By on August 31, 2012

There’s no way I’m going to spot a junked 80s Japanese car with the optional super-futuristic digital dash and not go back and buy that instrument cluster. So, now I’ve got a genuine digital dash collection going on, adding the Cressida cluster to my ’84 Nissan 300ZX Turbo cluster and my ’83 Mitsubishi Cordia Turbo cluster.
One great thing about Japanese cars of the 1980s and 1990s is that the instrument clusters are almost always easy to remove and install. There’s a fascia that comes off with a few screws, then another half-dozen screws hold the cluster in the dash.
On a Detroit car from this period, you’ll find all sorts of one-way plastic retainers that made it easy for the line workers to smack the cluster into place with a sharp blow from a rubber mallet, Mickey’s Big Mouth bottle, or whatever tool was handy. You’ll break all sorts of stuff while removing the thing, because the low-bidder plastic used for the retainers has a service life of maybe five years. Meanwhile, German clusters are even worse, with all manner of crazy hidden fasteners, in super-overkill quantities. I’ll stick with the Japanese stuff… for now.


Which reminds me: here’s how you remove the clock from a mid-70s Cadillac. No tools needed!
Unlike the 300ZX, the Cressida cluster’s harness doesn’t plug into sockets inside the dash. I cut the wires as far from the cluster as far as I could get away with. I’ll get a copy of the factory shop manual, which will give me the wiring diagram I need to control this cluster with an Arduino microcontroller. My collection still requires a Subaru XT digital dash. Did Honda do any digital dashes in the 1980s?

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28 Comments on “Don’t Try This At Home: Another 80s Japanese Digital Dash Added To My Collection...”


  • avatar

    Have to disagree with the assessment of German instrument clusters. The VDO clusters in my ’81 Mercedes and ’86 BMW were the easiest things in the world to pull and change bulbs on. I found the same to be the case with the VDO cluster in my ’91 Alfa 164. The Alfa, in particular, had to be regularly pulled as the dash was a friggin’ Christmas tree and something was almost always lit up… until it burned out, of course.

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      On the w123 car, it was tension that held it all together– very much like my(also German) family.

      I think I changed a bulb on mine to know this, but I just ended up removing the knee bolster and reaching into the abyss. There were oil lines that ran to the cluster, and I didn’t want to disturb them.

  • avatar
    turbobrick

    Reinstallation is reverse of remo… oh.

    Volvo 240 is right up there with ease of instrument cluster removal. Blank, blank, knob, faceplate, 4 screws, done.

    • 0 avatar
      FuzzyPlushroom

      Yep, the steering wheel is the most difficult part on a 240, and even that’s no big deal (just a minute of wriggling and cursing). The 740/940 clusters aren’t notably harder, either.

      • 0 avatar
        turbobrick

        Pre-airbag Renault steering wheel is the best. Center pulls off, two huge torx screws come out, and next to them are two threaded holes where you drive them back in and they will push the wheel off.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I can attest to the easiness of removing instrument clusters. I have manual gauges in my 03 P5, but it is one assembly, held in place with 4 or 5 screws, once you remove the bezel.

    There are 3 connectors, though none of them come out easily (read, stiff), once removed, some small screws hold the rear plastic shield in place for the rear circuit board and once that is removed, I can twist and replace bulbs as needed (or in my case, remove the orange socks on 3 of the 4 bulbs that had them as the dash lights left a lot to be desired at full brightness at night).

    Sadly, with the electronic ODO, I loose my trip readings, oh well. I still have one bulb, the far right one in the tach to replace.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    Man, you get all these digital clusters framed and wired up and your office will look like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

    • 0 avatar
      cfclark

      Now all you need is something to deliver the inputs to those clusters so they can light up and be “driven” through the cycle of a short trip, with the tach, speedo, etc rising and falling appropriately. Repeat until all the flashing and beeping gives you a seizure.

  • avatar
    tmkreutzer

    I always liked Nissan’s digital dashboards from that era. It was amazing how, with just the push of a button, you could change what gauges you were looking at, and with just another button could switch over to metrics as well. It really made you wonder what the year 2000 was going to be like.

    • 0 avatar
      MrWhopee

      Yeah, and you would be very disappointed looking at the gauges of cars circa year 2000! Analog gauges rule, and electronic stuff seem to be largely abandoned, at least in the instrument panel area. At most you’d have a digital clock…

      Now electronic displays have started making a comeback, even if it’s for ancillary functions (fuel gauge, odometer, trip meter, etc.) What’s old is new again, I guess…

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    This column is called “Don’t try this at home” and then goes on to talk about the relative ease of doing it.
    From past experience, I must agree with the part about GMs of the era. When a couple of lights went out in my 82 Omega, I figured “How hard could this be? ” By the time I got it apart I decided to replace everything, because I was NEVER going to do it again. Based on the amount of epoxy I used putting it back together, neither was anyone else.

    • 0 avatar

      In the 1980s and much of the 1990s, the Japanese automakers apparently had an obsession with making their dash components serviceable by non-pros with crappy tools. Detroit automakers at that time had an obsession with making initial assembly as easy as possible.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Can’t speak about GM and Ford of the era, but 80′s K based cars were a breeze to change the cluster. A few perimeter screws for the trim bezel and then a few holding the cluster….couldn’t be much easier. But in general, domestic cars were built for speed of assembly…

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        You could have fooled my dealer, who never managed to repair the digital dashboard of our Lancer ES Turbo that went black after 2 years and less than 30K miles. It was a good thing for Chrysler’s 5/50 BS that there was no such thing as a lemon-law in 1985.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Well, that was the reason I found out how easily they came out…1894 New Yorker with the digi dash. Replacement had a little digital asterisk next to the odometer…

    • 0 avatar
      thirty-three

      I think the part you’re not supposed to try at home is to fill your home with a collection of seemingly random junkyard parts :)

      • 0 avatar
        Geekcarlover

        “Seemingly random parts”!?! Have you been looking in my shed again? It’s a system man. A SYSTEM! It’s not my fault your brain can’t comprehend it’s logic and beauty.

  • avatar
    raded

    I love the quirky Japanese digital dashes. Can’t wait for some videos of them functioning.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    You’ve _GOTTA_ find the Subaru gauge cluster ! it looks like a Video Game .

    Why am I not supposed to live in Pick-A-part ? .

    I like it there , they like me and give me special deals on the wierd stuff I buy that noone else ever wants….

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Broo

    Luckily, you’re too far away to take mine. :)

  • avatar
    Juniper

    seriously take away the Toyota signage and that front end is a Caprice from the same time period.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    you must have a seriously interesting den..or ‘man pad’
    I like the thought of it……

  • avatar

    I have an European Ford Mondeo 93 which a not a dream of a mechanics as well. The items on instrument cluster should be dismantled with great care, and the work under the hood is not particularly pleasant. Once, friend of mine (mechanic at the service station) said, seeing that I put the car in the workshop – “Will today come some normal car for the repair?

  • avatar
    84Cressida

    I had to remove the gauge cluster from my Cressida to change the dashboard 2 years ago, and it simply a matter of having the right screw driver in hand. Super easy. Getting the speedo cable back into the slot was a bit of a challenge though.

  • avatar
    Beelzebubba

    Honda didn’t have a digital dash until the 2000 model year- the 2-seater Insight and S2000 sports car were both introduced that year with digital instruments.

    The ’84-’88 Nissan 300ZX had the coolest looking digital dash, IMO. The big wave graph for the tach was particularly amusing and simultaneously, provided little to no useful information.

    My sister had a 1985 Z-car, white with red velour interior and it had the optional Electronics Package that included the digital dash, digital auto climate control and a bunch of other techno crap. I learned to drive in that car (it was a 5-speed stick) and took my driver’s license test in it. So I have fond memories, even if the interior was the color of a slaughterhouse floor!

    Nissan offered a digital dash on the Maxima at least thru 1997-ish, but only on the GLE models.

    I think you’re wise to avoid the domestics., They rarely worked properly when installed in the vehicles.

    My best friend’s first car was a 1984 Chrysler Laser XE Turbo (twin to the Dodge Daytona) in Chocolate Brown and it had a digital dash and it talked (16 or so phrases/warnings, such as ‘door ajar’). He got it in 1991 and it had over 150,000 miles on it, so it was pretty much worn out. It had a nasty habit of blowing coolant hoses loose on a regular basis, then it would announce “Engine Overheating! Engine Damage May Occur!” repeatedly….I heard that phrase so many times, and I would respond back to it with “No Shit!”. It had an uncanny ability to state the blatantly obvious…god I hated that car!


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