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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Rob
Rob
3 months ago

I’m not so sure that the little red lines are shift indicators. They are placed exactly at the 25, 50, and 75 km/h marks on the speedo. Helpful in Canada when I was growing up to know how fast I was going…

Sundance
Sundance
3 months ago

My ’57 Oval did not need a gauge for gas.It was equipped with the original wooden gas dipstick…

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago

Your speedo would drive me nuts. (Meter, not swim wear, though the sentence still works that way). It looks like the car goes 50, 60, 70, 08, 06.

Forbestheweirdo
Forbestheweirdo
3 months ago

My thoughts exactly

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
3 months ago

Damn, I want such a 68-69 speedo in my 1971 convertible! (If it’s available with a km scale)
It’s beautiful! Well chosen (thumbs up emoji)
I do have a white earlier steering wheel and low back seats in it already for that real retro feel. Thanks 🙂

Sucktastico!
Sucktastico!
3 months ago

@torch, I am now in possession of a numbers-matching (according to Samba), never-been-restored, still has its running boards 1978 VW Beetle Convertible. Needs some brake and fuel line work, but its in pretty good shape and only about 65K miles. However, I hate the dash. Its a super-beetle dash, and I like the old ones better. I am loathe to replace it, though, even though it has the tacky wood-grain applique on it.

Do you know if you can even put the older-style in there, or does the SuperBeetle, and Karmann, nature of the convertible from that late stage preclude that? Figured you may know off the top cause, well, Bug.

Craig Simpson
Craig Simpson
3 months ago
Reply to  Sucktastico!

Super Beetle (L in Australia, 1303 in Europe) owner here who has had the dash off for restoration and re-wiring.
The metal underneath is vastly different to non-Supers because of the curved windscreen, so no, you’re not going to be able to simply source a flat screen dash and replace it.
Of course, with appropriate skills and/or money, you can modify the dash to suit your needs (e.g. add extra gauges or vents or head unit or candy dispensing).
For mine, it was badly cracked after 40+ years of life, so I simply had it repaired and reskinned in a black textured vinyl. I know it’s not as “classic” as older beetles, but I don’t mind it, and given it’s a 1303 I’ve gone down a German Look aesthetic, so it all fits with that look.
My recommendation, by all means modify (and lose the fake tree trim), but lean in to the look rather than pretend it’s an older model. After all it’s quickly approaching its 50th birthday.

Sucktastico!
Sucktastico!
3 months ago
Reply to  Craig Simpson

Appreciate the advice! I figured it wouldnt be an easy swap, and I do want to keep it original. Might just yank off that god-awful woodgrain and be done with it.

Danny Zabolotny
Danny Zabolotny
3 months ago

The fact that some of the numbers are flipped upside down on the early speedo is infuriating to me. My favorite of the bunch is the 1973 variant, it reminds me of a BMW— logical, easy-to-read, simple.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
3 months ago

Aren’t they technically flipped right side up? How infuriating would it be to have those numbers upside down? You’d go from 6000 rpm to 7000 to 0800 to 0900!

A. Barth
A. Barth
3 months ago
Reply to  Rad Barchetta

Think of it as the anti-money-shift

Jambles Hamblepants
Jambles Hamblepants
3 months ago

No comment on the shift points being labeled? Was that a common feature of speedometers back then?
Kind of odd that they remained exactly the same over so many different motors.

Checkyourbeesfordrinks
Checkyourbeesfordrinks
3 months ago

My 2001 Honda motorcycle has the shift points labeled on the speedo; but the shift points are the equivalent of redlining the engine so more of a max shift point than a recommended shift point (no tach on the bike).

A. Ocolotl
A. Ocolotl
3 months ago

My first car was some revived-from-its grave 1980s Ford American Escort (so not the good British one). Manual transmission, because *of course*.

The speedometer had these little bips on it which indicated… shift points of some sort. Up and downshifts? Good shifts and redline? Honestly, not sure. In three hours of driving I got four significant breakdowns.

The kicker is that it had room for an odometer. There was lots of space. Instead, it had this tiny little fuel meter (that also didn’t work), and nothing else of value. Not even idiot lights, if memory serves.

I’m afraid to consider what important things I might have forgotten to remember this detail.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
3 months ago

1970’s Mercedes-Benz’ had shift points on the speedo too – even tho they had tachometers and automatic transmissions.
3 speed? you get the two shift point speedo.
4 speed? you get the three shift point speedo.

Last edited 3 months ago by Urban Runabout
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago

I learned on a stick with no such markers and no tach, and only recently learned about these shifting markers and rev matching. I’ve always believed you drive a stick by feel and sound. Has my life been a lie?

Laurence Rogers
Laurence Rogers
3 months ago

My Charger still runs the base model gauges without a tach, even with the six-pack 265.

A mate drove it the other week and was asking when to shift, I just said shift when it sounds mad as you’re unlikely to rev it as hard as I do!

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago

Yeah, I didn’t know there was any other way tbh

Laurence Rogers
Laurence Rogers
3 months ago

Subaru Brumbies also have the shift marks on the speedo, but with a number in a circle to indicate that was when to change to that gear.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
3 months ago

Also noticed that the first 2 have a point on the top end of the needle and the other 2 don’t

P S
P S
3 months ago

Nice article! In the very first photo all the numbers are aligned with their respective “square” to indicate the speed. Except for the number 20. It’s off a bit, or are my eyes deceiving me?

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  P S

Now I can’t unsee it

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