-100/350s use the same anodized aluminum grille frame, came with round headlamps. 

1978/79s use a different anodized aluminum grille frame. 1978 Customs and 1979 Customs sold as fleet vehicles have round headlamps.

All other 1978/79s have rectangular headlamps.”

So in conclusion, we can close the book on the great Ford headlight debate fairly simply!

1973-1977 Broncos and F-100/350 trucks had an older grille frame and used round headlights.

1978 and 1979 Custom trim trucks that were sold as fleet vehicles used the older round headlights but rectangular were optional.

In 1978-1979, the higher Ranger and Ranger XLT trim levels all came with rectangular headlights.

It’s also abundantly clear from this research that many, many folks have changed out their headlights over the years. Some prefer the round ones, while others like rectangular. Like everything else in life, you can’t necessarily judge a book by its cover. So the next time you see a 1978/1978 Ford Bronco or F-Series pickup, don’t assume its model year based on headlight shape alone!

Join the Ford Truck Enthusiasts forums now!

Brett Foote is a longtime contributor to Internet Brands’ Auto sites, including Chevrolet Forum, Rennlist, and Ford Truck Enthusiasts, among other sites.

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