Dizzying dashboards

by David Hill / 04 November, 2011
A car that parks itself? Now there’s a vehicle worth having.

Plotted on a graph, Clive’s career trajectory resembles the flight path of a Saturn V rocket: onwards and upwards at Mach 3. Mine resembles those Atlas rockets that kept exploding on the launch pad. So, it’s not surprising Clive owns a car that can park itself.

I said park itself. You draw up beside the vehicle in front. You press certain buttons. You say “Heel!” You fold your arms, clench your fists and close your eyes. Some of these are optional. Sensors blink into action, and your/Clive’s gleaming German giant reverses with wheels at appropriate angles, pauses, creeps forward with wheels at different but still appro­priate angles, then halts in the exact middle of the parking space. The scary part is that a little panel on the dashboard shows it all happening. Gliding white and red bars offer a visual narrative of the car’s relationship to the kerb. When parking is complete, another panel offers you the choice of flat white or mochaccino.

The dashboard of our own Grey Power five-door saloon (has anyone ever tried entering or exiting a vehicle via its fifth door?) is much more rudimentary, but I still haven’t sussed out half its functions. It tells me the time and date in four languages. It tells me if it has too much or too little oil, but is silent if it holds the right amount. It tells me if I’m low on petrol, offers an estimate of how many km till I run out, then playfully ratchets that figure up and down every 100m as I drive. It shows a spanner in one bottom right corner when it’s due for a service. Fair enough: paying for the service is quite a wrench.

Google the dashboards of the world’s most expensive cars and you get a dashed good display. The dashboard of one Rolls-Royce model – made from ’arts of oak, or possibly walnut – is built around a steering wheel that shrinks away from the driver when the ignition is turned off. Our steering wheel looks as if it’s about to do the same when I turn the ignition on.

The RR Corniche has Seat Adjustment Memory Buttons, so you can switch instantly from Old Money to Laundered Money body posture. The Silver Shadow’s dash has a cigar lighter. So do both its rear doors; the Surgeon General has determined that a RR Silver Shadow may damage your health.

The Bugatti Veyron, at US$1.7 million, has a low-glare tachometer, should you wish to order low-glare tacos. The dash of the Lamborghini Reventón (US$1.6 million: Save! Save!) appears to show incoming Imperial Starfighters, and has a speedometer that goes up to 360km/h. ­Presumably, at this velocity, you’re airborne to intercept the Starfighters.

Some manufacturers are reported to be working on dashboards that include drowsiness sensors. (Guarantee does not apply if listening to parliamentary broadcasts.) Others are planning a dashboard with ­fixtures that let you question your car. “Where the hell are we? “… ascending a hill 3km west of …”; “Do Friedmann’s equations of space-time imply a flat universe? “… no, there is a hill 3km west of …”

There are times, of course, when you have eyes only for one feature of even the most spectacular dashboards. A few weeks ago, I was driven back to my motel by Ted, obliging husband of one of the conference organisers. Ted drove me back to my motel quite briskly. Indeed, the dash display I kept watching was the speedometer, as it swung from 120km/h to 140, then back down to 130. Okay, we were on the open highway, and Ted seemed in pretty good command of things.

Pretty good command up to a point. That point came in conversation when I fawningly thanked him for chauffeuring me, and hoped it wasn’t a bother. No bother at all, Ted assured me, as we flew around a bend at 135km/h. He was heading for my part of town, anyway – he had a doctor’s appointment to see about these sudden dizzy spells he had been experiencing.

Click here for more columns and stories by David Hill.
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