Cutting a Digital Dash

In a random Tweet I sent out on Wednesday, I moaned “It wouldn’t be hard for today’s digital dashboards to incorporate a retro 1980s mode. Sort it out!”, alongside the above brochure pic, which depicts the digital instrument cluster that adorned top models in the 1983 JDM Nissan Silvia range.

The Tweet performed well. Dozens of like-minded souls indicated their approval, and one of my work colleagues remarked that he would pay actual, genuine hard currency to download display themes to his car. This strikes me as a pretty spectacular idea, and led me to ponder “what dashboard theme would I choose?”

Rover 800: Analogue Mode

I was sufficiently intrigued by the possibilities that I elected to crank Photoshop into action. Of course, any car manufacturer worth its salt will want to get on this straight away, so – to avoid competition – I decided to use my own car as a template.

Of course, a 1997 Rover 800 doesn’t even have a digital odometer, let alone an entire dashboard of animations and readouts. However, ANY car can be retrofitted with computerised instrument tech if you have the inclination – check out this utterly incredible setup in an old Renault 5. It’s a work of absolute genius, but I don’t want to recreate the dials I already have. I want something a bit more out-there. But what, exactly?


When I say “retro 1980s mode” there are, of course, dozens of displays that could be emulated. My stock of JDM car brochures includes some absolute gems, for instance, including the Tron-style display of the Subaru XT/Alcyone. It would also be remiss of me to overlook Austin Rover’s brief dalliance with digital dashboard technology, too.

Rover 800: C4 Corvette

However, for me, the digital dashboard that immediately leaps to mind is that of the C4 Chevy Corvette. Those graphical speed/rev curves, the red, orange and green illumination and vivid itallic speedometer have been etched on the inside of my eyelids since childhood. It would be a great choice of theme to download to any modern car. However, there’s no reason you should be limited to automobiles for your inspiration.


My dad got his first PC when I was 9 years old; a 286S that ran at 12Mhz.He used it to get him through a University course, but I was occasionally allowed to book some processor time – and Microsoft Flight Sim was my go-to.

Rover 800: MS Flight Sim

I spent hours doing my best to avoid the virtual buildings that surrounded Meigs Field airport in Chicago, and that low-res blue/beige artificial horizon and its neighbouring white-on-blue gauges match the ’80s aesthetic of the Rover’s dashboard rather nicely.


Around the same time, Star Trek: The Next Generation had something of a grip on me, and I’ve actually been revisiting it recently (praise be DVD box sets at $4 each at various second-hand shops.

Rover 800: TNG

The control panels of the Enterprise D were something of a graphic design triumph, and the sheer attention to detail in them was always one of my favourite aspects of the entire TNG franchise. Fortunately, various developers have created LCARS themes and overlays for windows, so getting them up and running on a dashboard ought to be dead easy. Make it so.


I was lucky enough, when growing up, that there was some pretty good hi-fi equipment in the family. Even our own music centre – a top-of-the-line Hitachi – was pretty serious kit at the time. I vividly remember sitting in front of it while Pink Floyd spun on its direct-drive ‘Unitorque’ turntable, transfixed as the VU needles dance from left to right.

Rover 800: VU gauges

Why not have the same on a car dashboard? Okay, it might not be the safest thing to be transfixed on them, but the aesthetic is pretty strong…


Of course, this is a Rover we’re talking about here – there’s always the prospect of Lucas, the Prince of Darkness casting his shadow over any and all technology in the Austin / Leyland sphere. So, wouldn’t it be fun, in non-critical situations, to display the infamous Windows Blue Screen Of Death?

Rover 800: BSOD

Would be a hell of an anti-theft measure, too.

(All images copyright Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2019)

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15 responses to “Cutting a Digital Dash”

  1. mdharrell Avatar

    That array of virtual VU meters is similar to my own ideal dash cluster: a row of these with no other labels or markings:

    Regrettably I only have one. For now.

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      I’d want to add long rows of identical toggle switches, controlling things that ought not need to be independently switched. I want the pleasure of pre-flight checks, setting the fuel pump, engine management and life support (climate control) circuits etc. manually.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        One of the toggles should be a momentary switch for the starter relay, visually indistinguishable from the other toggles. Either that or just go with a large knife switch for the starter and avoid the needless complication of a relay entirely.

        1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

          Gets my vote. Plus a toggle for the battery isolator.

      2. crank_case Avatar

        You probably like those old Hi-fis with a seperate button to turn on “Dolby Noise Reduction” or some other feature they just wanted you to know was a thing and would just now be silently handled by a DSP or something.

    2. Troggy Avatar

      I had a meter like that when I was working in telephone exchanges. I called it my open circuit, because that is what it was.
      It kept trainees entertained for many hours performing various tasks, such as using it to check (all 7,000 lines) for instabilities in the flux lines.

  2. Troggy Avatar

    The last dash (the BSOD) was my favourite work screensaver. It also replicated a variety of kernel panics and system failures of various other operating systems.

    One confused workmate said to me “forget about IT, you need an exorcist”.

    1. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

      I went one better, my PC had a fake spilled coffee cup plus a BSOD screensaver and I worked in a computer engineering lab. One of the engineers saw my screen and gasped thinking I had spilled coffee and crashed my machine.

  3. Maymar Avatar

    The Teslonda’s dash is pretty neat (and the retro gaming touches feel like the sort of easter egg that you’d find in a normal Tesla).
    I’d also be pleased with some SatNav graphics that looked straight out of WarGames.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      Speaking of movie inspired games, the sort of inexplicable, clunky animation stuff like Last Starfighter and the game in Never Say Never Again could be put to good use.

      1. Maymar Avatar

        Those are the exact sort of period graphics I was thinking of.

  4. Sjalabais Avatar

    I guess this is in line with the modifications I want for my Leaf, but, so far, I have found no serious offer. Whatever happened to tuning like that? I honestly assumed geeks would be all over this by now.

  5. crank_case Avatar

    I’d just like real oil pressure, temp and voltage.

  6. Zentropy Avatar

    No thanks– prefer analog gauges and toggle switches. In fact, this is perfect simplicity:

    1. sadf Avatar

      big virg

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