Chevrolet speedometer design

Design evolution from 1941 to 2011

Chevy truck 1941

CHEVROLET truck (1941)

Chevy 1947 speed meter design

CHEVROLET truck (1947)

Chevy 1949

CHEVROLET (1949)

Chevy Bel Air 1956 speed meter design

CHEVROLET Bel Air (1956)

Chevy Nomad 1957

CHEVROLET Nomad (1957)

Chevy Apache truck 1959 speed meter design

CHEVROLET Apache truck (1959)

Chevy Impala 1959

CHEVROLET Impala (1959)

Chevy Viking truck 1960 speed meter design

CHEVROLET Viking truck (1960)

Chevrolet Chevy Nova 1966

CHEVROLET Chevy Nova (1966)

Chevy Camaro 1967 speed meter design

CHEVROLET Camaro (1967)

Chevy Corvette 1968 speedometer design

CHEVROLET Corvette (1968)

Chevy Camaro 1969 speed meter design

CHEVROLET Camaro (1969)

Chevy Nova 1970 speedometer design

CHEVROLET Chevy Nova (1970)

Chevy Monte Carlo 1970 speed meter design

CHEVROLET Monte Carlo (1970)

Chevy Silverado 1985

CHEVROLET Silverado (1985)

Chevy Venture 2000 speed meter

CHEVROLET Venture (2000)

Chevy Corvette 2003

CHEVROLET Corvette (2003)

Chevy Cobalt 2008 speed meter

CHEVROLET Cobalt (2008)

Chevy Cruze 2008

CHEVROLET Cruze (2008)

Chevy HHR 2008 speed meter design

CHEVROLET HHR (2008) speed meter

Chevy Malibu 2009

CHEVROLET Malibu (2009)

Chevy Spark 2010 speed meter

CHEVROLET Spark (2010)

Chevy HHR 2011

CHEVROLET HHR (2011)

Chevy Sonic 2011 speed meter

CHEVROLET Sonic (2011)

Chevrolet speedometer design

2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet. During these 100 years the company developed over a hundred different types of cars, vans and trucks. All of those cars, vans and trucks have something in common: they all contain speedometers.

Speedometers are those kind of items you look at thousands of times during your life, without ever really noticing. You notice the speed, not the meter. And if you do notice the meter chances are you don’t realize someone actually designed it. The company probably even did some research beforehand. Research regarding the readability of typefaces, the right size of the numbers and the space between them.

The design of speedometers hasn’t changed much over the decades. Recently, however, there’s a trend towards digital meters. They’re probably supposed to look fresh and new, but due to the use of stopwatch-like (the digital stopwatch was invented in 1971) typefaces they actually look extremely primitive and dated.

It’s easy for a driver to get used to a needle that rises and passes numbers that are located on fixed positions. A quick glance is all it takes to see and understand the value it represents. With the most recent design it’s different. The value of the ‘stopwatch’ constantly changes while driving. Some characters of the typeface look very similar to others (for instance 0, 6 and 8), which makes it harder to figure out whether you’ll get a speeding ticket or not. Not an ideal situation.

  1. John Sandell says:

    ’57 Nomad had it right!

  2. Chris Swenke says:

    Thank you so much for the 1970 Nova. Seeing this instantly brought back memories of riding around in my grandmothers car kid.

  3. mark says:

    you might find the 93 Corvette interesting, it has BOTH, digital and analog speedo, very easy to deal with….

  4. This is so rad. I’d love to make a shirt featuring these.

  5. Shawn Hazen says:

    Thank you so much for doing this! Such a cool design history. I can’t even imagine how you dug all these up!

    Well done. (and, my picks are ’47 thru ’59…)

  6. Floyd III says:

    I bought a new 1987 Chevy Z-24. A Cavalier with a “Sports” package. 2.8L V-6. 6-Speed Manual, and a Digital Speedodometer. Had to have it replaced twice within the warranty perioe (TG!). After that, she kept on ticking through 13yrs, 130k miles, and several cross-country trips.
    Thanks for the memories. (p.s., the ’87 Cavalier was replaced by a brand new 2000 Malibu)

  7. Paul says:

    66 Nova for me – nice clean retro styling!

  8. Dan Kelley says:

    So cool! Checkout that ’68 Vette… 160mph! Without mandatory seatbelts! :)

  9. Azhar Kamar says:

    Cool stuff! Gotta love that digital compass feature on the last one.

  10. aburtch says:

    The 2010 Spark speedometer looks like my old washing machine dial.

  11. Alaimo says:

    Curious how the lone example using the numeral “5” (Silverado, 1985) looks so out of whack.

  12. miker says:

    Man, I would love to have these as desktop wallpapers, any change of that?

    Also, beautiful.

  13. @Miker No, unfortunately not. The original images were about the same size. If you’re able to find the right typeface you could try to recreate them yourself though.

  14. PLO Roma says:

    HHR has amazing minimalistic design, love it!

  15. Sure wish they would go back to the White face with Black letters and big RED needles. And go back toe 10 mph increments rather than 20. Much easier to read. And STOP with these back lit electroluminescent gauges that are impossible to read in the daytime. They look good in ads and at night…but in the daytime they suck pond water.

  16. shle896 says:

    Awesome idea! I didn’t realize how much I detest the digital speedometers until I saw this! Great work!

  17. leonjoramos says:

    A 220 kph Cruze? It must be a Canadian, Mexican or international version.

  18. Goatman says:

    @LEONJORAMOS

    It’s not Canadian, KPH would be the larger numbers, with MPH being the smaller numbers, could be out of a Cobalt SS or something.

  19. John Laudun says:

    There was, for a time, a speedometer in the Buicks that was a horizontal strip with a colored stripe below the numbers that grew and shrunk (from left to right) to indicate the car’s speed. Somewhere there has to a be photo of that. I don’t remember now what the coloring of the stripe indicated. (Overall speed or acceleration/deceleration.)

  20. Don Stewart says:

    Interesting thread.

    The 57 Nomad speedometer could have also been for the Bel Air, 210 and 150 models as they were all the same.

    The 59 Impala could have also been for the Bel Air and Delray and whatever the station wagon models were. Also, the 59 & 60 Chevy speedometer details were the same.

  21. Luis Masanti says:

    As long as we all live in a “digital” world, the “analog needle and arc position of it” carries a lot more “information” than the “digits.”
    And a lot more beautifulness!
    (Of course, we can “digitally” draw an analog odometer in the computer display!)

  22. James says:

    @Leon. It says kph near the start.

    I like the analog look more than digital, and the first versions have great fonts, that’s the retro we should aim for!

  23. Tom Dibble says:

    New? My dad’s 1984 Chrysler LeBaron had a digital speedometer. It was horrible for exactly the reasons you mentioned: it takes longer and more attention to read it.

    Also, it conveys a level of precision which is not commensurate with reality (you may be going faster or slower than the reading describes based on a number of factors including the inflation of your tires and how well they are gripping the road) nor pertinent to the driver (even if you are trying to stay just below the ticketing zone of speeding you should know that the thing measuring your speed for the ticket will be a radar gun or the officer’s judgement, not your “precise” speedometer).

  24. This blog post goes to 10,000!

    Too many cool designs to choose a favorite, but I do especially like Chevy 49, Nomad 57, Impala 59, and the Monte Carlo 70.

  25. Martin says:

    Huh. I don’t think I’ve ever had a car that didn’t have 55 or 65 as the apex value, so that anything left of that was generally ‘not speeding’ and anything right of that was generally ‘speeding’. I wonder if there’s more variety in speedometers than I think, and that the speedometer design weighs more heavily in my vehicle selection than I realize.

    With the advent of digital speedometers, particularly with GPS-enabled vehicles, why don’t those displays respond to the speed limit data that comes through the GPS? Cars can now know that the speed limit is 45 on the stretch that you’re driving on and turn the speed indicator red or provide some other cue. If we’re going to bake a computer into our dashboard rather than just a spinning steel wire, why not utilize it?

    Oh, and has Tufte ever weighed in on speedometer design? I vaguely recall something specific from years ago, but can’t seem to find it now.

  26. MATTH says:

    I like the ’68 Corvette myself. Tickmarks are not too dense and the numerals are not angled to match the curvature of the dial, which makes them easier to read. I’m really not in favor of digital displays like the last one: the position of the needle relative to other points on a dial is very useful information — even more so for things like a fuel or temp gauge where the precise quantity may not be well understood by the user.

  27. CHEVROLET HHR (2011) is the best design by a mile. Made me google it, only to find that the car is ugly as hell. Great speedometer though.

  28. Moog says:

    The 2003 Corvette is genius design. Pure genius. By breaking past the 180-degree arc, it emphasizes that this is a FAST car. It’s the speedometer equivalent of a dial “going to eleven.”

  29. Rick says:

    Why the change from having the point marks below the numbers to above the numbers with the dial reaching over the number?
    It’s very common, it’s ugly, and the needle obstructs those numbers.

  30. Moog says:

    I should clarify my last comment. It’s not just that the 2003 Vette goes past the 180-degree arc, which other examples do, but it’s the asymmetric nature of it that conveys that sense of speed.

  31. Miro Kefurt says:

    @John Laudun
    FIAT used such desing in 1960’s so try to look there !

    @Christinan Annyas
    Great JOB ! Great Idea !!!
    Thank you very much………
    Also nice to see how the speedo is being re-invented over and over.

  32. Rick says:

    @John Laudun – in the UK the Vauxhall (a GM company) Cresta in the 1960s had the horizontal bar you mention. It was green up to 30MPH, Orange up to 70 and Red thereafter. These were the major national speed limits in the UK. It worked using a horizontal rotating drum with the stripes painted on and showing through a slot. I have never seen a better design for simplicity or clarity.

  33. Player_16 says:

    Should’ve shown more of those ’71 onwards (ALL cars in that era were crap designed). I had a ’72 Impala during the mid-’80’s -a sizeable beast. Growing up, my father had a brand new ’67 Impala wagon with 2 miles on it (he worked for GM). After he t-boned a red-light runner and had it fixed, he traded it for a ’69 Impala wagon… MASSIVE!!

  34. adrian says:

    I have to disagree on digital speedometers – with one quick glance you can read it. But, notice that since 2000, the numbers have been moved inside of the hashmarks, meaning that the speed you’re going can’t always be read easily, because it’s blocked by the needle. Surely that’s not an ideal situation either.

  35. HarryV says:

    First, thanks for putting together such a great collection. As I was looking through the designs, I began to think about the speed limits in the US and California in particular. They are generally: 25, 35, 45, 55, 65, 75. All of the Chevy speedometers force me to interpolate. For the analog dials, there may be an opportunity here to align with the numbering with the context. On the other hand, with digital speedos, it becomes moot.

  36. Alan LaRue says:

    There’s a lot of “context” missing in these graphics. For example, the 2011 HHR (which is identical to my 2006) has 8 arcs over which the numbers are superimposed. I believe that your goal was to show the simplicity of the numbers, so perhaps that’s why some elements were removed.

    It’s interesting that you left out the two different digital readout designs found in the 1984 through 1996 Corvettes. The first was a combined numeric and analog readout, which many people criticized at the time. I found myself generally reading the numbers, which were not difficult to read at a glance.

    As far as the Sonic is concerned, you may or may not know that it mimics a sport bike speedometer. These generally have an analog tachometer and a digital speedometer. In that context, nobody complains. (Most motorcyclists seem to be quite happy with this arrangement.) I don’t know that it should necessarily be applied to automobiles, but what I’ve observed over the years is that one’s preference has a lot to do with what they’re used to, unless they happen to love change.

    I, personally, find that a big old fat number is easy to read at a glance, whereas a position on an analog dial is only good for an approximation at a glance unless it is straight up. I’m never going fast enough for this to be a problem, in any case! I do prefer the style of the analog speedometer, and wish that the HHR would have used the same typeface as the 1947 truck, simply because it’s cool, and the HHR is supposed to evoke a 1949 Suburban.

  37. aprintmaker says:

    I’m a fan of the horizontal numbers of the 70 Nova.
    I think the useful range however is 0-80 MPH and manufacturers should try less to make a car look fast by giving people a reading above which it is safe for untrained people to drive.

  38. Theo says:

    Great idea and a some really nice speedometer examples, my favourite is the `68 Corvette.

  39. Elio Filho says:

    I like the 1990´s Corvette ZR1 speedometer desing, it does have analog tach and digital veloc arranged in a amazing desing for that days.

  40. followchrist says:

    The Cruze speedo goes to 220 seems a little ambitious!

  41. adam felson says:

    Seven segment digital readouts? Hello, it’s the 60’s, they want their display technology back. Even the crappiest $10 cell phone can manage fonts. and not seven segment immitation fonts, but something readable and attractive. Why not a $70,000 car?

  42. pixelgem says:

    Very timely post! I’m currently doing a research paper on front console cup holder design in a European car marketed to Americans. It’s interesting all the human factors research that (hopefully) goes into the design of these things.

  43. I love the 1966 Chevy Nova. My early childhood was spent riding in this car. Let me tell you–that car really could make it up to 120!

  44. David says:

    for me, the one on the 1941 Chevrolet truck works best: Simple, logical, beginning to end! :D

  45. bill says:

    1949 does it for me

  46. Tony says:

    1968 Nova! Love that look

  47. Tim Moore says:

    In 1979, while at the Institute for Consumer Ergonomics at Loughborough in the UK I and colleagues did a series of studies for Ford UK on speedometer design and, much to our astonishment digital gages came out as superior for drivers (not their opinion their performance). This was published in Applied Ergonomics
    Volume 14, Issue 2, June 1983, Pages 97-101. The answer is to put both the digital and analogue onto gages to satisfy everyone.

  48. Mark Winton says:

    The newest one(CHEVROLET Sonic (2011) is horrible!
    As a young Radio Design Engineer we always used analogue meters for tuning anything as the responsiveness is far far faster (human eye) and electronics involved than digital.
    On some of the latest meters they brought out digital (analogue) type meters that just don’t cut it.
    On my car Audi A4, I have a analogue meter with small red slashes where the speed limits are — I don’t need to process and do calculations to make Binary (above or below 1 or 0 ) decisions.
    Also the 70% point is always the most accurate point of an analogue meter (round about where the speed limit is) and easy to spot at a glance.
    The CHEVROLET HHR (2008) speed meter is the best for me as it shows what is needed with subtle style and does not indicate speeds which the car cannot achieve or would be illegal to do.
    The analogue meter wins every time.

  49. Bob Bortfeld says:

    While my fav is the 1949 deco modern speedometer, it’s the 1956 Bel Air that brings back memories of my first car! Thanks.