As we begin the year leading up to the 70th anniversary of Corvette’s debut at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, the National Corvette Museum is launching our Artifact of the Month program! Each month, our Curatorial staff will select an artifact from our collection that is connected to a significant moment in Corvette history and share its story with you. To kick off this program our Director of Collections & Curator, Derek E. Moore, presents the…
1983 Corvette Analog Gauge Cluster
Some of the greatest mysteries in Corvette’s rich production history revolve around the choice to skip production on Corvette’s 30th anniversary in 1983. The transition from the third-generation (C3) to the fourth-generation (C4) Corvette was a major technological leap forward for Chevrolet and was the beginning of transitioning Corvette from being a brute American sports car to a global competitor of the European sports car market. During this major transition, every component of Corvette was being reimagined, redesigned, and reengineered – from the exterior to the interior.
An all-new look to the interior was key to this transition, and the instrument panel display was vital. The plan to bring Corvette into the “digital age” led to the development of a graphical cluster utilizing all digital read-outs and bar graphs to provide the driver with vehicle statistics quickly and cleanly.
During the earliest stages of development though, engineers discovered that generating enough light to see the readouts on the cluster was difficult and there were concerns over the dash’s performance in cold climates. Therefore, an analog “backup” cluster was created, with its very standard, multiple gauge – speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure, fuel, oil temperature, voltage, and coolant temperature – layout. While functional, it was a very dated appearing cluster for this all-new Corvette. During testing at Milford Proving Grounds, both the analog and new digital dash were running in 1983 development Corvettes.
Corvette Chief Engineer, Dave McLellan, recently reflected on the development of the analog cluster for the C4 Corvette:
“I was never happy with this cluster. It was always considered as a backup to the color graphic cluster. Why was I unhappy? It was uninteresting and it suffered from reflection problems. We had no intentions of using it if we could solve the problems of the graphical cluster.
The C4 was bringing the Corvette into the digital age. The instrument cluster was proposed by our Interior Design Studio led by Bill Scott. GM’s AC Division planned to engineer and produce it. Its “Achilles Heel” was getting enough light through the light pipes while at the same time not overheating the display. Only recently have we seen LED bulbs made available for this application which have given the display the brightness and color expected.
Why this design? The genesis of the design was the steering wheel graphics seen in F1. And, if you think about how to best display information – information like RPMs, that can change rapidly, are best displayed as a bar graph. If they were displayed as numbers, they would look like an incomprehensible blizzard of numbers.”
This 1983 analog “backup” dash, donated by Marvin Owen, is one of only two known extant examples from the development of the 1983 Corvette.
Author: Derek E. Moore is the Director of Collections & Curator at the National Corvette Museum