Essay : BMC and BL – the strip speedo years

Nothing says 1960s more than a strip speedo, something all the rage at the start of that decade.

Chris Cowin takes a look at some cars associated with BMC and British Leyland which featured a strip speedo, an item that clung on in some corners of the product range for far longer than you might think.

A very British love affair with the strip

MG 1100 Mk1.
MG 1100 Mk1

MG 1100/1300

Alec Issigonis clearly saw advantages in linear speedometers, specifying them for many of his BMC designs. Chronologically, the first was the MG 1100 of 1962, which went without the circular or octagonal dials traditional for an MG, instead having a strip speedo inset into its dash (initially a “simulated” wood item).

This was what Americans got in the MG Sport Sedan as the 1100 was marketed there. When the MG 1100 was revised as the 1100 Mk2 in late 1967, that car together with the new MG 1300, retained the strip speedometer. It was only when the MG 1300 Mk2 arrived in late 1968 that a three-dial dashboard, now including a rev counter, appeared in MG’s compact sports saloon.

MG Sports Sedan (MG 1100) – from an American advert.

Austin/Morris 1100/1300

The original Morris 1100 was also introduced in 1962, but Mk1 cars featured a rather Italianate binnacle in which the speedometer was semi-circular. However, the Austin 1100, which followed in late 1963, struck out in a new direction. A key feature differentiating it from the Morris was a remarkably slim dash, something Issigonis had insisted on to the consternation of some in his team. This design would become a mainstay of the ADO16 family, appearing in very many variants over the years.

The Austin 1100 dashboard, with a coloured ribbon that grew longer with speed, and two flanking rectangular gauges for fuel and temperature, received a light update in late 1967 (pictured below). At that point with the introduction of the Austin and Morris 1100 Mk2 and 1300, the strip speedo dash became the standard fitment for all Super Deluxe models be they Austin or Morris (a Federalised version went into the Austin America). Cheaper Deluxe cars made do with a centrally mounted round dial.

But it was farewell to this slimline fascia (in the UK at least) when Mk3 models arrived in the spring of 1971. The Super Deluxe cars now switched to a “two dials in a plank” design, similar in layout if not quality to the VP Princess. The base Deluxe model stuck with the centrally-mounted dial (and unpadded steering wheel hub). Meanwhile, the Austin/Morris 1300GT, which arrived in 1969, always had a three-dial dash, similar to that of the MG 1300 Mk2, but without the wood.

Clean lines: Dashboard of an Austin 1100 Mk2 Super Deluxe. 1967.
Clean lines: Austin 1100 Mk2 Super Deluxe dashboard – 1967

Wolseley 1100/1300

Not the next BMC car chronologically to receive a strip speedo, but one it makes sense to mention at this point, is the Wolseley 1100 of 1965. When this premium cousin of the Austin and Morris 1100 arrived it was fitted with a strip speedo which, bar a few details, was the same as the MG 1100 though set into a real wood dash. However, the more sporting Riley Kestrel 1100 which arrived simultaneously came with a three-dial dash incorporating a rev counter.

The Wolseley stuck with its strip speedo until the end, a lightly-revised version appearing in the Wolseley 1100 Mk2 and 1300 in 1967, and then in the Wolseley 1300 Mk2 of 1968. That car, which late in life tended to be called simply the Wolseley 1300, was still available in showrooms in 1973 when the Austin Allegro was launched. The Vanden Plas versions of the ADO16 cars, like the Riley, never had a strip speedo.

Keep it simple: Wolseley 1300 dashboard. 1973.
Keep it simple: Wolseley 1300 dashboard – 1973

Austin/Morris 1800

The year 1964 saw the introduction of the third front-drive car penned by Alec Issigonis, the Austin 1800, a vehicle which proved rather better at winning praise than sales. With Mini and 1100 both hailed as a success, few felt able to restrain Issigonis from giving the new car an interior which, though admirably uncluttered and bright, struck some commentators as ridiculously stark.

As with the Austin 1100, instrumentation was compressed into a rectangular window set into a narrow aluminium strip which ran the width of the car. Less is more is a philosophy with much to commend it, but some worried that the 1800 dash would remind drivers of a cheap washing machine (which had similar panels in the 1960s), while the big car men seduced by Fords and Vauxhalls might feel short-changed behind the wheel of the Austin.

Few distractions: Austin 1800 Mk1. 1964
Few distractions: Austin 1800 Mk1 dashboard – 1964

There was never much money available to update the Austin 1800 which, despite winning the 1965 European Car of the Year award, proved a disappointment in sales terms. As was standard practice at BMC, a Morris version joined the Austin in 1966, which though it differed in details such as tail lights (still horizontal but with pointed ends) utilised the same strip speedo dash, though now trimmed with simulated wood. But the Wolseley 18/85 version of 1967 was graced with a completely different fascia in burr walnut with round dials.

In 1968 the Austin and Morris 1800 were updated to Mk2 form with (rather outmoded) tailfins, but aside from minor changes to switchgear and the like, the strip speedo dash was carried over. The higher-powered ‘S’ versions, when they came, did without a rev counter.

However, there were big plans for the 1800, which had they come to fruition, might have seen a brand new dash combined with new bodywork on the Mk3 cars when introduced. But British Leyland (of which BMC had become a major component on the corporation’s formation in 1968) was always short of funds, and the 1800 upgrade would be a casualty. The Australian X6 cars (Tasman and Kimberley) which evolved from the Australian-built Austin 1800 had new bodywork and a new plastic dashboard when launched in 1970, the bodywork certainly being intended for the Mk3 1800 and 2200 when launched in Britain, as contemporary meeting minutes record.

Cash-strapped British Leyland baulked at the tooling investment such a major facelift would have required in the UK, instead launching the Austin/Morris 1800 Mk3 and new six-cylinder 2200 variant in 1972 with sheet metal and much else unchanged. This was turned into a virtue, with competitive pricing being credited to the decision not to re-tool for fashion’s sake. When it came to the dashboard, the 2200 received a new design which was, fairly transparently, a cheapened version of the existing dash from the Wolseley (which remained available as the Wolseley Six). But the Austin and Morris 1800 Mk3 made do with the same old strip speedo as before, with only minor revisions. This would continue to equip these cars until they were replaced in 1975.

Showing its age: Austin 1800 Mk3. 1974
Showing its age: Austin 1800 Mk3 dashboard – 1974

Austin A110 Mk2

In 1964 the strip speedo was in its heyday, certainly within the Austin arm of BMC. Not only had one been chosen for the new 1800 to match the best-selling 1100, but Austin’s flagship car, the Austin Westminster A110 Mk2 also joined the club. These big saloons first appeared in 1959 as the A99, but evolved into the A110 in 1961, both of those iterations equipped with two big round dials.

These were traditional motor cars, even for 1964, but the revised A110 Mk2 received a freshened dashboard with a strip speedometer. Or at least it did if you opted for either the Deluxe or Super Deluxe model (which came with added walnut and picnic tables). Economy minded buyers could opt for a base A110 Mk2 which did without a lot of the luxury trim, and stuck with the twin dial dashboard of the preceding model.

There were Wolseley and Vanden Plas versions of these big ADO10 cars, but they never had strip speedos.

Comfort zone: Austin A110 Mk2 Super Deluxe. 1964
Comfort zone: Austin A110 Mk2 Super Deluxe dashboard – 1964

Austin 3 Litre

The Austin A110 Mk2 gave way to the new Austin 3 Litre, first unveiled in late 1967. This ill-starred car had suffered a long gestation within BMC and the dashboard perhaps reflected that. A rather spartan strip speedo arrangement, which progressed little from that of the outgoing model. The specification of the 3 Litre was improved during 1968 and most cars sold were of the improved Deluxe specification but, although a more elaborate dashboard had been designed for a proposed Wolseley version, such a car made little sense in the context of the enlarged British Leyland and it, and its dashboard, never saw the light of day. The Austin 3 Litre was dropped in 1971.

Old school: Austin 3 Litre. 1967
Old school:  Austin 3 Litre dashboard – 1967

Rover P6 range

Enough of those Austins! Another company that would fall under the British Leyland umbrella, with a soft spot for the strip speedometer, was Rover.  The Rover 2000 (P6) of 1963, designed by David Bache and Spen King, was distinguished by a very up to the minute fascia box containing speedometer, two ancillary gauges and warning lights. This restrained unit mirrored contemporary thinking in the car industry (especially in the USA) which saw warning lights making most minor gauges redundant in future.

However, Rover was not merely responding to the whims of fashion. The company set out the thinking behind the speedometer concisely in sales brochures stating: ‘The speedo is of the ribbon type because a red stripe moving in a straight line is easier and quicker to read, for most people, than a needle or a dial. It was positioned in front of the driver, and as far from his eyes as possible, in order to reduce the amount of re-focusing from the road to it, and back to the road again. The edge of the indicating stripe is straight so that there can be no doubt as to the accurate reading.’

All well and good, and indeed this box was judged perfectly suitable for the V8-engined Three Thousand Five when it joined the range in 1968 (pictured below), initially only as an automatic.

Seat of Power: Rover Three Thousand Five. 1968
Seat of Power: Rover Three Thousand Five dashboard – 1968

But while BMC could get away with selling performance cars like the Morris 1800 Mk2 S without a rev counter, Rover really couldn’t when it came to the 2000TC which joined the original 2000 in 1966. This car was aimed at more sporting drivers (especially in North America) and at this price level a rev counter was expected. Two strips were clearly not on, so the 2000TC came with a circular rev counter which looked not a little awkward juxtaposed with the original box. (below).

Afterthought: Circular rev counter way off to the right of the strip speedo on a US market Rover 2000TC.
Afterthought: Circular rev counter way off to the right of the strip speedo on a US market Rover 2000TC

The dashboard of the P6 range clearly needed a makeover, especially as the V8 3500 (as they now called it) would soon become available in manual form (as the 1971 3500’S’) and also require a rev counter. Accordingly, Rover introduced a superb new set-up in 1970 (earlier in North America) which matched the best BMW and other continental competitors could muster with four circular dials (six gauges) plus the clock – but not every model was entitled to this new array, which appeared initially in the UK on the 3500 and 2000TC.  The single carb 2000SC and 2000 automatic made do with the old strip speedo box, a decision presumably driven by desire to maintain “walk up” through the range and help justify the higher price of the range-toppers.

This deprivation was maintained when the 2000 was replaced by the 2200 in 1973, with 2200SC and 2200 automatic keeping the box which was now a ten-year-old design and looking rather dated. These cars were slated for replacement by the Rover 2300/2600 but slippage on the Rover SD1 programme meant they remained current until 1977, by which time a strip speedometer was distinctly out of place on a premium car.

Indeed, when the Rover 2200SC and 2200 automatic finally disappeared, it was hard to find any other British car still equipped with a strip speedometer (though in America they remained common for years). But there was at least one (well sort of): the poverty-spec. Vauxhall Viva E saloon, which lasted until 1979, although its linear speedo had a needle that moved through an arc. Of course, by that time the age of the digital dashboard was dawning, and many would arrange their LEDs or LCDs in a linear strip pattern. That’s a subject for another day…

Author’s Note

This article has concentrated on cars marketed by BMC and British Leyland in Britain, but strip speedometers unsurprisingly appeared on many models built overseas by BMC/BL or its partners, such as the Morris 1500 in Australia, Austin Apache in South Africa and Innocenti I4 and I5.  And of course Ford, Vauxhall and Rootes/Chrysler all fitted strip speedos to their British cars during the period concerned. But it’s interesting that Jaguar/Daimler and Triumph did not in the 1960s and ’70s. As always, all comments and added information are very welcome.

Chris Cowin
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  1. You say it’s a 1960s thing but a lot of American cars had a strip speedo right into the 1980s! n fact the Ford Crown Victoria LTD had one until 1991 !!

    • Well yes – but as this is “Austin Rover Online” I was concentrating on cars built by the “forebears” of Austin Rover (meaning the marques that found themselves within British Leyland) – and sold in the UK. Otherwise it would have gone on forever : ) I’ve added a couple of lines at the end to make that clearer.

  2. Hillman imps of the mid 60s had an arrangement like the Viva, ie strip speedo with a needle moving through an arc

    • I always liked the ribbon speedo on the 1961-65 PA and PB Vauxhall’s which changed colour – from green to amber at 30mph and to red at 60mph. These used a rotating drum and are a right you know what to fix. Also known to be woefully inaccurate. I also recall Canadian Plymouths with a drum speedo that ‘dropped’ little red squares down one by one as speed increased.

      But, for most prolific use of one basic speedo design, BMC/BL gets the ribbon. I always thought the Morris 1800 also had a fake wood dash from Mk1, another feature distinguishing it from the Austin.

      The ribbon speedo followed on nicely from the AC Vivid Arc, used in Vauxhall’s 1957 E series and ‘58-‘60 PB models plus the last few years of Ford Prefect. That was a round dial with an amber arc instead of a pointer that looked like a circular ribbon. The moving arc was only about half a dial’s worth; as it moved further it revealed the rest of the amber arc painted on underneath. I am waiting for one of the digital dashboard design whizzes of today to see one somewhere and recreate it.

    • My Firenza 2000 had a strip speedo with a needle moving though an arc. After an off-road excursion (caused by another driver not paying attention) I was buying some parts from a Firenza being broken up on a used car forecourt (which certainly wouldn’t happen today). The salesman was a bit of a bullshitter, and claimed to have had the speedo’ needle over by E on the fuel gauge. My reply was terse: “Mine has a stop at 100”.

  3. I just loved the ‘parts bin’ approach at BMC. The 1100 (ADO16) dashboard appeared to have been lifted straight out of that car and neatly (almost) slotted into the BMC JU van. It was my goal to get the wretched strip speedo to read more than 50mph! I swear first gear was slower than Big Ben and with a pallet of McPherson struts on board 40 was really motoring!

  4. Looking at the 1100 and 1800 and thinking back to my Granddad’s K reg 1100, I do think that when you sit in Tesla Model 3, and look at that long strip of uncluttered metal or wood, that this is how Issi would have wanted it.

    • Name dropping alert. When I was on the launch of the Tesla Model 3, I shared a car with one of the lead dynamics engineer, a Californian chap (another ex-Lotus Brit shares the job with him). I exclaimed, ‘Issigonis would love this interior’ expecting a blank look in response. Instead, the engineer smiled and immediately began to extol the virtues of the Mini Mk1 he has in his garage.

      My kind of people at Tesla…

      • I am glad it is not just me who sees that similarity in thinking between Tesla and Issigonis approach to interior design. I don’t believe anybody at Tesla ever thought, hey let’s make it look like a Morris 1100. But the thinking of maximising interior space and economy of manufacturing has led them to very similar solutions.

        • Nothing to with cost saving and being very tight at Tesla and selling for a fortune… How this III managed to be the best selling car in Europe for EV’s by 200%+ in March is beyond me, and the second best selling car for all car sales in Europe….. its awful… i hate doing my test in it, i just did not feel comfortable or safe, whereas the S and X were quite good, although i have seen that the X is now being slated for being unsafe with it being sliced in half in a recent accident with a normal car, nothing big at all (US)

  5. People moan about the strip speedo looking cheap but it was easier to use than those horrid citroen rotating dials!

    • I think these were only used in KPH markets, I have the 1973 Motor book of test drives that features a GS with conventional dials in miles. Maybe they made an imperial version later on.

      • They definitely had them on the GSA (later booted watercooled GS) and CX in the UK. I thought they were great, as a kid and Dad didn’t seem to have any problems using them on his CXs

      • I believe the issue was that the original Citroen GS had that funky instrument panel that was conceived for a left hand drive dashboard and was far from symmetrical. It couldn’t simply be swapped over – they would have to manufacture a whole new unit “reversed” and it was cheaper just to fit RHD cars with a panel of stock dials. Later Citroens like the CX had more “ambidextrous” designs where the instrument pod (or central elements of it) could be mounted on either side of the car. Something like that anyway : )

  6. Nice article!

    I am a life-long fan of the strip speedo. It is so easy to read and as a small kid it was kind of magic how the bright red colour appeared. As a design I think it is very well laid out and actually of a rather high quality. It must have been more expensive to make than simple round dials.

    Whilst very accurate on the chronological use of the strip speedo in BMC cars, there have been minor in-accuracies on the dash-board description.

    The first MG1100 had the same layout as the Wolseley 1100, but the Wolseley had real wood veneer whilst the MG had a light coloured wood grained Formica ‘plank’. Later the MK1100 gained the Wolseley dash.

    The shape of the ADO16 Mk3 (except base models) was pure Vanden Plas Princess, just the cheap plastic imitation wood on the non-GT models looked so – how to say – 70s.

    The Morris 1800, followed by the Austin 1800 never received real wood, it was a kind of lithographic reproduction on sheet metal, looking quite convincing when nicely polished up. The same technique was also used by Facel Vega…

    And then there were the export specials: Some american ADO16 variants used the strip speedo in a wooden print version of the metal Austin dash. And the export Austin 2200 used the full Wolseley 6 dash and not the cheap 70s plastic version.

    I am not a fan of touch screens in cars, but the way Tesla has cleaned the interior in particular on the model three reminds me very much of the minimalism of the Austin 1800, as already mentions above.

    • Thanks for those points – I’ve tweaked the text accordingly. …. Maybe you can help answer a question I’ve been struggling with concerning the European export spec. 2200s (“Last of the continental Landcrabs” as I call them). I know they had Rostyles and the Wolseley Six dash (though not steering wheel) as standard. But did they have power steering as standard ? It was an option in the UK but (given the general upgrading) would have been sensible to make standard on those export cars – but the export brochures don’t seem to mention it (even as an option) oddly …

      • Chris, I know of two of these cars in the Netherlands having power steering. I am not sure if it was an option, though. My father was interested in buying one 1973 in the Netherlands, as they were incredibly cheap and no new Landcrabs were on offer in Germany any more. He did not buy it, as the prospect of importing a car without formal German specification was not as easy back then as it is now. I’ll have a look at my brochure collection…

  7. “Cheaper Deluxe cars made do with a centrally mounted round dial.” Are you sure this is correct? I cannot recall any ADO16 which had a mini-style central binnacle

    Incidentally, the most extraordinary ( and certainly the fastest ) vehicle to use a strip speedo was ????

    Answer will come later if no one gets it

    • The Morris 1100 Mk1 had a central dial, the Austin 1100 Mk1 got the trip speedo.

      BAC Lightning and or Concorde, both have strip Mach meters. Although ASI are circular, but I believe also X15 and Space Shuttle had strip Mach meters.

      • To clarify, only the Concorde prototypes that were used for supersonic testing had the strip Mach Meter, they were quite common in the pre HUD display era, because of the ability to read them at a glance.

      • The 1100Mk1 never had a central binnacle. The Morris used a similar unit as found in the Austin A40 Farina (possibly the same even) – and of course in front of the driver. With the Mk2 new base models were introduced. The cheapest 2-door variant received a single central dial, contained in a rectangular housing. The same applied for the Mk3 version.

    • There’s a picture of the central dial in the attached AROnline article – as it appeared on the (USA only) Austin 1100 of 1967. That was the only time it appeared in conjunction with the Mk1 bodyshell. But from late 1967 it could be found in the base (“Deluxe”) Austin & Morris 1100 Mk2 and then from 1971 in the base “Deluxe” Austin 1100 Mk3. I actually remember it very well as my father had such a base Morris 1100 Mk2 for a while, and he was constantly having to take his hand off the steering wheel to check the speedometer reading – as he found his wrist when correctly placed on the wheel was directly in the line of sight to that speedometer : ) It was a round dial (similar to the original Mini) but set in a square panel (which sometimes had a “wood” finish).

      • Indeed, I forgot the base 2-door saloon MkI, available only in very few export markets…

        The central binnacle often had a metal printed wood pattern, similar to that of the Landcrab. For some time the 2-door 1100s here in Germany were fitted with a full width real wood dash – most likely a ‘Rokee’-kit fitted by the importer. There is even a brochure shot showing this.

    • RoverKia Man says:
      My late wife had a 1968 Morris1100 Mk 2 when I first met her. That had a central dial.

  8. The piece about strip speedos (not an order for Aussies to go naked on Bondi beach) had me thinking about how often we use symbols to represent things in everyday life, especially when on the road, whether driving or walking. Even the letters I am now typing are little more than the visual representations of the sounds you would be hearing if I were talking to you. And those sounds would be what I was thinking.

    In the world of motoring, symbols are everywhere. I get into my VW Fox (sorry!). The liquid crystal displays (electronic symbols) showing the time and the car’s mileage figures are on 24/7 (another symbol – a metaphor). I put the key into the steering column lock and turn it. Differently shaped lights that represent the state of the engine, etc come on. Also the red needles (or pointers) of the rev counter, fuel gauge speedometer are illuminated. I start the engine and, if all is well with the car, only the lights warning that I have not clicked in place the driver’s seat belt and that the hand brake is applied stay on.

    I clip on the seat belt, engage first gear and release the hand brake. The last two symbols disappear – only to be replaced by two more as I indicate to pull out: the flashing green light on the dashboard and the indicator lights themselves (even trafficators were symbols of intent). (BTW – the dashboard is the piece of wood on a horse-drawn carriage struck by stones, etc thrown up by the feet of the horse or horses, preventing the road debris from hitting the person driving the carriage and any adjacent companion).

    And, of course, there are the symbols to represent variable information: speed; revs; fuel level; engine temperature, oil pressure and battery charge (those were days!).

    But has anyone done any tests to see which symbols are most easily responded to? Aircraft pilots have all manner of audible and visual warnings to tell them what is happening. And there are head-up displays in the pilot’s line of sight, projected onto the plane’s windscreen (yes, another word re-used).

    So, why no head-up speed displays in road vehicles? With speed limits changing a dozen times or more on a long journey, what could be more logical? My satnav shows my speed in different colours, depending on whether I am under the speed limit, near it or over it. Why not project that onto the windscreen? No need to look away from the road, and just the colour of the figures would be enough to tell the driver to slow down or not.

    Decades ago, on “I’m sorry, I’ll read that again”, there was a sketch about audible road signs – to be introduced by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation! On approaching a stop junction, the driver would hear, “HALT, major road ahead” (that will tell you how long ago the sketch was first broadcast). “Road up” meant steep hill. “Hidden dips”, beware pickpockets. Today, with rumble strips, we could be told, “Sleeping policemen”. And “Beware – smart motorway”.

    And I didn’t get round to traffic lights, Belisha beacons, red and green ‘men’ – even more symbols to be interpreted by road users.

    • I remember on a holiday to the USA there were a lot more worded road signs in use, many were hard to read at speed.

      Over here signs giving the same information would have used symbols & diagrams with the minimum amount of words.

    • Cost! That’s why we don’t see them. I remember in the 90s BMW, Cadillac and I think Mercedes showing off this technology. I think now days they are obsessed by self driving cars which work on GPS, but as my phone tells me I am always three streets away I am not so sure if would want to get in one!

  9. Chris Cowin : thank you for that reference to a central dial – I had never seen one , and certainly my wife’s Morris 1100 ( a late mark 1 of about 1966/7 ) had the A40 style binnacle , but obviously there was a small number produced for the mark 2 and for USA

    yes, it was the Lightning ( I think later rather than earlier Marks ) I was thinking of ! in fact IIRC the strip speedo was a combined ASI and Machmeter of an ingenious type but there was also a circular ASI of conventional type lurking somewhere

  10. I always thought it was inelegant to have a strip speedometer and a round rev counter perched on top of the dash. Either have an array of round dials, or have a strip rev counter too… Or am I missing something?

    • John Trimbos : one of the arguments which has gone on for ever in aviation is over questions of readability of strip gauges being superior to round dials. I always liked round dials rather than vertical strip type, but objective tests seemed to show ( in types such as the B747 where you could have either but round dials were cheaper ! ) that strip gauges were much less prone to being misread , particularly in an emergency, and this superiority was increased when conventional round dials were replaced by the electronic LED type which does not have a needle, and thus is even more difficult to read. The only strip gauge cars I had , Rover 2000 and quite recently Rover 2000TC , I really liked , and the combination of strip and circular in the TC didn’t offend me at all!

  11. The FSO 1300 had a strip speedomteter all the way through the eighties, with a red line appearing under the numbers to tell you how fast you were going. This probably was more to do with FSO lacking money to develop the car, which was becoming ancient by the mid eighties, than anything fashionable as most European manufacturers had gone over to round speedometers in the mid seventies.

  12. Lovely article. My parents had an ADO16 for many years. The colour can fade badly on the bit that is visible when stationery.

  13. My late father had a Rover 2000 with the red line speedo; does anyone know how it worked?

    The execution of the narrow box used to annoy me even as an 8 year old. If I recall correctly the instruments were all housed in a rectangular black box, which was perched within a curved dashboard aperture. It looked like a shoebox had been just been casually laid on a shelf with gaps around the edges…..

    Coincidentally my Dad later bought a Citroen CX, by this time I was (Just) old enough to drive. This had the revolving drum speedo. A fabulous car in nearly every respect, if only they could have painted it properly.

  14. I absolutely hated the strip speedo and found circular ones much easier to read quickly as the eye picks up the angular change much more readily (I have studied ergonomics). My current car has both circular dials and digital speed but I tend to use the analogue dial far more than the digital readout. My late father had a Hillman Minx with strip speedo which was much more difficult to read than the Triumph which replaced it with conventional circular gauges.

  15. Those BMC/BL letterbox dashboards. For some reason the steering wheel on the MK3 Crab seemed disturbing, I can vaguely recall pulling it off as a 4 year old to find those wee white clips and the big nut. Was something ill or disturbing looking about the shape of them. A bit like a Princess with the boot open from a certan angle looks like, ‘come here little boy’ ! Only BL could do this! The strip dash suited the 1100 although the A40 type dash the early Morris 1100 had was the most useful. The Crab dashboard though, just sickening unfortunately. Everything looked strange on it as I recall. Your finger seemed to be forced to an uncomfortable angle when going for the light switch and those mouse-trap doorhandles,, snap – outch!
    At an uncle in-laws yard there was an 1800 which had the two round dials in it and this was a few years after Crabs ceased to be a common sight, it was a plane jane Austin 1800, not an S or a Wolsley but it had the two dials in a plank dash, someone must have changes it I guess. There was a 1500 Hunter DL sitting next to it, the interior of the Hunter even in basic form always seemed nicer.

  16. I’ll be honest – I disliked them then and I still do. That’s just my own preference; I’d always much rather have a regular round instrument. In the first iteration of ADO 61 it just looked cheap and nasty. But they were a thing of their time…

    • Hated them too when I was young. A dash full of round dials was more prestigious and sporting it seemed. And the higher the numbers on the speedo the better! looking back with the warm glow of nostalgia I’m less bothered.

  17. The first car I drove after passing my driving test was a 1963 Mercedes 220sb with a vertical strip speedometer that changed colour. It was flanked by fuel and water temp gauges on one side, and oil pressure gauge and warning lights on the other. It was right in front of the driver and looked very sci fi. This article brought back such memories though I do prefer a full compliment of round black dials with fine graduations.

  18. The first time I saw a strip speedo was in my headmaster’s Morris 1800 going on a history field-trip in 1968. I recall watching it reach 80mph on the A46 Warwick bypass which had only recently opened. This was double exciting as I’d never gone this fast before and it was the first time I’d travelled on a dual carriageway.

    My second encounter with the BMC strip speedo was with my first car – a 1969 H reg Austin 1300 Countryman (reg number XRK242H) – purchased for £150 in 1976. I’d congratulated myself on bagging a real bargain after knocking the owner down from £295. Although I soon found out why he was glad to get rid for whatever he could get. The seller himself had also congratulated me on my negotiating skills as he pocketed the cash.

    One of the many things that went wrong with XRK242H in the few weeks I managed to keep it on the road was a screaming noise from the speedo every now and again, this would be accompanied by a wild and erratic wavering of the red strip. Eventually this cured itself when the speedo-cable gave up the unequal fight and snapped.

    Unfortunately this ‘song and dance routine’ continued after a new cable was fitted so I guessed the problem lay elsewhere.

    Gaining confidence now, I removed the speedo unit from the fascia and opened it up for a look. My careful dismantling of the speedo itself didn’t reveal what had gone wrong, but I did learn that it had many parts and they didn’t want to go back together again…..

    So I took a trip down to the local scrappy to source a replacement and I sensibly chose one with the lowest recorded mileage I could find.

    I was now an expert at removing and refitting the speedo unit so the ‘new’ one went in like a dream. All well and good, except as a parting shot, it read about 40% lower than it should – ie 30mph at 50 etc. I didn’t notice exactly what model I’d taken it from in the scrappy but it clearly had a different speedo drive ratio to mine !

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