Today’s carmakers are thrilled with all of the new features they can integrate into their digital dashboards but all I can think of is how Toyota put a working TV right in front of your face all the way back in the Bubble Era. Well, not in front of your face exactly.
This is the first-generation Toyota Soarer, part of the first wave of personal luxury coupes in Japan in the ‘80s. Japan. Not America. We didn’t get this car over here, nor did we get this feature. It’s probably for the best. Think of how many bored Americans on the Interstate would just get bored and crash off the road while watching Dynasty.
The Soarer debuted in ‘81, having been slightly beaten to the market by the Nissan Leopard in late ‘80. Did Toyota take this very seriously? I am sure.
Everyone was trying to one-up everyone else with more features and tech, ultimately culminating in the all-wheel drive/all-wheel steering cars of the end of the decade into the 1990s. The mid ‘80s were really the peak for extremely over the top/questionably useful features, though, and I think this digital dash is probably the best of the breed.
Toyota called it Electro Multivision, and claimed it was “the world’s first such system used in a mass production model.” I know this because Toyota keeps the original press release online, which includes also this clear description of what exactly the Type 6 cathode ray tube did:
The CRT display provides such important information as engine revolutions, shift position, fuel consumption trends, and warnings on any abnormalities that have occurred. The driver can freely select, at the touch of a switch, these different types of information.
When the car is stationary, it is possible to receive television broadcasts and to use the screen for video viewing. This system thus carries the instrument panel to heights beyond its use up to now, transforming it into a multi-function information transmission system.
The whole thing cost about $800 at the time, as Ate Up With Motor explains, elaborating a bit further:
The MZ12’s most noteworthy new feature was Toyota’s “Electro-Multivision” system. A ¥200,000 (~$800) option on the automatic 3.0GT-Limited, Electro-Multivision was a 6-inch (152mm) cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor mounted in the instrument panel. The monitor could display various data, including real-time fuel consumption, TEMS and cruise control settings, transmission mode, and upcoming maintenance requirements. It could also function as a color television, receiving Japanese broadcast signals from auxiliary antennas in the rear fenders, although the TV mode could only be used with the parking brake engaged and the shifter in Park or Neutral. There was even an optional adaptor for a video cassette player. At this stage, the practical utility of this system was limited, but in 1985, it was a dazzling technological showpiece.
Dazzling indeed. Look at what it did to these wilderness creatures.
Have we really gone much farther than Electro Multivision? I’m skeptical. I don’t want touchscreens that integrate my smartphone presets and sell my information to advertisers. I want buttons and knobs but also a TV.