They say that typefaces are the clothes that words wear, and that’s sort of true for cars and their instrument clusters, too. Think about it — you glance at those readouts every few seconds behind the wheel, so it’s kind of hard not to be affected by them, even on the smallest level.
Thing is, that experience is pretty much limited to the person sitting in the driver’s seat. The design of an instrument cluster, like the texture of the dashboard’s surface or the way a dial clicks into the next position, is something only owners really ever know. And owners of the Ferrari F50 know that its gauges are among the prettiest in the medium of cars.
The F50 is polarizing, and it’s little wonder why. It had the impossible task of following up the F40 — a car so universally beloved, it’s basically enjoyed a second life as a synthwave icon. It adopted Maranello’s design language of the ’90s, which alternatingly produced works of art and atrocities on wheels. In doing so, the F50 became a car I’ve both loathed and loved from a styling standpoint at different points of my life. Sometimes it looks like a prune with a huge ass wing; other times, it’s relatively elegant and sophisticated. It’s one of those cars that simply confuses you more the longer you gaze at it.
Likewise, there’s something baroque and ornate about the F50’s instrument cluster; a pair of overlapping rings adorned with a fancy typeface you just know has appeared on a stuffy restaurant’s menu, or in a Final Fantasy game. It’s a little over the top, a little extra, but you know Ferrari couldn’t get enough of it because it’s used excessively under that small cowl — for temperature, oil pressure, fuel level, you name it.
When everything’s lit, the whole thing looks like a Christmas tree. It’s distractingly mesmerizing. Enigmatic; attention demanding. Maybe that’s why when it was time to do the Enzo, Ferrari opted for the same banal typeface London uses for its tube. The pomp and circumstance was gone in favor of simplicity. I get it from a practicality standpoint, but the Enzo’s dash also kind of makes me feel dead to look at.
The steering wheel and dashboard of a Ferrari Enzo.Image: Ferrari
I was reminded of the F50’s gauges playing Gran Turismo 7, where you can see a digital recreation of all this pageantry, modeled and animating in real time, from your virtual driver’s seat. You can even observe the odd behavior of a chronometric tach on old race cars, like the Aston Martin DB3S and Porsche 917K, or the obnoxious rev limit beep of the FD Mazda RX-7. The sort of quirks only a select few owners ever know, immortalized with technology.