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. Do you remember the early 80s when LCD displays suddenly appeared in cars, looking a bit like “TV computer games”? Opel led the way, but no-one followed …
What a time. The global fear of a first nuclear strike hung in the air, and the loud 70s were followed by cool neon lights and gray concrete in the architecture – and not forgetting big hair and bandana’d heads. People of the 80s wanted to have digital clocks and saved for their own home computers. Everywhere crackling computer voices feigned artificial intelligence, which today would be put to shame by any food processor. And Opel of all manufacturers showed bravery and rode the digital wave. For some flagship models it even offered a digital dashboard at the time. In the Kadett GT/E and GSi, in the Monza and even in the Senator B, fascinated buyers were looking at colorful LCD displays, in which the revs and speed were displayed in bright colorful digits and bars, and the mileage was measured with a mechanical drum. Today it’s exactly the other way round.
While on color TVs at home playful pixel bars flickered across screens, which, owing to a lack of alternatives, were described as “very realistic graphics”, instrument clusters were equipped with LCD units. Unlike the high-resolution displays used today and active LED technology, these crystals couldn’t emit light themselves. Depending on which voltage you applied to the liquid crystals, their orientation changed. That had an influence on the color of external light sources, in other words ordinary light bulbs that were connected behind. We were led to believe in a radical new technology but all it did was display numbers on colorful illuminated surfaces, just like a simple flip clock. Oil pressure, battery voltage, water temperature and fuel level were shown by quasi-analog displays consisting of various segments. That wasn’t a technical masterpiece, but it was something that was completely new in a car, and it was applauded and ridiculed in equal measure.
People are creatures of habit and just couldn’t and wouldn’t get used to it. Only today where smartphones are more important than your spouse, more full-HD displays and digital displays are used on dashboards. Analog instruments now almost seem stylish. Take note of the chic, round clock on the central console of high-end cars which makes a wonderful mechanical tick-tock sound. Driving in an old Opel is like traveling back in time to the world of the first Star Wars movies. Back when the fear of independent supercomputers at the Pentagon was omnipresent, and people were shooting with small pixelated missiles at larger pixelated missiles using a joystick. This high tech from the past now seems a bit naive but adorable at the same time – hats off to anyone who has one in their garage at home. We in the Osram team will be looking at what’s to come in the next 20 years. And we’ll definitely be part of it.