QOTD: Dig That Digital Dash?

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy
qotd dig that digital dash

Thanks to tech advancements in the field of digital display, we live in an age where today’s cars have beautiful, flowing digital gauges. Audi’s MMI system and its Virtual Cockpit, as an example, is a 12.3-inch master class in design.

Not too many years ago, though, it was completely different. Prehistoric electronics, combined with a race by manufacturers to out-spaceship each other, led to more than a few sets of gauges that had to be studied like tax forms.

The pictures in this post are credited to the absolutely fabulous site Joost which, it must be noted, should be clicked upon at one’s own peril. Why? Well, if you enjoy odd digital dashboards from the ‘80s and ‘90s, your personal productivity will be zero for the rest of the day. It’s a fabulous page.

Anyway, there are absolutely psychotic examples from the era, such as the hasn’t-worked-in-forever gauge set in an Aston Martin Lagonda, just about anything from Citroën, and the fighter jet-inspired Subaru XT instruments. Our very own Murilee prefers the “big-nosed climate guy” in the Cordia/Tredia cluster shown at the top of this page.

One of my favorites from the car concept circuit back then was the 1985 Buick Wildcat. All the digital gauges were contained in a fixed circular well around which the steering wheel moved, displaying a bizarre rainbow-shaped tachometer and a circle divided up into quadrants reporting on fuel level, engine temp, oil pressure, and system voltage. Fantastic.

Back in the real world, there were plenty of strange sets of digital gauges in mass production. I’m partial to some of the Ford efforts, like this strangely italicized cluster found in the 1989-1992 Probe.

But when it came to offering a variety of gonzo gauges, no one outdid GM. Digital sets which were supposed to vaguely mimic analog faces. Hybrid indicators which threw together new-age numerals and old-fashioned needles in a terrifying shotgun marriage. And who could forget the attempts at hammering a set of digital gauges in a space designed for a ribbon speedometer?

My own favorite from an era when GM experimented with mystifying instrumentation is the set of digital gauges for the Chevy S-10 pickup and Blazer. The combination of vertical and horizontal bar graphs is absolutely fabulous, and it was surprising to find a spaceship display in an agricultural truck. Adding in dot matrix numbers, mismatched colors, and GM’s insistence on using three partially filled circle-shaped hieroglyphics for the fuel gauge just seals it for me.

Of course, technology of the day practically assured most of these clusters permanently winked out of existence three days after the warranty expired. What’s your favorite set of digital gauges? Modern or aged, there are plenty of them out there.

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  • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on Aug 29, 2017

    I always liked Fords digital "gauges", but especially in the Panthers until 1997. So much so that if I'm shopping Panthers and it doesn't have the digital gauges, it's no sale. I'm torn. I like the new TFT screens for gauges but I still like needles. Being able to tell at a glance if all is well rather than "is that a good number or bad number?" is appreciated. The airplane I fly is all analog, but the one I'll be transitioning to is 95% screens with only a few analog gauges. One plus of this will be less delay due to a faulty gauge or gauge back-lighting.

    • See 2 previous
    • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on Aug 29, 2017

      @28-Cars-Later If most pilots could afford to switch to a "glass" cockpit, they would. Problem is that your average single-engine airplane owner has, for example, a 1979 Cessna or Piper that's worth about 60k. To upgrade that airplane would be half the value at least, if not more. The homebuilt guys have more leeway and are big users of the new tech screens. The stuff that makes those gauges work (oil lines, backlighting,etc.) goes bad just like my "big" airplane. And when the gyroscopes that power the horizon and directional gyros fail ( many are vacuum driven) it can prove fatal in low visibility. New tech stuff adds a computer with accelerometers and such to provide what gyros used to. They aren't without fault or failure, but there's usually redundancy too.

  • Gearhead77 Gearhead77 on Aug 29, 2017

    https://i.ytimg.com/vi/iAP3XmGszgM/maxresdefault.jpg Best one I could find quickly on Fords later digital gauge.

  • Probert Sorry to disappoint: https://robbreport.com/motors/cars/tesla-model-y-worlds-best-selling-vehicle-1234848318/and any list. of articles with a 1 second google search. It's a tough world out there - but you can do it!!!!!!
  • ToolGuy "We're marking the anniversary of the time Robert Farago started the GM death watch and called for the company to die."• No, we aren't. Robert Farago wrote that in April 2005. It was reposted in 2009 on the eve of the actual bankruptcy filing.The byline dates are sometimes strange/off with the site revisions (and the 'this is a repost' note got lost), but the date string in the link is correct (...2005/04...). Posting about GM bankruptcy in 2005 was a slightly more difficult call than doing it in 2009.-- The Truth About Calendars
  • Kat Laneaux Agree with Michael500, we wasted all that money just to bail out GM and they are developing these cars in China and other countries. What the heck. I understand the cheap labor but that is just another foothold the government has on their citizens and they already treat them like crap. That is pretty disgusting to go forward to put other peoples health and mental stability on a crazy crazed, control freak, leader, who is in bed with Russia. Thought about getting a buick but that just shot that one out of the park. All of this for the greed. They get what they lay in bed with. Disgusting.
  • Michael500 Good thing Obama used $50 billion of taxpayer money to bail them out and give unions a big stake. GM is headed to BK again with their Hail Mary hope of EVs. Hopefully a Republican in office will let them go BK the next time, and it's coming. The US economy is not related/dependent on GM and their Chinese made Buicks.
  • MaintenanceCosts "Rural areas hardly noticed COVID at all."I very much doubt that is true in places like the Navajo Nation or the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, some of which lost 2% or more of their population to COVID.No city had a death rate in the same order of magnitude.Low-density living is a very modern invention. Before cars, people, even in agricultural areas, needed to live densely to survive.