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?”
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.
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.
CGA FLIGHT OF FANTASY
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.
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.
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.
CHECK YOUR LEVELS
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.
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?
Would be a hell of an anti-theft measure, too.