When I Build My Spaceship, It Will Be Equipped With This Mitsubishi Cordia Instrument Cluster

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

After seeing the intensely early-1980s-Japan instrument cluster in this ’83 Cordia in a Northern California wrecking yard a few weeks back, it gnawed at me that I hadn’t brought the tools to pull the thing on the spot. I kept thinking about the amazing big-nosed climate-control humanoid diagram, and the even-better-than-the-280ZX-Turbo “bar graph” tachometer.

Finally, I broke down and called a member of the LeMons Mafia who lives near the junkyard in question: “Please go and grab that Cordia cluster for me!”

Shawn, who races the fast-but-fragile Bunny With a Pancake On Its Head VW Rabbit in West Coast LeMons events, did the parts pulling for my Junkyard Nightmare Build Quality Challenge: Speedometers piece last year, so I knew he was the right guy to yank and ship my much-dreamed-about Cordia cluster.

A couple days back, a big box shows up on my front porch. I’m really impressed by the component quality and workmanship on this unit; it’s obvious that Mitsubishi’s consumer-electronics experience helped them a lot here. The only clusters of this vintage I’ve seen that look more solidly built come out of W126 Benzes.

Yes, the rest of the Cordia fell apart in a hurry, but I’m sure Honda and Toyota engineers were a bit envious of the car’s instrument cluster.

Even though it has a digital speedometer, the Cordia still used an old-fashioned speedometer cable to provide the speed signal to the cluster’s brain, rather than a solid-state sender at the transmission. This allowed Mitsubishi to use a mechanical odometer and trip counter, in addition to avoidance of designing too many new electronic components.

With all the analog processing and whatever else goes on inside the Cordia cluster’s black box, Mitsubishi decided to punch these snazzy louvers in the cover over the nerve center.

Did the JDM version of this climate-control diagram feature such a big nose, or is that just for us gaijin?

From a user-interface standpoint, only the locations of the “door open” indicators on the car-shaped diagram make any sense; the designers apparently thought “let’s pack the little car picture with all the idiot lights, so they don’t clutter up the Big Nose Climate Control Man’s area.”

I try my best to avoid being a crazy car-parts hoarder, especially with pointless stuff like instrument clusters. I’ve already got this 1961 Citroën ID19 cluster, pulled from this car a few years back. I’ve got several silly junkyard-parts-based projects in the works, inspired by the happiness my Junkyard Boogaloo Boombox brings me in the garage. There’s the big box with 50 car clocks, and another box with several hundred “Fasten Seat Belt” warning lights, and yet another full of car horns. Someday, these ambitious projects will join the Junkyard Boogaloo…

As for the Cordia and ID19 clusters, my plan is to frame them and hang them on the wall of my office, wired up so that the lights and gauges function. The Citroën cluster will be pretty simple, with just a clock and some lights to wire up (I’ll leave the speedo at zero, since a motor to move the needle would make irritating noise), but the Cordia unit is going to be a greater challenge.

I’ve bought the Cordia factory shop manual on eBay, which will give me the wiring diagram for the dash harness. Armed with that information, I should be able to get all the idiot lights and— probably— the Big Nose Climate Control icons to work. What I’d really like to do is get the tach and speedo cycling through their paces, and for that I’d need to spoof their inputs using simple digital electronics. I’ve always wanted to mess around with the Arduino microcontroller, and now I have an excuse!

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Texan01 Texan01 on Jan 04, 2012

    My 86 Pontiac 6000-STE had the full digital dash... my friends called it darth vader's bathroom I liked it, even though the driver information center could drive a man to drink if a brake light was out. if flashed the bulb location and beeped....every frecking time! had the 199.999 mile odometer as well, I did watch it roll to 100,000. I even found out what happens when you exceed the 199 rating on the speedo, it just dropped the bottom segment on the 1 (flipped it to metric while having it run well into redline at 128mph.

  • Advo Advo on Jan 04, 2012

    Lots of love and excitement for those old digital dashes here. I bet that posters don't find the same passion for current Honda digital dashes for some reason. All those pics of the digital dashes is just wild. It's like forget about readability and ergonomic functionality. We want gadgets and all those steering wheel buttons.

  • Lou_BC Ironic, the Honda Ridgeline, a truck that every truck guy loves to hate is in 6th place.
  • 28-Cars-Later I keep forgetting I own it, but the space look on the ext cab reminds me of my 'Yota pickup of the same model year. I'm pretty sure there is some vintage of Hilux which features the same looking ext cab window (maybe '88?) its a shame these things are mostly gone and when available are $1,000,000,000 [INSERT CURRENT CURRENCY].
  • Sayahh Imagine if Ford had Toyota design and build a Mustang engine. It will last over 300k miles! (Skip turbo and make it naturally aspirated.) Maybe Yamaha will help tune it...
  • Sobhuza Trooper Isuzu's crime was to build some damn good trucks.Shame on them.
  • El scotto Listen, unless you were Lord Headly-Stempmoor or such when you got off the off the boat, boot in Canada, you got the short end of the stick. People got on the boat, these days a plane, to escape famine, becoming cannon fodder in yet another stupid war, or the government thought it was A-OK to let soldiers kill you. Juneteenth is just a way to right one of the more bad ideas in the American experiment. Instead we have commenters who were buying tater chips and diet soda at Wal-Mart and got all butt-hurt because they heard someone who wasn't speaking English. I'm going to go fix a couple of frankfurters with salsa and guacamole and wash them down with a lager or three