Evolution – a moving on to something better is a fact of life. Over the
years, evolution is one of the factors that made the Porsche 911 a can’t
touch me sports car icon. Some might say that Porsche’s have not evolved
much at all. However, with each generation of the 911, problems were
solved, challenges overcome, and automotive boundaries were pushed
Along the way, those who wanted development were pleased and those
who thought the 911 was perfect wanted things left alone. Regardless
of the point of view, the slow progress could be relied upon as being
relentless – the engines, transmissions, suspensions, styling, and
production methods were continuously reviewed and the needed
changes made to retain the 911’s iconic status.
Considering the constant state of change in the automotive world, it
is surprising that some aspects of the 911 remained little altered for so
long. Air-cooled engines remained for a lot longer than most expected.,
also, the 911’s compact dimensions. One aspect, however, that arguably
helped keep Porsche sales moving was the well-established five instrument
dials located behind the 911’s steering wheel. The layout of the five dials
have been virtually unchanged for over 30 years!
Over the years, the dials’ panoramic layout and close proximity to the
driver were guaranteed to make an impression. The needles’ sweep
arches indicated functions and sport car parameters that were unfamiliar
to most drivers. This included three separate gauges for just the oil!
Additionally, switches were scattered around and underneath the
gauges, often with cryptic marking or with none at all. Regardless,
settling into any 911 up to the 993 (1997) was like meeting an old
Of course some changes were made along the way, however, such
were minor. For example, 1968 saw the change from green to white
dial markings and the deletion of the gauges’ chrome surrounds.
Additionally, there were some changes to the warning lights and
calibrations over the years, but such were very minor indeed. With the
launch of the 964 in 1989, the dials gained backlighting of markings
and needles, new warning lights incorporated into the dial faces, and
(optionally) the tachometer included a digital display for the computer.
The long standing five dial setup allowed the driver to see the engine’s
rpms without taking his eyes off of the road.
Why were the five dials left unchanged for so long? Well,
they did their job well – informing the driver of all he wanted to
know. Additionally, Porsche did not want to chance departing from
what enthusiasts considered a winning combination that added to the
Last, but not least, was the significant cost of doing a dash redesign as
the 911’s instrument binnacle was part of the bodyshell pressing known
as the “body-in-white.” This construction is what contributed to the
car’s “hewn-from-solid-granite” feeling. Today, it might well be called
“over engineering” – in past it, was called “high quality!” Regardless
of the terminology, it meant that the instruments stayed put!
In the late 80s and through the 90s, the five dial instrument layout started
to encounter criticism, and it was even seen as old fashion. What was all
the fuss about? The tachometer was placed in the prime location and it
had a larger dial face than the others. Even the most cynical detractor
could not argue that the tach’s needle was easy to spot. After all, how
the engine is performing is the top priority in a sports car.
To the right of the tachometer was the speedometer. For some drivers, it
was partially obscured by the steering wheel and this led to it being classified
as “badly obscured.” However, the miles per hour is secondary as the driver
knows he is going fast (likely over the speed limit) with such a car.
To the left of center were the combined oil and temperature gauges. They
were numerically calibrated until 1964 when they lost their numbering.
Over on the far right was the analogue (no digital stuff here) clock, while on
the far left were the fuel and oil level indicators.
Although the 996 came in with a complete redesign in 1997, the essential
dash DNA was preserved. The dials were squeezed together a bit and
the dial faces looked thoroughly modern including digital displays, however,
they remained solidly 911.
In 2004 the introduction of the 997 saw a return (well, slightly) to the
more traditional appearance and a more hewn-from-rock” feel to the 911
dashboard. And as we’ve come to expect, those five dials, albeit refined
If you want a real driving experience, get behind the wheel of a 911 and
the five dial dash that has stood the test of time. The five dial dash of the
Porsche 911 – it’s what helps to make a Porsche a Porsche!
Kyle Busch is the author of “Drive the Best for the Price…” He
welcomes your comments or car questions at his auto web site: