Home » Ford Just Used An Over-The-Air Upgrade To Make New Mustangs That Much Cooler

Ford Just Used An Over-The-Air Upgrade To Make New Mustangs That Much Cooler

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You know what skeuomorphism is, right? Sure you do, you’re a well-read, erudite go-getter and you know all sorts of words, like “erudite” and “go-getter” and, yes, “skeuomorphic.” But for the people currently reading this over your shoulder, I’ll note that skeuomorphic design is when a digital interface is used to represent a real-world object, with all of that object’s limitations and peculiarities. Normally, I think the use of a digital instrument cluster screen to render mechanical, physical gauges is, well, stupid, since it defeats the whole point of a screen that can display anything in the first place. But I think there’s an exception to that rule: skeuomorphic gauges are just fine if the purpose they serve is just fun. If you want a nostalgic look and freely admit that, yes, it’s all a bit absurd, then I say have at it. And that’s exactly what Ford did yesterday, when they, in honor of the Mustang’s 60th anniversary, sent an over-the-air update to all seventh-generation Mustangs so they can now have an instrument cluster that looks like it came from a first-generation Mustang.

What a glorious world we live in, at least when it comes to making very convincing mimics of physical gauges on digital dashboard screens. I can’t guarantee world glory for anything else.

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The software that contains the old-school gauge cluster was sent out via digital bits sent by radio waves and should be received by all seventh-generation – that is, Mustangs made starting in 2023 and on. While the name notes these gauges started in 1967, it’s worth noting that not all early Mustangs had a round speedo like what the display shows; base model Mustangs had a wide, strip-type speedometer. Here’s a round-speedo diagram from a 1966 owner’s manual and a strip speedo from a ’65:

65dash

As you can see, the digital gauges use the same typography and style as that round gauge:

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Gauges1

The side-by side round gauges can be seen in the 1967 Mustang dash, which seems to be the source for these digital gauges:

67dash

Those tall, narrow numerals are so evocative of this era, as are those vivid orange needles. The details in these re-created gauges are really well done, and I think that’s what makes these cool instead of gimmicky; they’re done with real care and attention. The textures of the various elements, like the rough texture of the central round disc that carries the needle is dead-on, and moves along with the needle, like a real one would. What got me the most, though, was this:

Reflection

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As the orange needle moves, you can see its color reflected in the chrome bezel. It’s so nicely done! Here, you can see it in action a bit, as showed to me by Ford’s Director of Product Communication, Mike Levine:

That’s just fun. I respect the work that went into this delightfully frivolous and irrational project, because delight and irrationality are the bedrock of why we buy cars, especially cars like Mustangs.

Previously, these seventh-gen Mustangs already came with one nostalgic dash, the Fox body gauge cluster. This one has real ’80s charm, and I love how when the lights are on, the numbers glow green just like old ’80s dashboards once did:

Foxbodydash2

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They also did a great job with the plastic textures on those faux-gauges. Here’s Matt explaining how it works with the Dark Horse Mustang he had last year:

It’s all so silly and wonderful. What’s the point of having a screen that can display anything if you’re not sometimes using it to display things that are just cool? And the fact that it just arrived through the air, like a gift from a ghost, is still something that feels like magic.

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Turkina
Turkina
1 month ago

Has there been a speedo or a tach where the needle stays top dead center and the dial moves instead? Sorry, my brain went off the reservation there…

Things and stuff
Things and stuff
29 days ago
Reply to  Turkina

Closest I can think of would be slot machine style gauges

Alec Weinstein
Alec Weinstein
24 days ago
Reply to  Turkina

Toronado drum speedo

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
1 month ago

While none of the nameplates that actually offered it are still in use today, I’m still hoping for one for other Fords that mimics the digital dash layouts they offered in the 80s/90s on the Taurus/Thunderbird/Panthers/etc.

Space
Space
1 month ago

On BMW this would be a subscription.

Tim R
Tim R
1 month ago
Reply to  Space

I would love something like this on my BMW. The default gauges on my 2021 are so squished. All my driving is done in like a 1.5 in wide strip of the speedo

Mr E
Mr E
1 month ago

I love that Ford did this.

I don’t love that Ford only did this for ’24+ models, and I’m not going to upgrade to an S650 just for that.

Von Baldy
Von Baldy
1 month ago
Reply to  Mr E

Im sure a dealer flash to the bcm would give this

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
1 month ago

But will the needle bend over time and rub against the glass face like it did in my ’64 F100? Made for fun times when I stopped and the needle stayed at 37 MPH!

Citrus
Citrus
1 month ago

I do kinda hate that we went from gauges getting a real physicality to them to just a flat panel like it’s the ’90s again. A good analog gauge is like a watch – it has depth to it, it has interesting finishes, it looks like someone cares.

You can have screens in addition to gauges – it’s actually a pleasing combo. You can even do cool stuff with them like the moving tachometer in the Lexus LF-A.

But a screen doesn’t have the same depth and use of materials. Yes, gauge themes can look like someone cares too, but it always looks cheap, because there’s no dimension to it. This looks cheaper than the deeply tunnelled gauges of the previous gen.

I don’t like that the gauges in my six year old Hyundai actually look more expensive than pretty much anything on the market right now.

Robn
Robn
1 month ago
Reply to  Citrus

100% agree. I even opted for the base model physical gauges with a smaller cluster screen vs full digital gauges on my ’22 LR Defender because I love them so much, and would have paid more to do so (even though I actually paid less).

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
1 month ago
Reply to  Citrus

Even worse, usually the attempt to make flat digital gauges and screens look like they have depth and dimension makes them wind up looking cheaper than if they were just embraced the fact that they’re digital.

Analog gauges forever though, was just disassembling and cleaning the gauge cluster for my ’80s project bimmer this morning.

F.Y. Jones
F.Y. Jones
1 month ago
Reply to  Citrus

Mercedes has been adding 3-D displays to its guage clusters (and no you don’t have to wear dorky glasses to make it work). I think it’s similar technoloy used by the Nintendo 3DS, where there are two images at slightly different angles that create a stereoscopic effect (I’m sure someone else can do a much better job of explaining it). I don’t have a mercedes and haven’t actually had a chance to try it out, but I’ve heard it works pretty well.

AceRimmer
AceRimmer
28 days ago
Reply to  Citrus

100% agree! One of the reasons I bought my G70 over alternatives in the class. Not only do screens look cheap and flat, they also have motion blur inherent to LCD displays. Practically no one notices, but I do and it is really irritating. Plus, I love high-grade watches. One decent sized screen in-between real gauges is perfect!

Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
1 month ago

How to build your brand: give free over-the-air updates to your fanbase
How to damage your brand: lock out features digitally, subscriptions for features
It would be great if you could configure your dash screen, and they kept adding new gauge packs… it could be like the Apple Watch and it’s Face Gallery.

Last edited 1 month ago by Hotdoughnutsnow
Twobox Designgineer
Twobox Designgineer
1 month ago

One thing I disagree with Torch about is his (and tech journos’ in general) anti-skeuomorphism stance.
IME, skeuomorphism in the beginning was fun back when you had severely limited ability to render it well, the 8-bit days. (And like Torch’s birthday robots.) It was a matter of how close can we/they get with these rough tools, and each step closer was impressive. Winamp skins didn’t look real, but they were trying, and again, fun.
Then as graphics technology improved, in software bit depth, hardware pixel density and illustration app quality, the design reached an uncanny valley — close but not there. And just like “Polar Express,” then the press dumped on it. At the same time I never heard an actual user complain about the graphics on their phone or computer.
For example, the backlash against skeuomorphism in iOS, mostly lead by overreaction to the legitimately bad notebook and contacts apps, led to a rehash of the UI design where static text looked no different from dynamic display text, which significantly looked no different from the also frameless text which are actionable buttons. It continues mostly in this way to this day, and is made worse by the replacement of many common icons by text (e.g. “edit”), which doesn’t have the same immediate brain connection as an icon once the icon is learned.
So in cars, we got a lot of numbers on screen. This is generally bad because it requires too much attention. There is a reason why aircraft have retained round dials with moving pointers— they are readable, both in their indication of position and their velocity up or down, by your limited-resolution peripheral vision. As was determined by testing.
As an automotive example, in my ’77 firebird, I never had to look directly at the speedo because 50 was straight up and 60 was one well-separated blurry peripheral blob over, indicated by a big white needle. By contrast, in my ’86 6000STE I had that cool-at-the-time two digit speed number, but I had to /look/ at it to read it. And in peripheral vision it told me nothing about whether I was speeding up or slowing down going down a hill.
I think it’s great that Ford has done these analog gauges in digital, and even better that current rendering makes it look awfully realistic. But I wish dials with indicators for important things like speedo had never gone away, even if they were going through an uncanny stage.
Another point, being anti-skeuomorphism is akin to saying, “visual art must either abstract expressionism or photography. All that mostly realistic stuff that still looks like paint is garbage.”

Ben
Ben
1 month ago

they are readable, both in their indication of position and their velocity up or down, by your limited-resolution peripheral vision.

This is the main reason I disagree with Torch on this point and never use non-skeumorphic gauges if I can help it. Every time I try to use a digital gauge I hate the lack of instant rate-of-change at a glance. On a high res screen, much like on a real gauge, you can tell almost immediately how fast the needle is moving and that’s useful information, even if you don’t consciously think about it.

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
1 month ago

Maybe he’s painting with too broad a brush? But I do think that “skeumorphism” is very hard to pull off successfully-and to your last point even when done well is good in moderation, I don’t need every gauge cluster no matter how good to be skeumorphic. I will also add that I think the analog vs digital gauge comparison is pretty sample dependent. I tend to like dials, but one of my more recent cars (2008 Porsche Cayenne) I found that inspite of myself I mostly read the digital speedometer readout centered in the instruments because I instantly knew the exact speed whereas the analog dial read in such big increments that I had only had a general suggestion at a glance of what speed I was going. I do think a lot of current car UI is badly designed, with cheesy attempts at creating depth and dimension in a 2d space that doesn’t need it and a general lack of innovation now that automotive digital product developers are freed of analog constraints. Though since constraints often drive creative design and engineering that may be why so much of what we’re seeing in this space is feels overwrought.

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 month ago

Not a substitute for actual 3d gauges, but that’s where we are, so this does make the best of it. I want to know why this hasn’t been done more frequently and throughout the industry as it was the first thought I had after scoffing at another damn digital interface when LCD gauge displays first started coming out. Why limit it to just a few styles, why not even more? Why not some new stuff altogether, maybe even allow some custom design? Where’s a design that could come out of a spaceship or an advanced fighter plane in a scifi movie?

On this subject, when I build my small speedboat, a lot of thought has gone into completely custom wraparound wood dash inlaid with metal with large 3D gauges I’m making myself (using OTS mechanicals and I’ll purchase the convex glass covers separate) because it’s those little details that really elevate something from the ordinary to outstanding or vice versa if they’re neglected and, unfortunately, these flat displays just seem to fall into the latter category, though I commend the effort to at least make it a bit more fun.

Mechanical Pig
Mechanical Pig
1 month ago
Reply to  Cerberus

I remember having a 1980s Bayliner runabout, that used a sort of faux-3D gauge package. Each gauge was square, but mostly blacked out aside from a clear strip in the center. The strip was wide at one side and then tapered thinner as it went upward, along with the lettering, to give the illusion it was getting further away “into” the dashboard. Of course, the typography was 8-segment display style, because 80s. The needle seemed to move linear up/down (or front-to-back) rather than in a sweep, to maintain the “illusion”.

Of course, it was strictly 2d physically, but I found it odd that they bothered to give it a bit of visual flair, particularly as Bayliners are known for being no-frills, value oriented boats.

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 month ago
Reply to  Mechanical Pig

I’m pretty sure I know the gauges you’re talking about. I worked on an old Bayliner that had them. Can’t remember the needles, though, so I might be remembering it wrong, but I also wasn’t working on anything pertaining to them. Boat was disgusting—owned by some old alcoholic swinger-looking guy and the cabin smelled accordingly and I had to lay on the bed to work on some electrical issue.

Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
1 month ago

Wish all digital dash cars had skins like this, my Bolt has a ‘classic’ option but it’s mainly just a different color scheme, would love an analog speedometer even if it had the digital speed in the center or some such.

Lincoln Clown CaR
Lincoln Clown CaR
1 month ago

Fast-forwarding 24 hours into the future: “Mustang Owners Report Fun Retro Instrument Cluster Update Bricked Their Cars”

Cool Dave
Cool Dave
1 month ago

I like this, it’s a good application of the technology. BUT! I was out trolling through junk stores the other week and saw an old 80s aftermarket tach on the shelf and old mechanical gauges just have a vibe and feel that no amount of digital detail will replicate.

Church
Church
1 month ago

Still not buying a mustang, but this is digital dashboards done right*.

* This is still wrong if any of the digital display functionality is trim locked (no tire pressure monitor unless you buy a GT or some-such) because that’s total B.S.

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
1 month ago
Reply to  Church

If brands go all-in on a pre-installed, trim-locked fuctionality cash-grab, I sure hope hackers step up and start actively making user-firendly jailbreaking tools like they did with smartphones. If brands insist on only selling heaps of tiny computers on wheels and further weaponise it against their customers, I really hope people take matters into their own hands and fight back.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
1 month ago

Does a galloping mustang light up when you hit the high beams?

Peter W
Peter W
1 month ago

Ahhh, the Fox body gauges have an orange line at 55mph. Gen X me geeked out on that more than the reflection of the needle in the 60s gauge setup

Matthew Hogan
Matthew Hogan
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter W

I was hoping they had the SVO version that stopped at 85 with orange ticks after that.

Bill D
Bill D
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter W

I, too, noticed that. Like a few other things from bygone days I’m not keen on bringing back, I’m glad we left the national 55mph limit on the ash heap of history.

Timbales
Timbales
1 month ago

I wish more cars had options to custom theme your digital displays.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
1 month ago

Does the speedo needle wobble +/- 10 mph like its ancestor too?

Last edited 1 month ago by Cheap Bastard
Alexk98
Alexk98
1 month ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Based on the bronco sport’s accessory hood scoop spontaneously detaching itself, I’d wager some trim pieces on the Mustang probably wobble about as much!

Last edited 1 month ago by Alexk98
Turbotictac
Turbotictac
1 month ago

I owned a 67 Mustang for a few months, the gauges were one of my favorite parts

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
1 month ago

Anyone remember winamp skins? Why can’t manufacturers just open it up so people can load third party skins? I’d have so much fun with that.

SAABstory
SAABstory
1 month ago

My dashboard kicked the llama’s ass.

Jj
Jj
1 month ago
Reply to  SAABstory

Lots of Winamp here this week.

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
1 month ago
Reply to  Jj

it was the shizzz

Cruise-O-Matic
Cruise-O-Matic
1 month ago

I *still* use Winamp. Plugins and skins rule. I still haven’t found another player that does what it does…

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 month ago
Reply to  Cruise-O-Matic

MusicBee, MediaMonkey, DeadBeef, XMPlay, and Foobar2000 are all superior IMO, depending on how fully featured you’re in the mood for.

Long_Time_Reader_First_Time_Poster
Long_Time_Reader_First_Time_Poster
1 month ago
Reply to  SAABstory

“Winamp (winamp): It really whips the llama’s ass!” Complete with baying in the background.

VanGuy
VanGuy
1 month ago

Alternatively, I’d finally remove Windows Media Player if VLC would just have a built-in dark mode…

Jeep Liberty, MY LEG!
Jeep Liberty, MY LEG!
1 month ago

Too heterodox and progressive for a company trying to ride off nostalgia for the name of the sports car they made on the cheap “so young people could buy one”.

Also, man, winamp fucked so much.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jeep Liberty, MY LEG!
AnalogMan
AnalogMan
1 month ago

Yes, it’s cool and fun Ford programmed the flat screen to resemble the original Mustang instrument panel. But people, it’s still just a screen. It’s a two-dimensional simulation of the real thing.

Some people love and prefer generic iPad touch screens instead of genuine, three-dimensional instruments and gauges. To each their own. Vanilla and chocolate. Those who grew up playing with PlayStations probably find it appealing.

There’s one and only one reason Ford, and other manufacturers, use flat displays instead of the real thing: it’s cheaper. A friend who used to work for Ford told me it costs them about $50 per flat display, a savings – and greater profit – of hundreds of dollars over using analog gauges, buttons, and knobs.

I’m old-school. Maybe because I’m old. Ugly too. I prefer things I can touch and feel. I want knobs, buttons, and dials I can touch and control by feel, without having to take my eyes off the road and look at them. Pushing a button or turning a dial simply feels so much better than hunting and pecking at a touch screen. There’s just no substitute for seeing a real, solid, three-dimensional analog gauge of a tach winding up towards the redline. The PlayStation imitation just doesn’t do it for me.

Solely in my old-school curmudgeon geezer gearhead opinion, Ford nailed the retro vibe right in the original S550 Mustang.

blob:https://www.theautopian.com/2b324277-0d4a-4ee5-ad83-e2c4b4134fc4

The current one might thrill some people and more power to them. It just gives me the dry heaves.

blob:https://www.theautopian.com/3d791866-5493-4f31-b6e0-52f14bfd763a

I’ll keep driving my 2015 GT until someone pries my cold, dead, bleached skeletal fingers off the gearshft knob.

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
1 month ago
Reply to  AnalogMan

I agree with you in some ways but I feel like you’re conflating some others.

I hate hate hate touch screen controls, and I am 100% with you there. Give me knobs and dials and buttons or give me death because I’ll probably crash trying to do what knobs and dials and buttons should have done.

A gauge that I would (normally, anyway) never be able to physically touch, on a screen that doesn’t span 50″ across the entire interior of the car for no reason? Harmless fun. I wish I could set the digital display on my bike to show the round tach and speedo by default, but there aren’t any touch controls crowding in, though that’d be a disaster on a bike anyway.

Detroit Lightning
Detroit Lightning
1 month ago

Love it, super fun!

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
1 month ago

Say what you will about Ford, but when it comes to the Mustang they clearly understand the assignment. The little tips of the hat to the heritage are cool and they’re doing the lord’s work keeping the Coyote V8 alive for another generation. In a world where the Charger is now a 6,000 pound EV and the Camaro is dead/looming ominously in the shadows potentially waiting to come back as an electric crossover, I’m glad Ford has kept the ICE Mustang true to form.

Twobox Designgineer
Twobox Designgineer
1 month ago

What a ghastly thought. The CamaroCross.

Last edited 1 month ago by Twobox Designgineer
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 month ago

Camaro CrossCabriolet.

Ben
Ben
1 month ago

I’m with you, right up until the point I remember that they took a giant dump on that heritage by naming a crossover “Mustang”.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
1 month ago
Reply to  Ben

I’d be more pissed if they weren’t still making the ICE Mustang in all its glory. I personally hate the Mach E and find it cringe…but if it allows them to keep selling a V8, RWD, manual coupe with more power than the chassis can handle as god intended then it’s fine by me.

I’d rather have a V8 pony car and a lame crossover that shares a name with it then have the bizarro world 6,000 pound EV/likely 5,000 pound overboosted straight 6 monstrosities Dodge just unveiled (although I do kind of dig the sedan version) or no pony car at all like GM.

I really wish they’d use the same alpha platform to finally make us a Camaro that’s less of a nuisance to live with. Literally no one had any issues whatsoever with the Gen 6 other than the fact that it’s terrible at being a daily. Maybe give us a tweaked version we can actually see out of? With a usable trunk opening and back seats that could actually work in a pinch?

Who am I kidding. We all know the CamaroCross is inevitable because we can’t have nice things.

Sensual Bugling Elk
Sensual Bugling Elk
1 month ago

GM should make a much-maligned convertible version of their impending Camaro crossover.

Chevrolet CrossCamarolet let’s goooooooo

Last edited 1 month ago by Sensual Bugling Elk
Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
1 month ago

That gets a resounding HELL YEAH BROTHER from me

Ben
Ben
1 month ago

As a staunch-ish defender of the Murano CrossCab I endorse this statement.

Aaron Nichols
Aaron Nichols
1 month ago

I’d say more likely 1968 gauges based on the ‘mileage’ on the odometer, specifically one with a 302 based on the miles to empty.

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
1 month ago
Reply to  Aaron Nichols

Definitely 1968 Gauges, but reversed Tach and Spedo

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 month ago

I’d personally just rather have the actual gauges, really don’t think screens ever look aesthetically pleasing, especially when powered down

Gerontius Garland
Gerontius Garland
1 month ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

I’d rather just have a 1967 Mustang.

Lew Schiller
Lew Schiller
1 month ago

A friend picked up a ’68 a while back. I’d forgotten just how comfortable the bucket seats were in those cars.

Spartanjohn113
Spartanjohn113
1 month ago

Depends on the task at hand. Do you use it as a fun daily driver? Then a newer Mustang, with its safety features, better crash performance, and brakes would be important. The same goes for track days.

However, are you using it for a weekend cruiser and the occasional car show? Then heck yes.

I say this as someone whose dream car was a 1969 Mach 1 Mustang and my first car was supposed to be a 1966 I6 coupe.

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