Home » A Well-Known Car On A Very Poorly-Known Computer: Cold Start

A Well-Known Car On A Very Poorly-Known Computer: Cold Start

Cs Canon1

This past week Autopian readers once again proved that they’re the Rolls-Royce of Cadillacs when it comes to automotive enthusiast website appreciators, because not one but two ones of people sent me, for free, out of both simple kindness and a desire to rid their houses of old crap, some fascinating old computers. As you may know, when I’m not being obsessed with cars and need to be obsessed with old, often broken machines that are more compatible with interiors, I’m obsessed with old ’70s and ’80s computing tech. So, knowing my weakness, I was sent a true icon of computing tech, a Commodore PET, and an extremely obscure handheld computer, a Canon X-07. The PET needs some repair, but the Canon works, which is why you can see that partially-drawn Volkswagen Beetle on the screen up there.

Cs Canon2

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

An Autopian named Mike sent me the Canon; it’s about the size of a VHS tape and has a full version of BASIC that’s more full-featured than you’d expect from something that looks like an overfed calculator. In fact, this whole machine is strangely better than you’d expect: it’s capable of bitmap graphics on its 120×32 pixel screen, and there was even an option back in the day to connect it to a video monitor, where it could display eight colors at 256×192. For the era, that’s great!

Cs Canon3

I also was able to get it to play square-wave tones and I found you can re-define parts of the character set – this thing is way better than it has any right to be. There’s some onboard RAM disk storage and you can connect a cassette player for storage. How did these things never catch on? This little Z80-based machine, with the video adapter, could have been roughly on par with computers like the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A or the VIC-20 or Atari 400, all while being portable, too. But, nobody bought them, so it’s up to me to remind you they once existed.


Also, as you can see, even though I wrote a silly little drawing program for it, I forgot to do any error-checking, so it crashed mid-drawing, and I was too lazy to do it again. Oops.

The other computer, the Commodore Pet, from an Autopian named Peter, is colossal compared to the Canon, a 40-pound beast with a built-in CRT:

Cs Pet1

I love the look of this thing. This was one of the “1977 Trinity” computers, the first three real home computers to hit the market, along with the Apple II and the Radio Shack/Tandy TRS-80. Look at that keyboard layout! No numbers on the main keyboard! Those miserable shift-required cursor keys!

Cs Pet2


The whole top of this lifts up like a car hood, and even has a prop rod like a car hood, too. There’s a bad capacitor down in the lower right of the picture, so I need to fix that, which I diagnosed just like you do with a British car with Lucas electrics: turn it on and see where the Magic Smoke is coming from.

Hopefully I can get it fixed and do dumb car drawings on this, too. It’s important, you see.

This was really, really tangentially related to cars. I bet David’s gonna bitch at me about that.

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Scott Finkeldei
Scott Finkeldei
9 months ago

Love this article! I learned to program on a Commodore PET. Fond memories for sure!

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
9 months ago

That Canon looks nifty, although not quite as useful as the later HP LX handheld that ran MS-DOS.
I’m glad your PET is the later model with proper typewriter keys, my enduring memory of the PET in middle school is the screen printing wearing off the keys.

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