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Flash Dance: Digital Dashboards of the 1980s

Link - article by Avi Abrams

Not every car could be a star of the "Knight Rider" show, but almost every 1980s car model sported a flashy disco-lights digital dashboard

What was the best thing about the 1980s? Some say it's the Disco fever and the sparkle of the disco balls (although these "glitter balls" were invented way back in the 1920s). Others say that the 1980s were great time to watch gloriously over-the-top action movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, still others maintain that it is the wild and wooly clothing styles that define the 1980s decade... and yeah, Microsoft, of course.

In our humble opinion, one of the most coolest things that occurred in the 1980s was the rise of digital dashboards in cars, watches, hi-fi equipment (and just about everywhere), with their "early video game"-like riot of LCDs and LEDs and warm glow of CRT displays... When applied to car dashboards, all this could turn some otherwise cheap plastic car interiors into futuristic spaceship control panels.

We've seen the most creative automobile dashboards in our previous article Car Dashboards as Works of Art, and we cast a wide look on the world of impressive tech dashboards in general (see Mega Dashboards Part 1 and Part 2). Well, today we look at strange, and perhaps, ungainly designs, so get your "eye bleach" ready not to get too depressed from looking at automotive design ugliness.... and let's plunge right in into a digital display design madness!

ItalDesign's Lancia Orca wins first prize when it comes to totally 1980s, totally amazing digital dashboard. I would like to see its flashing lights in the dark while driving... fantastic! -

Lancia Orca was not the only concept vehicle from ItalDesign to feature fantastic digital dashes and interesting steering wheels. See below the "Lancia Megagamma" and "Lancia Medusa" examples:

This is the legendary KITT 2000 "Knight Rider" dashboard that we were talking about at the beginning of our article, based on the Pontiac Trans Am model. As you can see, it lights up like a Christmas tree - in addition to voice-activated controls and perhaps a hint of an AI (Artificial Intelligence):

(image via)

This dashboard was bursting with such awesome stuff as "Pyraclastic Lamination", "Anamorphic Equalizer", "Voice (Anharmonic) Synthesizer", dashboard mounted printer and, yes, the money dispenser. In later installments of the series, the good old 1980s CRT displays were replaced with the "Virtual Reality Heads-up Display" and the fax machine was added, too (among other things). The whole red LED look was reminiscent of the "Bladerunner" movie, and the steering wheel somewhat resembled Darth Vader's helmet in its jet black angular design:

(image via)

1987 Pontiac Trans Am GTA digital dash was the basis for the KITT's Pontiac Trans Am "Knight Rider" vehicle. Right image: Chevrolet Corvette in the 1980s also featured colorful displays:

Dashboard as a Video Game: Use your Joystick!

Cadillac Allante's (1987-1993) dash almost seems like a video game rip-off:

Citroen BX "Digit" from 1985 also sports suspiciously arcade-game layout:

In addition to the interesting dashboard, Subaru XT 4WD 1800 Turbo (1986) featured an unusually shaped steering wheel:

This cool "wave" display belongs to the Nissan Z31 300ZX (left). On the right is the similarly shaped indicator from the VW Golf 2, called VW Digifiz:

Left image below: Renault 21 TXE Electronic. On the right is the Opel Monza GSE dash:

Strange elliptical digital display of Toyota Celica (1987), and a more conventional one for the Toyota Corolla AE86 (on the right):

The 1989 Buick Reatta interior featured touchscreen on-board computer (right). On the left you see very well digitally endowed 1990 model:

(images via)

Citroen GSA from 1981:

1980 Citroen Karin interior (left) and 1981 Citroen Xenia (Coggiola) on the right:

Too Weird Even for the 1980s?

Steering wheel of the Pontiac 6000 STE sported buttons like many other steering wheels of the era (taking the inspiration, perhaps, from the incredibly buttons-heavy Formula One steering wheels) - but Pontiac dashboard designers carried their unique approach to a whole new level. I have no problem with the steering wheel, but to my eye, the rest of the bizarrely stepped dashboard looks downright ugly:

(image via)

Check out these tiny buttons in an oddly placed "pods" in Pontiac's dashboard: it would take almost as much concentration to try to figure out which button to press, as trying to text and drive - or even worse, as the placement of these buttons implies you have to look down, and they will be always in shadow of the upper overhanging dash level:

(image via)

Microprocessor Computer Control! Sounds mighty impressive for the 1980s:

Here is the Alfa Romeo's 90 QO stepped up speedometer layout - try to figure this out while driving! -

Aston Martin Lagonda featured a pretty "blind" layout of dashes, which look like ugly black squares set into limitless expanses of wood (granted, wood of a extremely luxurious finish). It does look better, once lit - and check out this slanted computer-like console around the steering wheel! -

Yet another Aston Martin Lagonda model went all out on digital dash, you would not believe how big (and ugly) it is!... I kinda like the steering wheel, though:

The whole car sported pretty radical design, rendered even more bizarre with raised headlights (check out the diminutive, totally out-of-place radiator):

Another contender in the ridiculously-designed and grossly-overpriced exlusive luxury car category is the Vector. Check out this hulking, bulky dashboard with a horribly out-of-place - and impossible to read! - yellow digital display:

(image via)

Check out many more digital dashboards on this site, collected by Joost Kuckartz.

The Ultimate Dash Bling!

For a true enthusiasts of flashing, dancing lights and coolest 1980s dashboards, there is a company which makes custom dashboard kits: Mark's Custom Kits. Here are some over-the-top, glorious examples of the digital 1980s excess (KITT's replicas, and more):

(images via)

Here is another seriously lit-up custom dashboard that we've spotted recently: a "Green Hornet"-themed interior based on the plain vanilla 1990 Plymouth Acclaim, done by Chris Ruiz:

(image credit: Chris Ruiz)

When all these constellations of LCDs and LEDs come to life, and all the bars and indicators start jumping, blinking, flashing... as the warm CRT glow permeates every corner of the vehicle - I have to admit, even the much ridiculed 1980s start to feel cool again. And who can resist neat digital displays of unusual shape and form, be they installed inside collectible Japanese Hi-Fi equipment, or inside your car's dashboard? So, let the Flash Dance begin.

Article by Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.



Also Read "Mega Dashboards, Part 1" ->

Also Read "Mega Dashboards, Part 2" ->


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Anonymous Cras said...

I was waiting for the Lagonda to show up :) In my opinion one of the best looking cars ever, both inside and out, contrary to the author. Too bad it was of an awful build quality... I'd like to own one some day.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I remember right the bottom left one is out of a GMC/chevy truck.

The chevy Beretta also had a digital display. http://memimage.cardomain.com/ride_images/1/1792/941/4477970005_large.jpg

I really liked the dash on that car at the time.

Anonymous arnie03 said...

Telling that the Citroen GSA gave more space to warnings about failure than anything else...

Blogger dagwud said...

I'm not sure about the following assertion:

"1987 Pontiac Trans Am GTA digital dash was the basis for the KITT's Pontiac Trans Am "Knight Rider" vehicle."

Knight Rider premiered in 1982. I'm not sure how a 1987 vehicle could be the basis for KITT, either in construction or the dashboard.

Am I missing something, but I think the "inspiration" went the other direction.

Anonymous Neel N said...

Now they focus on sleek and slim space savers... the 80's were the flashy times.

Blogger I'm Stumped said...

Where's my Camaro Berlinetta? I had one. It definitely had a digital display. Was an expensive repair when that thing had issues!

Blogger Edwin Herdman said...

The article mentions LEDs and LCDs, but likely all the indicator lights seen here are VFDs.

Blogger Nicholas Tosoni said...

I am GIGGLING at all of this cra-a-a-azy stuff from the 80s. So over-the-top, but...strangely compelling. How did we get into "less = more futuristic?"


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