In the 1970s, there was a lot of talk about ESP. I’m not exactly sure why, but Extra-Sensory Perception was just one of those things that kept coming up in popular culture, from pseudoscience television shows hosted by Spock to books to even robots in Disney movies. And while today cars having some sort of ESP system isn’t weird if it stands for Electronic Stability Program, Toyota offered an ESP system well before that, and it really had nothing to do with psychedelic mind-reading or keeping your car from flipping over. It was the Electro Sensor Panel.
Starting with some of their 1974 model year cars, including the Corona, 1800GL, and 2000GT, you could get your Toyota equipped with an odd ceiling-mounted panel that was 11 lights and a adjustable-direction map light. This was the Electro-Sensor Panel (ESP).
What the ESP did was, essentially, consolidate a whole bunch of idiot lights into a panel over your head, so you, a new Toyota owner, could have an entirely new location to ignore warning lights on.
Toyota actually made a big deal out of the ESP in advertising, as it leant the cars a very cutting-edge sort of feel, at least by 1970s standards. And, really, it was kind of impressive; I mean, look at all of the systems it monitored:
Okay, sure, some of these, like engine oil and windshield washer level and brake fluid level were pretty common, others like coolant level and brake pad lining wear were much less common, especially on an inexpensive car like a Toyota.
Some, like battery electrolyte level, brake vacuum booster, and showing specifically which bulbs were out (including the rarely-checked license plate light bulb) are very unusual, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have seen indicators that granular or specific on a Rolls-Royce of the era.
We’ve seen this sort of intense focus on instruments from Japanese carmakers in the 1970s and 1980s before. And you have to admit, even if it is just a bunch of idiot lights, it is kind of cool to have them all on a little panel on the roof, along with a button you can push on the dash to “test” them and make them all come on, which I bet ended up getting used for entertainment/mood lighting purposes far more often in dark parking lots than actually for diagnostics.
Maybe it was sorta useful? But I think lights on the ceiling was the real motivation for the Toyota ESP system, and I’m just fine with that.