Can We Emulate An Aston Martin Lagonda's CRT Dash?

Illustration for article titled Can We Emulate An Aston Martin Lagonda's CRT Dash?

One of the most infamous traits of the already pretty infamous Aston Martin Lagonda was its then-revolutionary CRT-based dashboard. Real computer raster displays on the dash, all the way back in 1986. These were incredibly unreliable, and were abandoned quickly, but I think they're fascinating.

I can't think of other examples of CRTs used as primary dash displays. 1980s Buicks had touch-screen CRT infotainment displays, but the Series 3 Lagonda had three dedicated CRTs right there in the instrument binnacle.

And, the computer that drove the CRTs was fascinating as well. This is long before standardized, small computers like the one in your pocket that could be stuck in a dash — everything here was custom-made.

From what I've found, the computer was based on the popular Z80 CPU. Most of us know this chip better as the heart of Pac-Man arcade machines, Game Boys, and business computers that ran an OS called CP/M. Even better, everything about this computer seems to have been delightfully slipshod. From one forum entry:

these things have a computer that is old, old, old..

running a Z80 cpu (zilog, enhancement of the intel 8080)..

on non-gold plpated, non solder masked, cheap sockets (all the chips are socketed), proprietary backplane computer..

running machine language 8080 code that is juvenile at best..

... "juvenile at best?" Now I'm really interested. Even if juvenile, it still was impressive: driving three screens, what looks like a custom character set, animated graphical gauges — pretty cool stuff, really.

Illustration for article titled Can We Emulate An Aston Martin Lagonda's CRT Dash?

So, what I'm hoping to find out is this: is this Z80 code available anywhere? If so, would it be possible to emulate a Lagonda dashboard on something like a Raspberry Pi? Where's the best place to find schematics of this custom hardware? How weird is this stuff? Will existing Z80 computer emulators be a viable place to start?

I'm not an expert in this stuff, so this is sort of an open forum for suggestions here. Anyone have any ideas or experience here? Ever seen or worked with one of these systems? I think this would be a fascinating group project to start.

Or, possibly, I'm an idiot. I'm open to hear support for either option!

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Patrick Frawley

Given modern technology, the hardest part is going to be emulating the neurotic unreliability of the original.