Car Dashboards as Works of Art

Link - article by Avi Abrams

Visual Caffeine: Exploring Art and Architecture with Avi Abrams, Issue 3

This is the third issue of our "visual caffeine concoctions" (read issues 1, 2) - somewhat unpredictable forays into the history of art and architecture, coupled with mythology, culture and obsolete technology. For those of you who want an even larger dose of our visual caffeine, head over to Dark Roasted Blend, and get addicted to our endless stream of thrilling visual information.

Today we are going to look at some amazing car dashboards - if, like me, you enjoy being surrounded by beautiful design wherever possible, then car dashboards (considering how much time we spend in our cars) certainly need to be comfortable and nice to look at. However, some dashboards transcend being simply "visually pleasant" and enter the rarified category of "objects of desire" usually reserved only for masterpieces of modern art.

New State-of-the-Art Dashboard Concepts

Original "dashboards" were simply wooden barriers to protect the horse carriage driver from splashes (or "dashes") of dirt thrown up by the horse's hooves. Much has changed since...

Modern dashboards are significantly more than just arrangements of knobs and dials around a steering wheel. At their best, new concept dashboards feel more like clouds of futuristic worlds, enveloping the driver and lifting him into a stratosphere of high style and impeccable taste.

Granted, some of the recent concept dashboards are so wildly bizarre that it's hard to imagine yourself "easing into" such an environment, much less simply concentrating on driving. Other dashboards seem to be designed only to "buck the trend" and come up with something radical and shocking that rival companies have not tried yet. (Fresh concepts are expected to appear every year at different auto shows, making automotive design a highly dynamic and competitive field). And yet, there are plenty of fantastic dashboards to be found in modern concept cars to inspire and excite the most demanding of drivers.

Renault DeSir's concept car's interior is all about flowing shapes and typical French visual harmony:

(image via)

The 2007 Mazda Taiki has a beautiful, Art Nouveau inspired dashboard, with pulsating red "veins" of light flowing around a steering wheel like some sort of decadent liquor (is it possible to get intoxicated by just looking at this gorgeous design?):

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Another Mazda concept, the 2007 Mazda Ryuga has some sort of futuristic space fighter interior (featuring what is probably the best-looking instrument cluster ever designed for a dashboard) - a much appreciated "breath of fresh air" when it comes to stale mass-produced dashboard layouts:

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There are a few too many intersecting planes and angles here for our liking, but the Toyota FT-HS makes up for the resulting visual complexity with an austere, yet highly ergonomic, driver's seat:

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The Citroen C-Cactus features some incredible, flowery cut-outs (even on the bottom of the steering wheel column), and can probably compete with the VW hippie van for "flower power" appeal:

(image via)

The Citroen Revolte concept car sports a futuristic dashboard, which is only slightly marred by the awkward rectangle of the computer display:

Here is a very clean looking 2001 Volvo ACC dashboard with a pretty good integration of a rectangular iPad-sized screen in this case:

(image via)

A very inviting 2009 Cadillac ELR interior: appropriately edgy and high-tech, and yet luxurious enough... Prestigious design, done right:

Looking back at the Toyota FXS from 2001, we are impressed with a distinct Art Deco feel to the whole layout, enhanced by mysterious blue tones:

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Speaking of Art Deco themes, I find this nautically-themed 2008 Buick Riviera's interior inviting (if a little crude on the overall finish and detailing, which is to be expected from a preliminary concept model):

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This great Japanese pod, 2007 Nissan Roundbox, is like an impossibly hip living room, art studio and maybe even "cloud-based" workplace all rolled into one:

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Well, time to show a few dashboard oddities: here is the Russian 2003 Russo-Baltique Impression supercar, boasting acres of wood (we hope that it is not plastic):

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Spyker cars have always been different from the mainstream, a rare thing unto itself (though, as some point out, not necessarily a thing-of-beauty), and this 2001 Spyker C8 Laviolette is no exception, with its incredible orange theme and sophisticated-looking stainless steel pedal assembly:

(image via)

All curves and bulbous surfaces, like a spaceship escape pod, 2009 Nissan Qazana is "so bizarre it almost looks French" (this quote comes from a car magazine obviously not very content with most of the American cookie-cutter dashboards, so I consider it a compliment to the French):

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Minimalism in dashboard design can be a wonderful thing. Here is a very classy dashboard of the Morgan Life Car (read our article why Morgan cars are so different):

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Less is certainly more inside 2001 Hispano-Suiza K8:

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Descending from the lofty heights of concept car designs we enter the production supercar territory. There are many classic dashboard beauties to mention (enough for its own article), but here are a couple of Lamborghini Diablo interiors, just so that we could peek inside and marvel.... at all this carbon fibre in Lamborghini Diablo VT 6.0:

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...and the mystique of the deep blue velvet Lamborghini Diablo SE30 interior; truly an iron fist in a velvet glove:

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Dashboards of the Fifties: A Smorgasbord of Touchable Delights

These sculptures of leather and chrome could easily be displayed in future art galleries and fondled, touched, and caressed by our descendants in puzzled appreciation (by this time in the future, all dashboards will probably be replaced by a floating holographic voice-driven interface, so the metal knobs and soft padding of 1950s dashboards would seem quaint enough). Here is one of the best (and wildly strange) dashboards of the period, a red 1956 Buick Centurion wonder:

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More tame and very classy 1950s Chrysler Imperial dashboards:

(image via)

Dashboard, surrounded by romance - this 1958 Ford layout certainly witnessed many stolen kisses in its time:

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Signature Hydramatic buttons, from a 1954 Oldsmobile model:

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Dashboards do not get weirder than this...

This 1970s Lancia concept features some sort of iPad screen... and bizarre steering wheel shape:

Even weirder: why not place all instruments inside the steering wheel? This fantastic idea was used once in the Maserati Boomerang:

And we finish with a couple of examples of unbelievably tacky car interior bling - sure to hurt the eye (on the left is an American custom job, on the right is a Japanese delivery van interior):

(right image via)

Article by Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend. This article appears simultaneously on Dark Roasted Blend and on "Out of Order" magazine - a Yale University print and online publication that curates innovative and bold fashion, art, music and film for the university set.






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Blogger Unknown said...

I must be getting old, I did't much care for any of them.
The Nissan Roundthing 'borrowed' a little too heavily from Marc Newson, unless he as actually involved...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hard to look at the dashboards from the 1950s (and some today) without thinking of all of the people who were impaled by non-collapsable steering columns, had their teeth knocked out by metal dashboards before flying through the windshield in non-seatbelted cars, and all the other egregious, willful safety oversights (known to the engineers and yet allowed to continue) done in the name of "styling". These things are not art: they are a form of necropheliac design, macabre exercises of style over safety, an utterly disgusting reflection of the generally corrupt culture of automotive design.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon: FFS get a grip. What do you think people will say in 60 years about dashboards today.

They are done with the technology and ideals of the time. We still have horrid accidents today even with all the "gadgets" and safety features. Why? because people have a false sense of security and think they are invincible in their "safety featured" cars. So they drive faster, more stupidly, less attentively.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Talk about a driver distraction! Very cool, though. A dash I'd like to add is the dashboard for the Hummer Hx Concept, halfway between a fighter jet and a Lambo, nothing that you would expect from a company that was military before it was public.

Anonymous AncientRacer said...

I really like the Cadillac and the Buick and I appreciate your putting in the 50's cars. Dashboards wer so cool then as I was a kid and remember them well.

But you left out my favorite: The 1959 Buick LeSabre which had a mirror that reflected a hidden (and backwards)speed gauge and the driver could adjust the mirror for the most comfortable view.

Sure wish designers woulkd go back to that golden age -- inside and out. Cars were way cool then :)

Anonymous Max said...

Well I must be getting old too, most of the modern concepts seem to be 100% styling with 0% usability and that doesn't go down to well with me. On the other hand, what I'm surprised of is how in 2012 most cars don't feature yet an (at least optional) steering wheel-integrated smartphone dock (landscape), like this one: http://www.soundandvisionmag.com/blog/2012/03/08/new-gear-harman-s-dockgo-personalized-dashboard

Blogger Rally said...

The Volvo ACC concept dashboard made it almost ummolested into the 2003 Volvo S40/V50 production cars, even down to the freestanding center stack. The "ball-and-socket" shifter was included on the Volvo S60R sedan (which also had the most comfortable seats I have ever used).


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