The car dashboard hasn't changed much in the past 100 years or so—we still use the same basic controls as pre-war drivers did, and even digital gauges are pretty much just electronic versions of needles on dials. We took a look at some exceptions
The Ustwo Dashboard of the Future
Citroen's Space-Age Drum Speedometer
Audi's Holographic Virtual Cockpit
Lancia's Aircraft-Inspired Trevi Dashboard
Lightburn Zeta Sedan's Faulty Fuel Gauge
Subaru XT Video-Game Gauges
Alps Electric's Sensor-Matic Dashboard
Chevrolet's Spinner Steering Wheel
Aston Martin's First-Ever Digital Dashboard
Chrysler's See-Through Speedometer
Mercedes-Benz's Autonomous Car Dashboard
Pontiac's Safeguard Speedometer
Panasonic's 20-inch LCD Digital Dash
The Crazy Maserati Boomerang Concept
Hyundai's OLED Dashboard
The designers at the firm of Ustwo recently put together a handful of concepts for digital dashboards completely different than the ones we’re used to—coincidentally, a lot of them seem to evoke some of the odder, older designs highlighted in this gallery. We dug their Ferrari-branded digital display which used expanding colour-coded rings to get across just how fast someone’s going, as opposed to a needle or dial.
The dashboard and one-spoke steering wheel in Citroen’s mid-‘70s CX Series I looked like nothing else out there at the time. The quirky feather in its cap, so to speak, was the drum-type tachometer (on the right) and speedometer that would scroll from left to right as you accelerated. Studebaker had a similar speedo in the ’50s, apparently, and Oldsmobile used a vertically rolling drum in the ’60s; Saab, Chrysler and Lincoln had a “ribbon”-type speedo that also used a drum.
The 2016 Audi Q7 is bringing the heads-up displays we’ve got used to to a whole new level. The car’s “virtual cockpit” features two high-resolution screens, one behind the steering wheel, capable of displaying lifelike 3-D projections. And on the horizon? The automaker’s apparently working on touchless gesture controls.
Italy’s Lancia wasn’t afraid of experimenting when it came to the dashboard designs of their ’80s models, apparently. You have to admit the layout of the gauges on their Trevi was sure different, though perhaps it wasn’t quite as out there as their ’82 Orca concept, which featured one wacky digital dash.
Australian automaker Lightburn was sooo stingy, they didn’t even offer a rear hatch on their hatchback Zeta. The car’s fuel gauge was similarly low-tech: a clear tube linked directly to the gas tank, which was mounted under the dash. You’d judge how much gas you had left by watching it slosh it around in the tube! Of course, it didn’t read so well when going up or down hills, or while accelerating.
We could cite plenty of examples of odd-looking early digital dashboards, but one of the strangest has to be the Subaru XT’s, which featured an almost video game-like display. Runner-up? The Citroen BX, which also boasts Citroen’s signature one-spoke steering wheel.
Japanese firm Alps Electric showed off this camera-laden cockpit concept in 2013, mostly to demonstrate the power and possible uses of their sensors. Built into the dashboard, for example, is facial recognition software that won’t even let you drive if you’re not registered to the vehicle. The same software can check vital signs like your heart rate, to keep you from driving if it deems you not fit for the task.
One of the oddest-looking steering wheels on a production car has to be the spinner-type installed on 1940 and 1941 Chevrolets. The idea was to install a freely spinning handle inside the rim of the steering wheel, which drivers could use to make quick, effortless turns. Other odd steering wheels include the squarish or ‘squircle’-shaped ones on ‘60s Chryslers and British Austins.
(image via automuseumonline.com)
The dashboard of the Aston Martin Lagonda is already pretty radical before you factor in the fact it had one of the first-ever digital instrument clusters. But the funky ’84-model-year electronic display just really puts it over the top.
(image via flickr)
In the 1960s, Chrysler borrowed this idea from Ford’s ’55 Thunderbirds: a speedometer with a transparent backing that would be lit up by refracted sunlight during the day. Chrysler’s other novelty ’60s speedo, the “Astrodome,” involved electroluminescent gauges with little glowing numbers and lightsaber-like red needles, perfect for nighttime driving.
(image via Bixmen)
What will dashboards look like in the fully self-driving cars of the future? Well, if Mercedes-Benz’s F 015 Luxury in Motion autonomous concept is any indication, something like this. The F 015 features a retractable steering wheel for when the computer’s doing the driving, plus a car-wide screen where you’d typically expect the gauges.
Back in the late ’60s, Pontiac and some other GM makes had a special speedo known as the Safeguard Speedometer. Set a certain speed on it (using a knob on the dash) and if you exceeded that speed, a buzzer would go off.
(image from woodyarddauto.com)
Electronics company Panasonic is betting the future involves taking the massive center-console touchscreens in cars like the Tesla Model S and making them the actual instrument cluster screens. This would allow them to project blind spot camera projections and other warnings on them, besides speed and RPM and all that. How’s 20 inches? Big enough for you guys?
There’ve been plenty of crazy concept car dashboards through the years, but we wanted to highlight just this one: the way-radical ’72 Boomerang’s dash, ‘cause it’s so—out there. But while we’re talking about vintage concepts with strange controls, we have to bring up the Mercedes-Benz F200 Imagination concept and its joystick steering.
This Hyundai concept dashboard is already a few years old, but that doesn’t mean you should rule it out as a template for the future. The Blue-Will hybrid it was shown off in in 2009 was all about sustainability, which explains the use of a transparent organic LED screen for a gauge cluster. Pretty much the entire interior was bio-degradable, in fact.