I feel like I need to stress the mildly part up there, because if you’re expecting something that’s going to excite you to such a degree that you’ll float through the rest of your day on a high of pure, uncut fascination, sparks dancing off your fingers and your feet levitating inches off the ground, then I think you’ll be disappointed. But, if you can manage those expectations, I think you’ll be, if not exactly pleased, content. So, take a look at that speedo up there from my very own 1973 Volkswagen Beetle: it’s not the stock setup, but it was chosen deliberately, and I’ll explain why.
One of the things I always liked about Beetles is their very space-efficient approach to instrumentation: just cram everything into the one round gauge, the speedometer. Well, actually, it wasn’t always like that – it was at first, in the daring era before VW decided to give people gas gauges, in 1962, instead of a little lever that gave you one reserve gallon to find your way to a gas station – but then VW stuck a gas gauge next to the speedo:
Ah, the sheer decadence of knowing how much fuel you had! It’s dizzying!
Of course, when VW did their major (well, by Beetle standards) update and facelift in 1968, one of the changes they made, in addition to the simpler “Europa” bumpers and seat headrests and new taillights with integrated reverse lamps, was to shove the fuel gauge back into the speedo, going back to the one round gauge look:
Everything you need, shoved into one little disc: speedo, generator light, oil light, high beam light, that lone double-headed turn signal arrow, and, yes, the fuel gauge. The design kept the old look, with those classic squared-off numerals and the concentric lines on the face. Oh, also, those little red hash marks for when to shift!
In 1970, there was a visual modernization of the look of the speedo:
Gone was the old-school classic look, and a new, much more simplified look took over. Warning lights finally got little icons/letters so you know what the hell they meant (and note they increased in number: lights for rear window defogger and ATF sprung up) and the typography changed to a simple, sans-serif, tall and narrow font. The top speed was still a wildly optimistic 90 mph, too, giving you something to shoot for.
In 1973, another major redesign happened! Look!
VW changed the typography to their then-ubiquitous Futura, which also appeared in their ads and press materials. The look was cleaner and more modern, and, perhaps as a joke, the top speed was increased to a genuinely delusional 100 mph, a move I applaud. The most significant change, I think, was in the fuel gauge, which got a nice red section to let you know when you were milking that last gallon. Also, it got the helpful label “tank” in case you were baffled by what that could be measuring. VW stuck with their strange 1/1 for FULL and R for “RESERVE” instead of the more common F and E.
There was one other update in the era of Beetles in America, around 1975 or ’76 for some reason VW decided that white circle around the middle of the gauge had to go:
Oh, I see why, it was so they could squeeze in a kph scale as well. Still, I always thought without the circle, the gauge looks pretty messy and crammed full of numbers and stuff.
Okay, so back to my particular setup; I’ll show it again:
So, what I did was a bit of mix-and-matching. I love the classic look of the old 68-69 speedo, with those blocky numerals and the fine pinstripes, but I find the later Futura fuel gauge, with its useful red reserve section, much more legible. Especially since I tend to milk a tank well into the reserve zone.
So, personally, I think this is the ideal combo for a VW instrument cluster. And now you know that, and can go forth in life, fulfilled.