Science fiction has always been one of the dominant influences on car dashboard design, from the early space-age influences of American 1950s cars all the way to the massive LCD screens of today. When carmakers began experimenting with all-digital instruments in the 1980s we saw a bold push into very futuristic looking high-tech designs. But even before then there were attempts to get older analogue dashboards looking all cutting-edge and high-tech, and I think the best of these has to be the one in the Citroën GSA.
The GSA (called the GS between 1970 and 1979) was Citroën’s attempt to fill the massive hole in their lineup between the very basic 2CV and Ami and the wildly advanced DS lines. The GS/GSA was a clever, streamlined little fastback with an air-cooled flat-four driving the front wheels. It was Citroën’s biggest volume seller for years.
Right now, though, I just want to focus on its remarkable dashboard, because, after the redesign to the GSA in 1979, it became something of a template for extremely tech-inspired designs to come.
Here, look at it:
Hot pickles, look at that thing. It’s insane, it’s amazing, I love it. The instrument cluster is dominated by that shockingly detailed line drawing of the GSA in profile, with callout lines going from different elements of the car to warning lights along the sides.
Now, don’t be fooled, these are just normal idiot lights, and in earlier versions of the GS that’s exactly what they were, normal idiot lights, all in a row:
But now, thanks to a combination of connecting them with a diagram of the car and making those call-out lines follow those odd 45-degree angle bends and turns and terminate in little circles, they mimic the look of traces on a printed circuit board and the whole thing just feels so very technical, and in a way pre-figures those big full-ship diagrams we see all over screens on Star Trek shows.
The speedometer was Citroën’s wonderfully bonkers “cyclops eye” design, which featured a rotating drum behind a magnifying lens and behaved more-or-less like an analogue version of a digital speedometer. The same setup was used for the tachometer as well, and the only actually digital display was the clock.
The dash setup also included Citroën’s brilliant and mostly un-copied “lunule” or “satellite” control setup, where commonly used controls like lights, signals, and wipers were all housed on these funny pepper-mill drums on either side of the one-spoke steering wheel, allowing for access to almost everything without your hands leaving the wheel.
It’s all pretty brilliant, and arguably much better than the screen-and-menu-based systems so popular today, at least from an accessibility standpoint.
Want to listen to a guy with a funny accent show you the dash on a real GSA? You’re in luck!
Speaking of odd things in videos, check out this oddly creepy circus-based Italian ad for the GSA:
I’ll admit, I’m worried about the girl in that ad because she has to work so closely with this dude:
This is also one of those times I’m glad they didn’t have high-definition TV in the 1980s.
I mean, it does do a good job of showing off the amazing Hydropneumatic suspension, which makes the GSA likely the only small car of the era able to drive over a prone girl with a glass on her forehead with no damage to car, glass, or girl, so that’s something.