Classic Triumph Gets A Modern Digital Dash

Analog gauges gave way to all manner of fancy electroluminescent and LED gauges in the ’80s, but the trend didn’t last long. It’s only in the last decade or so that LCD digital gauges have really started to take off in premium cars. [Josh] is putting a modern engine and drivetrain into his classic Triumph GT6, and realised that he’d have to scrap the classic mechanical gauge setup. After not falling in love with anything off the shelf, he decided to whip up his own solution from scratch.

The heart of the build is a Raspberry Pi 4, which interfaces with the car’s modern aftermarket ECU via CANBUS thanks to the PiCAN3 add-on board. Analog sensors, such as those for oil pressure and coolant temperature, are interfaced with a Teensy 4.0 microcontroller which has the analog to digital converters necessary to do the job. Display is via a 12.3″ super-wide LCD sourced off Aliexpress, with the graphics generated by custom PixiJS code running in Chromium under X.

The result is comparable with digital displays in many other modern automobiles, speaking to [Josh]’s abilities not just as a programmer but a graphic designer, too. As a bonus, if he gets sick of the design, it’s trivial to change the graphics without having to dig into the car’s actual hardware.

Gauge upgrades are common on restomod projects; another route taken is to convert classical mechanical gauges to electronic drive. If you’re cooking up your own sweet set of gauges in the garage, be sure to drop us a line! Video after the break.

40 thoughts on “Classic Triumph Gets A Modern Digital Dash

    1. Just under 20 seconds currently. Definitely not ideal, but not a minute either. It will be lower as I get more time to hack on it and maybe do custom kernel stuff, although it’s difficult when a lot of my time is spent actually rebuilding the car and not working on this. 🙂

      1. May I suggest booting it from an in-memory snapshot. I.e. from a good boot hibernate the system and use that hibernate state as the new “boot” starting point. I haven’t tried it with a RPi, but it should be supported and you might find instructions on how to do it online somewhere. Or to keep things simpler, just pause a VM image and use that as the starting point from a minimal system, though you’d incur the cost of booting the host OS.

    2. I used to make digital menu boards and advertising panels for restaurants that were essentially just a Pi connected to a LCD, using chromium during the first models, and it really didn’t have much of a startup time after deconstructing the OS down to bare essentials necessary to run the browser. Maybe 20 seconds on a bad day, but certainly not a minute. I think our Newer model Nissan takes about the same amount of time after the car is start showing any data.

      1. One way round this startup delay could be to boot up the dashboard before the key goes in the ignition. For example, my diesel car warms up the glow plugs as soon as the door is unlocked. By the time I get in, shut the door, put my belt on and start the engine up, it’s usually ready. I rarely have to wait for the glow plug light to extinguish.

        1. One of our GPS models has the option of finding First Fix based on the last Fix. The others use the previous First Fix, which is like WHY? I seldom turn off the car at the same location I started from.

        2. Lots of modern diesels do this, it’s nice when your carbon cleaning with solvents and open the door for whatever reason…. Whoomf nice big fire 🔥 BMW’s do it when the bonnet switch detects a change of state… You lean over the bonnet switch to clean the intake ports. Whoomf. Thanks Mr. Engineer.

    3. I can see a couple of solutions to this. I would be to add a li-ion battery backup and charger to the pi so it runs all the time unless the backup batter gets too low. It would do a low power sleep until woken by a key turn.
      Second would be to do it all on true microcontroller with and add on HDMI board like this https://www.hackster.io/news/bring-hdtv-capability-to-small-mcus-with-techtoys-hdmi-shield-bf3694d4af41
      So it would boot instantly.
      If you stick with the pi.
      You could also add a backup camera as well and even a radio using an SDR dongle. Maybe even side mirror cameras if you can write good reliable code. But…..
      Drop the touch screen buttons are better in a moving vehicle and…
      Javascript?????? Ewwww…… C++ plus QT or gdk will work just fine and dandy for this.

  1. This is really lovely. I have the sister car to this, a Triumph Spitfire, and have replaced a lot of the guts but hadn’t considered an upgrade of this level. For a while I was driving the speedometer with a DC motor based on a GPS signal, but I finally managed to find a metric-transmission-to-crazy-english-car adapter to revert it to mechanical.
    The nice thing about a mix of mechanical and electronic is that you can lose something due to a fault and still have the rest running. It’s nice to have both a mechanical and electronic oil pressure gauge, for instance.
    I’d love to hear more about the ECU choices.

    1. Friend had an MG. Tach broke. Took it apart: a TI chip. NOT TI’s standard tach chip, but a custom. I got lucky, the person I called found some samples in an engineer’s desk! I repaired it, because a new one was unobtainium.

      Also: a pot metal right angle geared adapter, screwed on the back of the tach to allow the cable drive to connect. Why they didn’t use a wire off the ignition circuit I don’t understand. This was in 1980, so my memory is fuzzy but to my knowledge, the car is still on the road.

  2. Hmm. Why replace something that lasted for 60 years with something that will fail in 6? Oh well not my car, not my problem.
    I would have opted for a bldc motor spinning the original dials so the hack is reversable. But yeah, im not completely rebuilding my car…

  3. Well I’m baffled. Many vintage vehicle restorers – myself, and the ones I know personally – go to _great_ lengths to keep the original instruments. Sometimes spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars to do so.
    I read through the site looking for a good explanation why the originals are not being used, but only saw ‘ECU engine’ given, I’d be interested in more detail than that.
    Why not try driving the original speedo with a geared-up stepper or other speed-controlled motor?

    1. Well the answer it’s pretty simple. I’m not a vintage car restorer. This car was ready for the junkyard when I got it and I have spent almost a year and tens of thousands of dollars personally pulling it apart I’m putting it back together better than it was new. It has a modern direct injection turbocharged engine, a 5-speed transmission, a modern LSD rear end and CV shafts. It’s about as far from a stock restoration as you could get, and will be a substantially better car because of that.

      Last but not least, I enjoy making things unique. a concourse restoration of a GT6 would be just about the most boring thing I can imagine owning.

      1. With ya! The categories are very distinct, and they don’t cross over: rodders / restorers.

        If you’re just making a ride from a junk car, and not restoring a car, the options just open up.

        1. Maybe so. But even though I’m not a strict “originalist” I have a strong dislike of screens-based dashes; more power to the guy if he likes them, but I’d never do what is being attempted here. Next up: whoah there cowboy, have some patience and wait for that matchstick to boot up first before you attempt to light it…

      2. Thanks for the clarification, but with that much changed out I’d hesitate to call it a restoration, rather a recreation. We have people who do similar things with old jeeps – new motor, drivetrain, diffs, steering, large tires, new springs and the chassis modified to take all that. The only thing left original is the body shell, yet still gets registered as a historic army jeep. And when these overpowered vehicles are involved in accidents, we who have the original sidevalve 60hp motor and 40MPH top speed get tarred with how dangerous these old vehicles are. I know – we’ve had such incidents discussed at club meetings.

      3. I’m curious about what suspension and brake mods were done. You can get a “big brake” setup for most anything (or adapt one to fit) but getting modern suspension geometry for that car might be hard.

      4. I had one of those in the 70’s. Fiberboard firewall that would get soft and squishy when you drive thru rain, a nylon bearing on the bottom of the stick shift shaft that would eat itself up about every year and pop the gearshift loose, dual fluid damped sidedraft carburetors that you had to balance monthly, and an electric overdrive. Even with all of that it looked really cool, like a short XKE and compared to the other stuff, fiats, MGBs, Healy 3 liters, Datsun 1600 and 2000 and early 240Zs, it was rare in Oklahoma and better looking. I could wax a 240Z once only immediately after balancing the carbs, but the second try it wouldn’t beat the Z because the carbs would be out of balance.
        It had a manual that listed the maintenance you had to do monthly and weekly and they weren’t kidding. It had a bonnet that would flip forward to open and you could sit on the tire while working on the engine.
        I can only imagine what it could be if it was converted to electric. (and maybe some sheet metal replacement for the transmission cover/firewall. Gotta wonder how they concluded that fiberboard was acceptable for that)
        Yep good times. Babe magnet and really fun car when it ran.

        1. British cars…amirite? Friend’s MG Midget — he’d just installed a bunch of new parts. Wanted to take us for a ride. My GF got in, closed the door, and the window crank he’d just replaced bumped her leg…and broke off!

          They’re light, low to the ground and fun to drive, but they were built at a time when the British economy was in the dumps and the companies that built them mostly all went out of business shortly afterwards.
          They are a product of their time. Still, IMO, far more attractive than the Italian ones. There’s a Morgan 3-wheeler where we sometimes spend a few weeks in the summer. Beautiful car, but the chassis is wood. British engineering is “unique”…

      5. Just curious what drivetrain – and nevermind the purists, it looks like it’s going to be cool, and it’s your car, have fun with it!

        I have a TR3 that is going back together (mostly) stock, but that’s just because it’s the way I remember it when I got it. I _am_ thinking of doing port fuel injection on it – I’ve got two induction systems for the car, why not have a set of carbs and a set of injectors?

        My son, on the other hand has a B-swapped EG Civic and it’d be cool to do a similar dash or built-in tuner.

  4. That reflection in that display is ridiculous. And as [MacAttack] says, I’d want to know what the output polarization angle of that display is, and whether it is compatible with polarized sunglasses.

    Why don’t consumer-grade displays don’t come with anti-reflection and quarter-wave-plate layers on them? (yeah, I know, cost…) You can certainly find them on high-end displays.

    Anyone know of field-appliable AR and circular-polarizing films that mere peons can buy?

  5. I’m not sure if it technically matters in this case, but would a custom display like this hacked together with a raspberry pi connected to the CANBUS actually be street legal in the United States?

    1. You typically register it as a kit car. For anything thats not in the DMV database from a registered MFG and has a VIN number given by the MFG in their database, you go down the “kit car” route (might have other names but thats what I remember). You have to get it inspected and pass basic safety stuff. Emissions requirements vary from state to state. Its definitely more work than registering a typical car, but fortunately a lot of the kit-car requirements are somewhat loose, as this route is mostly for vintage car rebuilds that never have and never would meet modern safety requirements. DMV issues a new VIN number and you’re good to go. Insurance options are limited as your typical insurance company bases all their risk calculations off known data / statistics, and don’t know what to do with a car they haven’t heard of. But there are specialty companies out there that will insure the car, and it ends up costing about the same.

  6. Laughing at everyone asking why he would do this instead of fixing stock gauges. This is hackaday, isn’t the whole point people doing stuff like this for fun?

    I’m a car guy and have to say this is awesome! I’m especially impressed with his UI design, looks super clean and modern. I know from experience that’s not easy!

  7. Impressive project, way beyond what I would finish. Lots of memories from a ’69 GT 6+ I had for a few years, and I’m glad you’re going to put a Triumph back on the the road!

  8. I am keen to see what this looks like with the dash pad and dash board in place as I have a Spitfire which has a very similar dashboard. Please post a photo once it is done.

    Thanks, Andy

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