Dashboards and instrument panels. Every day we look at the arrangement of speedometer, rev counters, clock and other instruments. Sometimes they’re on, sometimes they aren’t. None of these instrument panels is the same, and during the past 50 years true marvels of more or less tasteful dashboard lighting and designs have emerged. In this short series we will introduce some of them to you. Who remembers those small revolving drums behind glass? Oh, yeah. They showed the speed …
The French and their creativity. By the time the DS goddess was called up to a well-earned retirement on Mount Olympus after 20 years of production, the designers had already launched a new space cruiser onto the market a year earlier. More modern, cheaper to produce and from 1974 full to the brim with innovations. The CX, named after the French abbreviation for “drag coefficient”, was a bit like a mix of the legendary XM and a flying saucer. The transverse engines meant the interior was really roomy. Outside it was also different from others, it was sexy and new. Italian designer Pininfarina once said: a design is only perfect if you can’t leave anything out anymore. A valid point – even in France. The CX also came with a concave rear window, hydropneumatic suspension and speed-dependent hydraulic power steering (DIRAVI).
The CX is really special on the inside in particular. Get in the car and you feel like you’re sinking into a deep armchair. You have to twist your arm round the steering column, threading in the key from below at an angle. Uncomfortable – but modern. Once the engine has come to life and is pumping green blood into the car’s veins, the instrument panel catches your eye. Ooh la la! Below a long row of warning lamps (good if they’re all switched off) a revolving-drum speedometer and rev counter are rotating between the analog clock and the gages for fuel and temperature. Numbers printed onto small drums rotate behind a magnifying porthole, instead of the usual round instruments. Without much time to get used to it they’re difficult to read, but somehow extremely stylish and above all … different from the rest. They’re illuminated by 4W bayonet lamps; if you’ve ever had to replace them you’ll tell that story in great detail in car forums, and you’ll be a hero.
The instruments are flanked by what is called “satellites”, two small clusters of switches within reach of the single spoke steering wheel, which is quite ergonomic and fits into the whole space ship experience. During the night especially, CX drivers had the feeling of sitting in a flying saucer with lights all round. The arrangement and type of instruments, their illumination, and the overall concept of the CX don’t have a comparable successor today. The world has moved on, just like the magnifying speedometer. Understandable really, but this more than 40-year-old car is still modern when it comes to its handling and performance. And it differs from current vehicles in one respect in particular, then as now – the CX is extravagant, different and individual. No wonder it was mainly driven by architects and surgeons. The dashboard alone deserves a monument.