Don't Try This At Home: How Could Anyone Resist a Subaru XT Turbo Digital Dash?

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

After I photographed today’s Junkyard Find in a Colorado self-service wrecking yard, I agonized over that digital instrument cluster. I have this crazy idea that I can hack old digital instrument clusters and operate them with an Arduino microcontroller, so that I can have a display on my office wall to go with my collection of weird diecast toy cars. It started out innocently enough, with this 1983 Mitsubishi Cordia cluster, and then I got the digital cluster out of a 50th Anniversary Nissan 300ZX. Once you have two 1980s Japanese digital dashes, you have a problem collection, right? That was my logic when I bought the digital dash out of this 1984 Toyota Cressida. Even though I’m getting too ambitious with this Arduino-ized-digital-dash project, I felt I had no choice but to go back the next day and grab the XT Turbo’s cluster. So I did.

Someone had already torn up the driver’s-side door-latch mechanism, so I had to climb in through the passenger side and dismantle the latches enough to open the driver’s door.

That’s when I noticed this odd “Speed Alarm” feature, which used a key switch to lock the speed alarm in and out. Oh, Subaru, when did you lose your weirdness?

The instrument cluster in the XT moves up and down with the tilt wheel, which adds immense complexity but is totally worth it for the coolness. It took me quite a while to figure out how to detach the cluster from this Rube Goldberg rig.

Toyotas and Hondas of this era are ridiculously easy when it comes to this kind of job; you can yank an 80s Civic or Corolla cluster in about 25 seconds with just a screwdriver. Subaru had a different philosophy, and so I started removing every 10mm and 12mm fastener I could find.

There’s a hinged bezel above the cluster that resisted all attempts to release the cluster (I could have just smashed the hell out of everything in the way, but I do my best to leave all the parts I don’t want in usable condition for the next parts shopper), and the connectors on the dash harness were fiendishly inaccessible and frozen solid (Subaru went with a much cheaper electrical-parts supplier than did Honda, Toyota, or even Mitsubishi). In the 35-degree weather of a November morning in Denver, my hands took a real beating during the cluster-removal process.

Leaking a little of the red stuff is no big deal, however, when your struggles end with a beautiful 1980s Japanese digital cluster for your collection.

While I was shopping, I also picked up a nice Weber DGV 32/36 carburetor from a car with a strange-yet-familiar engine swap. More on that in a future Junkyard Find!

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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  • Th009 Th009 on Nov 15, 2012

    Weber carbs ... I still remember trying to tune a 40 DCOE. A glorious carb but I never did get it running quite right!

    • Porschespeed Porschespeed on Nov 16, 2012

      It's a carb. One can only make it "right" if it runs in a static environment indoors - as a generator engine, and even then they still aren't nearly as efficient as mechanical FI. The second temp, humidity, baro pressure, engine temp, throttle-position, or anything else changes, a carb ain't "right" no more. Perhaps in the ballpark if you work really hard, but never even close to optimal. Carbs are for paperweights, or melting down into intake runners. They had no legit car use post 1973 save that they were cheap because the tooling was amortized. The McD's of fuel delivery..

  • V6 V6 on Nov 16, 2012

    I think the early 90's maxima had one of the best digital dashboard

  • William I feel very sorry for those who attempt to use an attack on a product as a way to deprecate an individual whose politics they disagree with. They delude themselves and mislead others.
  • Arthur Dailey Have to admit that I love that interior colour. And also like the upholstery on the seats and the inside of the door panels. And when was the last time you saw a door hanging coffee cup holder? Some here probably didn't know that such a device existed.
  • Buickman this is about cars. I miss Robert.
  • 28-Cars-Later Can we end debt slavery next? Its getting to the point where its no longer voluntary.
  • Carson D Honda and Toyota still make the best American cars.