Home » Let Me Explain What’s Mildly Interesting About My Beetle’s Instrument Cluster: Cold Start

Let Me Explain What’s Mildly Interesting About My Beetle’s Instrument Cluster: Cold Start

Cs Speedo1
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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:

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Cs Vwdash Pre68

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:

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Cs Vwdash 68speedo

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:

Cs Vwdash 70 72 SpeedoGone 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!

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Cs Vwdash 73speedo

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:

Cs Vwdash 76up

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.

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Okay, so back to my particular setup; I’ll show it again:

Cs Speedo1

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.

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Andrew Landon
Andrew Landon
2 months ago

I’ve been considering retrofitting my ’67 with a later speedo and electronic sender as the accuracy of the mechanical gauge/sender combination has proved pretty suspect, regardless of how much I finesse the adjustment knob on the back of the gauge, and they don’t seem to be rebuildable.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
2 months ago

My Mom had a 61 Beetle. With no gas gauge. She kept a stick in the trunk to check the tank. And a dollar in the ash tray for emergencies.
She would let us use the car as needed when we were teens. Her one rule was that the dollar was to stay in the ashtray in case she needed it for gas.
Of course my brothers would take the dollar to buy smokes and never replace it.

With 3 of us using her car as teens she went through 5 engines in about 2 years. Her mechanic got to the point of keeping a rebuilt engine on a workbench for her, as he knew she would be back for a new one every few months.
I really don’t know how she kept her shit together having to deal with that.

After a couple years she just gave up and bought a new Honda Civic in 1976.

Last edited 2 months ago by Col Lingus
Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
2 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

Holy moly how were you that hard on the poor thing

Last edited 2 months ago by Rust Buckets
Col Lingus
Col Lingus
2 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

I only blew up one engine. But my two younger brothers (both under age of 15) would take her bug and try to do burnouts with it.

She only had her brand new Civic for about a day when they started doing burnouts in it. In reverse.

Whilst doing this they drove her Civic backwards into a concrete base for a street light. The insurance company totaled it. When she got her next new Civic she had her mechanic install a hidden toggle switch for the ignition.

My poor Mom went through a lot of shit, but somehow she still forgave those idiots.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
2 months ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

I’m sorry you guys were horrible children. That is impressive.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
2 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

I honestly tried my best not to cause her grief.
But yeah my brothers really didn’t give a shit.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
2 months ago

As a young adrenaline junkie, I felt it was my duty to find max speed when at all reasonable. I never wanted to make others uncomfortable by my actions, but when the highway opened up, so would the throttle. One memorable trip back from the shore, a chevelle of similar vintage to my 71 Karmann Ghia convertible pulled next to me while in an open roadway, and we nodded approvingly at each other. He was Extremely aggressive when he approached pockets of traffic, and would get right up on the bumper of a car in the passing lane till they pulled over, and would make a clear path for me to follow 1/8m. behind. 30m. later we came to a crawl due to traffic, and i asked him how fast we were going when evened up. Buck10 the reply. When I purchased the Ghia for $450 when I was 15, it was in rough shape. Shot top, rusted floor pan and exhaust, and the windows were off track. The college student was glad to get rid of it.I got it respectable by my 16th birthday. The only performance mod I did was a quad outlet monza exhaust. That speedo only went to 90 like yours, but had a pin at 6 o’clock, that seemed to be 100mph. Hit that pin more than just that time.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
2 months ago

I like it!

Now if only the thing ran 😛

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
2 months ago

Oh, yeah, the time-honored tradition of mix-n-matching with air-cooled VWs. Well done! A very early childhood memory I have, from the late 60s, is of playing in my next-door neighbor’s Beetle and rolling down the windows and being surprised at how it took forever to roll down the passenger door window whereas the driver’s window was quick to roll down. Later I found out that the passenger door had been damaged and replaced with an older one; in 1952 VW changed the window crank from 10 1/2 turns to just 1 1/4 turns so that replacement door was from an especially early Beetle. Pretty cool and of course mildly interesting.

Clubwagon Chateau
Clubwagon Chateau
2 months ago

You lovable maniac!

Erik McCullough
Erik McCullough
2 months ago

You didn’t even mention the weirdest thing to me — which is that the earlier speedos inverted their numbers upside down in a way that at first, I thought it was a typo! i.e. 08 09

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
2 months ago

Whoa! Now that’s trippy! I didn’t notice and surprised he didn’t mention

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago

“Ah, the sheer decadence of knowing how much fuel you had! It’s dizzying!”

My ’60 Triumph had a fuel gauge but it was usually broken. No problem. The fuel filler was squarely centered on the rear deck right behind me with a straight drop into the tank. A stick or a flashlight was better than any gauge.

Later on, thanks to a lack of baffling, I learned to gauge the level by how much sloshing I heard as I took a corner.

Chronometric
Chronometric
2 months ago

You chose wisely young Jedi. I am also a gauge cluster mix and matcher. I tend to like the earlier versions with their cool typography.

Tony Cotton
Tony Cotton
2 months ago

Somewhat mid-whelming. Well done. More excessive detail please.

W124
W124
2 months ago

I was waiting for a mild excitement but what I got is pure uncut horror! Now once it is seen and can’t be unseen I find the mismatched fonts jammed together irrationally disturbing.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
2 months ago
Reply to  W124

It’s fucking terrible.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
2 months ago

Jesus.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

You’re welcome

Chronometric
Chronometric
2 months ago
Reply to  W124

I’m ok with the numbers in another font but the word “tank” is glaring. Actually I like the original better.

DialMforMiata
DialMforMiata
2 months ago
Reply to  W124

I have a chronograph from a micro-brand called Vario that uses a cool art deco font for the hours and a modern font for the sub-dials. I generally don’t notice it but once in a while I look at the mismatch and sigh. This would bug the crap out of me.

Ninefeet
Ninefeet
2 months ago

Love how simple the dashboard of my 71 VW was. No gas gauge (yes, the little lever on the floor was perfect)
It took me years to realise that you could change the dashboard illumination intensity by turning the headlight switch ! In such a spartan environment it seemed so luxurious…

Tbird
Tbird
2 months ago
Reply to  Ninefeet

All order American cars I’ve driven/owned had the same intuitive setup. Turn headlamp knob to dim or brighten dash lamps. Pull to turn on headlamps.

Clark B
Clark B
2 months ago

Wondered why the photo of your speedometer looked like one from an earlier model, now it makes sense!

I got my 1972 Super Beetle up to 90 once when I was a teenager, going downhill on the highway. Haven’t driven it that fast since, but it will cruise at 85 if I keep my foot on the floor. Get some great looks from people when an old Beetle blows their doors off. These days I avoid highways in the Beetle…I see too much stupid shit to risk going out there in my rusty tin can of a car with 50hp and drum brakes.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
2 months ago
Reply to  Clark B

I dont think I ever had mine over 75, it seemed pretty comfortable at that speed though, but I got the sense that much more than that would have been really thrashing it

Clark B
Clark B
2 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Mine always seems happiest at around 60-65mph as a cruising speed, to maintain 70+ always feels like you’ve really gotta keep your foot down to maintain that speed… especially if there’s any hills!

SAABstory
SAABstory
2 months ago

Remember having my 70 Beetle and being asked if it actually goes to 90mph. I always answered ‘yes, if falling off a tall building.’ Reality was 70mph max with four people in the car, going down a steep hill, IF everyone was leaning forward.

Mrbrown89
Mrbrown89
2 months ago

And this is why I have a membership, thank you!

I ran mine to 85 mph on the dashboard, I was laughing so bad and then I passed a trucker and looked behind and he was laughing too lol I never had so much fun running the car gas pedal to the floor and using tires from 1999 in 2023, and they are from Sears.

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
2 months ago

Funny story. Took my Sister’s and BIL’s super beetle to a local lake for a fun day with friends. We took out the bottom back seat for something to sit on at the lake.
Went to go home in the evening, put the seat back in, we climb in and start it up, but the auto-clutch wouldn’t engage. We keep trying and trying. nope, can’t get it in gear. No cell phones work there, so hitch hike to service station. BIL was super pissed he had to drive all the way out there. I tell him what’s wrong. He pops the back seat off and plugs the electrical wire back in and pops the seat down. Fixed! I never heard the end of it.

Alec Rosenbaum
Alec Rosenbaum
2 months ago

I’d hazard to say that since he immediately knew what it was and that it was a simple fix: he’d probably done that to himself at one time. Next time he gives you crap about it you should ask him about the time he made the error himself.

A. Barth
A. Barth
2 months ago

Regarding the shift points: I recall hearing that the hash marks on the speedometer were there to show where one could shift easily without a clutch (in case that became necessary).

I tried it on a Super Beetle and on a Squareback, and it worked! It’s still not clear to me if it was by design or merely a happy accident. I didn’t try clutchless shifting at other speeds – maybe they would have worked as well.

Clark B
Clark B
2 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Just checked my 1972 Super Beetles manual, and interestingly it doesn’t explain the marks. However, it does provide a guide to how fast you can drive in each gear, which lines up with the marks on the gauge. It also tells you how fast you can drive, briefly, in each gear for overtaking or other situations were you really have to make the most of 50hp. At 60mph in third gear, that thing is screaming.

Jimal
Jimal
2 months ago

I’ve always been partial to the later model Super Beetle cluster and dash. The speedo is basically the same as the next-to-last image above, but with a wider bezel around it. The whole binnacle at least gives the illusion of a crush zone in front of the driver.

Alec Rosenbaum
Alec Rosenbaum
2 months ago

One thing that struck me is the way the “80” and “90” are on the older gauges. On the newer gauges with all the speed numbers on plane, the 80, 90, and 100 make sense to my eye. However, on the older ones with the speed numbers on circle, it looks to me like it goes “70” “08” “06”.

Maybe I’m more spatially aware than the average person…..or just a weirdo.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
2 months ago
Reply to  Alec Rosenbaum

This is so spot on. When Ford replicated ’60s gauges for the first Bullitt Mustang, it had a similar thing going…looked cool, but was way less readable than the contemporary gauges (which basically unconsciously replicated Fox Body gauges but you get the point).

Modern-era VW does something similarly odd – the tachs are often marked in two digit x 100 format, instead of the way more common N x 1000. At least for me, can make flipping back and forth between speedo and tach momentarily confusing.

Totally not a robot
Totally not a robot
2 months ago
Reply to  Alec Rosenbaum

I didn’t even catch that at first glance. But now that you brought it up, I can’t unsee it and I’m doubting everything I thought I knew about older gauges.

Joe K
Joe K
2 months ago
Reply to  Alec Rosenbaum

The first two increments are reversed as well. My brain reads it as 01, 02, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 08, 06. Ack.

Dar Khorse
Dar Khorse
2 months ago

I love the simplicity of the combo-gauge and I agree that you’ve cobbled together the best parts – bravo!

And you’re also correct that, while I am not ecstatic or transported or epiphanized by your article, I am content with this content.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
2 months ago
Reply to  Dar Khorse

I personally believe the pre-1968 Beetle dash is basically the gold standard for economy car interiors. It’s efficient and utilitarian, but it doesn’t look cheap. Nissan kind of picked up on the same vibe in the Pao

At the same time, older Jaguars are, to be, the gold standard for what luxury car interiors should be

Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
2 months ago

But did they put some indicator at 55 when that became the speed limit? Or did they know the car would rarely go faster than that anyway?

Clark B
Clark B
2 months ago
Reply to  Flyingstitch

On the 100mph speedometer, 55 is right at the top center. I guess that’s their nod to the double nickel speed limit.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
2 months ago
Reply to  Flyingstitch

The government didn’t require speedometers to highlight the 55mph limit until 1979 — and indeed, the last Beetle convertibles did have a special marking at 55, in addition to the true decadence of a separate temperature gauge and — the opulence! — simulated wood-grain appliqués.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
2 months ago

Wow, it’s tough to gauge just how much this means to me.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
2 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

It’s certainly fuel for conversation, but I’ll reserve judgement on how meaningful it is.

10001010
10001010
2 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Displaying clear indications are instrumental to living a 1/1 life.

DysLexus
DysLexus
2 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Tanks a lot Jason for Dialing in this Instrumental information in such a tidy fashion.

Chronometric
Chronometric
2 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Jason gets a lot of mileage out of that VW, even when it doesn’t move.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
2 months ago
Reply to  Chronometric

This has turned into quite a panel discussion.

Larry B
Larry B
2 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

And a cluster f…!

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
2 months ago

My favorite part has to be the ersatz tachometer; it’s such a wonderful work-around.

A fair amount of older motorcycles had this feature – once rode a Honda Nighthawk with it (with colored bands showing the gear range), and it made me happy every time I looked at it.

Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
2 months ago

I love how most manuals back in the day had no tach, the little shift indicating slashes are pretty fancy though, wondering now if my ’96 Neon with no tach had something similar. Pretty sure my 2001 Yamaha didn’t, it also didn’t have a fuel gauge, just the reserve valve to turn when you started running out.

Something nice and simple about that compared to new cars with the guess o meters and 150mph gauge on a car that’ll never see 90, where they can’t even label every 10mph cause it’s all crammed next to all the other gauges. Am I doing 55 or 63? Who knows, at least I can be honest with the cop, nope, no idea how fast I was going.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
2 months ago

You are 100% right. It needs that white circle.

You may now continue your day buoyed by the smug sense of satisfaction one gets from being as right as one can be.

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