Back to the Future: Futuristic Dashboards from the Past

We have collected some examples of legendary cars from 40–50 years ago, which—known as production models, rather than unusual prototypes—featured absolutely forward-thinking dashboards. They lacked an on-board route guidance system, but boosting a retro car with GPS navigation is not a big deal nowadays.

Knight Rider, the television series shot in the early 80s, glued thousands of people to their TV screens for years. Michael Knight’s (David Hasselhoff) loyal four-wheel partner, K.I.T.T. (a gorgeous black Pontiac Trans Am sportscar) not only communicated with humans and could jump obstacles at the push of a button, it also boasted autonomous driving functions and a futuristic dashboard. Don’t think, however, that digital dashes only existed in Hollywood productions in those days! 

The first in pole position 

Introduced in 1974 and fully redesigned in 1976, Aston Martin’s legendary full-size luxury four-door saloon, the Lagonda was the first production car to use a digital instrument panel.  Mounted behind the steering wheel of the peerless, wedge-shaped limousine, the digital panel with liquid crystal displays (LCDs) designed to replace traditional analog gauges provided all necessary driver assistance, including current speed, fuel, oil, and water temperature information, impressive for the time. Nevertheless, only 645 chassis were built in total over the next 26 years, with production ending in 1990.  

Fitted with a 5.3 L, 280 bhp V8 engine of a top speed of 148 mph (230 km/h), the Lagonda was ahead of its time with, among other things, touch button controls. However, the digital dash didn’t fulfil its early promise, primarily because of the frequent faults, so the original on-board system of the luxury car was abandoned after four years.  

The Lagonda didn’t come with route guidance, but with NNG’s GPS navigation software developed for vintage cars, owners have an effective solution at hand to easily modernize their retro vehicles – be it an Aston Martin or another similar model. Moreover, the hardware perfectly fitting in the old-fashioned dashboard offers an embedded navigation system without compromising the car’s classic interior design.

Made in America 

Four years after the Brits debuted the Aston Martin, the US introduced their own digital instrument panel with the Seville. Cadillac’s high-end luxury car was the first American automobile to offer full electronic instrumentation. Introduced in 1978, the Seville offered a trip computer, marketed as Tripmaster, at an extra cost of $920. It replaced the two standard analogue gauges with an electronic digital readout.  

Equipped with a 5.7 L V8 petrol or diesel engine, the 5.2-meter long saloon featured a digital instrument cluster containing a speedometer and a fuel tank meter. Although this model also lacked a route guidance system, the trip computer performed various calculations, including arrival time based on the destination manually entered by the driver.

The French connection 

Renault put its prestigious flagship model, the fruit of a six-year development project on the market in 1983. In addition to a speedometer and a fuel tank meter, the dashboard of the 25 model also featured a voice synthesizer function, enabling the on-board computer to read out a variety of voice alerts, covering items like improperly shut doors, unreleased handbrake, blown bulbs, or nearly empty fuel tank. Innovations included a stereo system remotely controlled from the steering wheel, which simplified volume control and switching between radio channels more than ever before. 

Placed second in the 1985 European Car of the Year rankings, the Renault 25 saw more than 780 thousand chassis roll off the production line.

The present 

The world has witnessed remarkable developments since the era of double displays and on-board computers communicating in a synthesized voice. Today’s instrument panels come with “wall-to-wall” touchscreens, and the cock-pit is often controlled by voice instructions, where—apparently—the primary role of the driver has become the management of a computer system. The AR (augmented reality) function of iGO, for example, uses the car sensors to identify objects along the road and fuse all inputs into the navigation system, thus providing a safe and enjoyable manual driving experience. The high-resolution LED pixel headlights, on the other hand, not only illuminate the road ahead but also project a variety of warning symbols (danger, bottleneck, etc.) on the asphalt in front of the car, thus making the driving experience considerably safer. The dividing line between the real and virtual world has got thinner and thinner over the past few decades, and no one can tell what the future holds for the users of the instrument clusters. 



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