Keeping Alive The Future Of Cars, 1980s Style

Here at Hackaday we’re a varied bunch of writers, some of whom have careers away from this organ, and others whose work also appears on the pages of other publications in different fields. One such is our colleague [Lewin Day], and he’s written a cracking piece for The Autopian about the effort to keep an obscure piece of American automotive electronic history alive. We think of big-screen control panels in cars as a new phenomenon, but General Motors was fitting tiny Sony Trinitron CRTs to some models back in the late 1980s. If you own one of these cars the chances are the CRT is inoperable if you’ve not encountered [Jon Morlan] and his work repairing and restoring them.

Lewin’s piece goes into enough technical detail that we won’t simply rehash it here, but it’s interesting to contrast the approach of painstaking repair with that of replacement or emulation. It would be a relatively straightforward project to replace the CRT with a modern LCD displaying the same video, and even to use a modern single board computer to emulate much of a dead system. But we understand completely that to many motor enthusiasts that’s not the point, indeed it’s the very fact it has a frickin’ CRT in the dash that makes the car.We’ll probably never drive a 1989 Oldsmobile Toronado. But we sure want to if it’s got that particular version of the future fitted.

Lewin’s automotive writing is worth watching out for. He once brought us to a motorcycle chariot.

18 thoughts on “Keeping Alive The Future Of Cars, 1980s Style

        1. Did you literally not read the article and how none of the old CRTs still work? So what’s your point? Are you suggesting 80s and vintage tech CAN work without OEM support? Yesterday’s vintage tech is made of brittle plastic and asbestos, don’t be fooled by the marketing of the 80s, its all garbage

      1. True but how long will take until next extinction even?

        I also like the idea of having car offline and not online because for benefits of having online connection are very small

        1. The benefits of having GPS navigation are small? I’m guessing you’re too young to remember printing out MapQuest directions. Imagine thinking that the benefits of connecting your car to a map via Internet is a small benefit 🤣😂

          1. You don’t have to connect to the Internet for gps. Remember TomTom? You can download maps elsewhere and use them without an always on connection or slap them on a memory card and update your maps offline.

            Always connected cars are a *terrible* idea and mostly for the reasons GM has made nice and obvious for us by selling personal driving data to “insurance risk analyzers.”

  1. Aston Martin Lagonda of similar vintage used three CRTs for the dashboard, run by a Z80 no less.

    I would expect there’s more than a few of those out there with dead dashboards too.

  2. I’ve been fascinated by these things for years, despite the fact that it was never sold here, and went hunting for service manuals or even just PCB shots or descriptions of what major components they used. Never found much, and from the article it looks like not much exists. I’d love it if anyone has any PCB shots or technical descriptions. One thing which was very clear, from everything I found, is that it hadn’t really attracted the attention of electronics geeks. I say this because descriptions were all from people who treated it like a black box, and obsessed about the function it performed for the car. I didn’t give a damn about the car, I wanted to know about the electronics. 🤣

  3. Speaking of keeping automotive tech alive, is anyone out there dumping the LPC-encoded voice ROMs from the old Chrysler EVAs? I’m sure those also are being lost to time.

  4. I’ve always liked the soft keys that border the MFD in aircraft. I wouldn’t mind having a pair of those in place of the massive dash touch screens automakers seem to think people want.

    Throw in a row of analog gauge across the top of the dash where I don’t have to look down and “through” the steering wheel would be nice too if I’m wishing for things that will never be.

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