Camaros have all sorts of cultural connotations and associations, most of them reasonably well-earned. Generally, though, the Camaro has never really been seen as a sort of technological testbed, brimming with all the latest drooling-edge tech. It’s never really needed to be that. And yet once, in the 1980s, there was a Camaro that sort of gave that a try, but did so with some pretty ridiculous – I’d want to say “tech” but the thing I’m thinking of really doesn’t qualify as that. Maybe faux-tech? Whatever you call it, it’s pretty goofy, and it was on the 1984 Chevy Camaro Berlinetta. The only real official-ish name I’ve found for these things are “reminder spools.”
Before we get into these specifically, it’s worth going over why the Camaro Berlinetta would even have something like this. The Berlinetta has always been the sort of sophisticates’ Camaro — a bit more luxurious, a bit more of a GT car than a pony car. Where a mainstream Camaro was engineered to do big, smoky burnouts in a Dairy Queen parking lot, the Berlinetta was engineered to do big, smoky burnouts in front of the valet stand at a golf club or steakhouse. See the difference?
For 1984, though, someone decided that the Berlinetta should also be the vanguard of the Camaro’s high-tech aspirations, and the Berlinetta got its own special dashboard complete with digital vacuum-fluorescent displays (VFD), numerical for the speedo and a little cool bar graph setup for the tachometer. This sort of high-tech look and feel was clearly a marketing goal, as seen in commercials like this, where a high-tech woman with the high-tech job of what looks like suspension bridge design is sick of her simulations blinking the word PROBLEM over and over, so she takes to her appropriately high-tech Berlinetta to drive those pesky problems away:
Other commercials that showed the Berlinetta and it’s advanced dash tried to tie it into GM’s aerospace work:
The whole instrument cluster layout was actually really clever and advanced for early-’80s standards. Controls were all push-buttons, placed on these cool little pods on either side of the steering column, a lot like an American take on the Citroën “satellite” style of dashboard that I’ve gushed about before.
The Berlinetta version was even a bit cooler in that the individual side pods could be slid fore-and-aft to adjust them, and even the radio and fascinating upright-style cassette player were mounted on a swiveling base so the passenger could get easy access, too, which is cool as hell:
All of that is pretty cool, useful applications of technology and user experience design. GM kept going, adding a ceiling-mounted aircraft-inspired console to the Berlinetta, which included a very airliner-style map light and a little removable flashlight, both of which are pretty handy things.
But also in that roof console was another device, one that’s referenced here in the brochure:
It took me a while to figure out what those words were, and they seem to be “handy reminder spools.” What the hell is a “reminder spool?” You can see them in action – along with most of the other dash and interior elements – here in this video (if you don’t care about the cool dash, you can skip to 20:30):
So, these seem to be some sort of thumbwheel-controlled…reminders? Honestly, what I think they really are is the absolute cheapest way GM could stick in something that resembled high-tech controls of some sort without having to incorporate anything more advanced than one of those old executive desk calendar things.
I mean, what are you supposed to do with these things? There’s two of them, one with four digits, one with five. The top label roller seems to have options for ARRIVE/DEPART, MEDICAL, RECREATION, CELEBRATION, DURATION, and the lower one has TRIP, RANGE, DISTANCE, SERVICE, ENGINE, CHASSIS, MILES, KILOMETERS. Maybe I missed one or two, but you get the idea.
For the SERVICE or ENGINE or CHASSIS one I guess you could put the mileage in of your last oil change or filter change or some upcoming maintenance, or something like that? I guess that’s kind of handy? For TRIP or DISTANCE, what are you supposed to do with that? Increment the mileage manually as the odometer clicks off miles? Or subtract miles manually from a final estimated odometer reading?
And I guess the upper one was to store a single date, like an anniversary or birthday or something? But what the hell is MEDICAL for? It’s too short for a phone number. Is it days until your next planned stroke? And RECREATION? The hell are you going to do with that and four digits?
I can’t imagine anyone actually using these more than, say, once? Maybe someone would thumb those little wheels to CELEBRATION and then put their kid’s birthday in there? Or would they just end up getting their oil changed when the kid was having their party? Were there actually owners painstakingly rolling out a DEPART time on these things, then re-rolling it all to the ARRIVE time when they left? For some reason?
These are some deeply goofy things, almost like the equivalent of toddler toy machines that have satisfying-feeling controls that do little more than flip a picture of a duck into a picture of a sun, or something like that. But this is on the most sophisticated Camaro you’d be paying about $11,000 for (about $32,000 today).
This has to be the most useless and goofy feature ever to be stuck into the inside of a Camaro. Maybe that’s why I want one so bad.
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