Encyclopedia Hoonatica: Switchable Speedometers

Several of my recent Hoonatica quests have focused on older automotive technologies, because Kennedy baby. Today, I am going with a more modern focus in order to make it up to those of you who have pre-school memories of Sega Dreamcast.
For many years now, most speedometers installed in North American cars have indicated speed in both MPH and KPH. Manufacturers have typically accomplished this by simply printing two scales on the speedometer face, usually with the kilometer scale printed in tiny graduations inside of a larger MPH scale (and vise versa in North Canadica). But with the advent of digital sending units, it has become as simple as flipping a bit in the ECU code to have the same dial instantly re-calibrate itself to display the vehicle’s speed in either metric or US/imperial units. See the ZR1 speedo above? It can switch between metric and US units as easily as James Bond’s Aston could switch registration numbers. The MPH is actually an idiot light that is replaced by a KPH label when switched.
Your mission for today, should you choose to accept it, is to name all the cars with this oh-so-modern feature.
The Caveats (there are always caveats):

  • This entry is about switchable speedometer gauges, so vehicles where only a digital (numeric) speedometer readout can be switched don’t count.
  • Digital screens that display a virtual gauge are perfectly acceptable. And very cool.
  • Cars, light trucks, motorcycles, three-wheelers (COUGH!), heavy-duty trucks, farm tractors, boats, pedal-assisted electric tuk-tuks and (yes!) airplanes are allowed.
  • I’m not sure what sort of rabbit hole aftermarket speedometers constitute, but feel free to go there if you’d like.
  • Getting dinged by your employer for any Google search involving the term “speedo” is totally on you.

Difficulty: A bit of a shot in the dark, really. I only know of a few myself, but I’m pretty much a new-car ignoramus. (To those of you outside North America, this might prove more difficult. Sorry.)
How This Works: Read the comments first and don’t post duplicates! Bonus points for adding photos.
Image Sources: David Yu’s Photobucket via GTRlife.com.

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44 responses to “Encyclopedia Hoonatica: Switchable Speedometers”

  1. engineerd Avatar

    High end BMWs (i.e. 6- and 7-Series) have an Enhance Black Panel instrument cluster which is basically a fancy LCD screen. The speedo can be set for Christian (mph) or Heathen (km/h) as well as show such things as speed limits. It’s pretty nifty.

    1. dead_elvis Avatar

      My analog, non-switchable, dually-labelled Volvo speedo has “right here” (mph) & “rest of world” (km/h). Speed limits are often aspirational (’87 240 DL).

  2. 0A5599 Avatar

    Since airplanes count this time, the sky’s the limit. Glass cockpit technology is a feature of most new planes, but it is also a popular retrofit for older workhorses.

    1. engineerd Avatar

      This is true. Though, the default for ground speed is usually in knots for aircraft.

      1. Tanshanomi Avatar

        I really though that there would be a lot of kts/mph/kph marine gauges, but I went looking online and have not found one. You either get a single unit of measurement, a simple dual-scale face, or digital readout — or an app on your cellphone.

  3. ptschett Avatar

    I don’t remember for sure if my parents’ ’93 Cadillac STS had this, but I do remember that the ’98 did. It worked just like the ZR1 above; the MPH light went out, the km/h light came on, and the needle swung to the new numerical value.

  4. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    I always assumed Mercedes speedos were designed to do the same thing, but in the UK we’re saddled with a little constant km/h readout as well as the analogue mph dial. No doubt the latent technology is in the cluster, waiting, but we’re not able to unlock it.

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      What about the tachometer? Did it readout standard RPMs, or metric ones?

      1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

        No idea. It shows some kind of crazy hexadecimal way beyond my comprehension.

      2. bigredcavetroll Avatar

        “Power reserve meter.”

  5. WinstonSmith84 Avatar

    A digital speedometer is a gauge.
    plural noun: gauges
    instrument or device for measuring the magnitude, amount, or contents
    of something, typically with a visual display of such information.synonyms:measuring device, measuring instrument, meter, measure; indicator, dial, scale, display
    “the temperature gauge”

    1. Tanshanomi Avatar

      Yes, you are correct. I was speaking of a sweep or steam gauge rather than a digital gauge, and didn’t know how best to say it.

  6. Citric Avatar

    “Digital screens that display a virtual gauge are perfectly acceptable. And very cool.”
    So Jag XJ then.

    1. engineerd Avatar

      Their reliability seems to be on the upswing. Only 4 warning lights illuminated instead of 12.

      1. dead_elvis Avatar

        Yeah, but that’s without even having started the car. Give it a minute.

      2. mdharrell Avatar

        Four functional warning lights is indeed an improvement.

        1. Vairship Avatar

          Well, they DO give themselves a B:Average…

  7. Maymar Avatar

    I know for sure Malibus from the past decade have had it (I believe the Pontiac G6 and Saturn Aura did as well), and the current generation of Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain do as well.
    Over the summer, one of my coworkers found that out the hard way. He was driving an Equinox, and later mentioned “I had no idea why it was working so hard to maintain highway speed, and why I was passing everyone.” Thankfully, he realized the problem before the police did.

    1. alawat Avatar

      2004 – 2007 Malibu
      Favorite thing to do while someone else is driving my 2005 Maxx is to stealthily change the speedo from MPH to KPH. The reaction is always great when they realize it.

      1. Maymar Avatar

        I quite enjoy pressing the button repeatedly while driving (your generation Malibu was excellent for this), and watching the needle swing wildly back and forth.
        Of course, I’ve owned cars and bikes that did this on their own, but it’s nice to be able to make it stop too.

    2. Rudy™ Avatar

      Maintaining highway speed? My (dearly departed) uncle used to drive a lot for work, and “knew a guy” (as many of his generation did) who sold a device which cut your speedometer revs in half. So if your speedo read 30, you were actually doing 60-ish. (It was close to, but not quite, a 1:2 ratio.) It would cut the mileage approximately in half. He installed one on every car he owned, back then.
      His best story was when he had the ’71 Olds Ninety-Eight, a dark blue four door with all of the options. Setting: a long business trip, with four of them in the car. Then (you probably see this coming), they switch off drivers. They’re flying down the highways, tires groaning at each turn, weaving in and out of lanes. The driver asked why he was having trouble driving the car when my uncle informed him of the speedometer gadget. The reply?
      “No wonder I couldn’t get the car up to 70 miles per hour!!” Lesson learned.
      I don’t even know if that land yacht could ever go that fast. 😉 In ’73 it was handed down to my grandfather, who drove it a lot up until 1979. Then, a cousin’s boyfriend bought it and also ran it hard for a few years after. The Thing That Would Not Die.

  8. Alff Avatar

    Big deal. My 1954 Ford has this feature, as well as knots and furlongs per fortnight. The fact that it always reads zero regardless of the scale is another matter altogether.

    1. karonetwentyc Avatar

      “My car gets forty rods to the hogshead and that’s the way I likes it!”

    2. Rudy™ Avatar

      A stopped clock (with hands) is still correct twice a day.

  9. Cool_Cadillac_Cat Avatar

    My ’05 RWD STS has it, so I have to figure the DTS/DHS and CTS have it, as well.
    It’s neat, and I’d do KPH, and °C…but I cannot work with X amount of fuel per X distance.

  10. PotbellyJoe★★★★★ Avatar

    Basically All GM cars that were sold in both Canada and the US from 1996-2006 had either a switch, or a button that would convert it. 2000 Bonneville pictured here.

    1. Preludacris Avatar

      Aw man. My friend’s Bonneville was the only example I could think of, so I’m disappointed you got there first. I thought it was a nifty gimmick. Much nicer than having to either do mental conversions or go by tiny little markings in the inner ring.

  11. 0A5599 Avatar

    Not exactly on point, but Shelby GLHS cars had a workaround for the US regulations limiting speedometer readouts to 85 MPH. More like a switchable overlay.
    No metric needed above 137 KPH.

    1. Preludacris Avatar

      That’s brilliant!

    2. dead_elvis Avatar

      I don’t remember where the numbers stopped on the ’86 Ford Taurus LX, but there was no peg to prevent the needle from making nearly a full 360 when you buried the pedal on a long enough piece of road. The 6 cylinder wagons were decent sleepers at the time. We had a good one that racked up 150K hard miles without any real issues.

    3. Rudy™ Avatar

      Does anyone remember the gauges on those sad-assed Merkur XR4Ti’s? The speedometer was *labeled* up to 85MPH, but still had the tick marks far beyond that, in red (vs. white). It was always annoying to do the math in my head to figure out my speed. Just sayin’. 😉 (Popular aftermarket item was a fully labeled speedometer.)

  12. Guest Avatar

    I know this doesn’t count, but the first generation Ford Taurus was available with a digital gauge cluster, with a button to switch between Sanity (km/h) and Insanity (mph). This button also changed the HVAC readout from °C to °F.

    My American car has the analog readout with MPH bigger and KM/H smaller, which I can live with.

    It also has no conversion button, which means that my HVAC readout is eternally stuck in Fahrenheit, which means absolutely nothing to me.

    1. Guest Avatar

      Also, Canada is a weird place, measurement ride.

      I only know my weight in pounds, my height in feet, and my fuel economy in MPG.
      I also only know speeds in km/h, and temperature in Celsius.

      Needless to say, conversions are part of most of our curriculums.

      1. Preludacris Avatar

        And what’s more, you might be using US MPG or you might be using Imperial MPG, and that’s how your Nissan Micra might get something like 55 improbable-sounding MPG.

        1. karonetwentyc Avatar

          A friend of mine in the UK and I were discussing the difference in MPG figures between the same car sold in the US and UK. Eventually I resorted to using the size of a US gallon vs. the size of an Imperial gallon expressed in litres (3.8l vs. 4.5l, respectively) to illustrate the difference.
          The irony of resorting to SI units to differentiate the capacities of two standard units of measurement was not lost on either one of us.

      2. duurtlang Avatar

        You guys and the Brits have it the hardest. The (continental) Europeans and most of the rest of the world are metric-only, the Americans legacy units-only, with both strategies less confusing than having to mix everything I imagine.

      3. karonetwentyc Avatar

        IIRC, lumber is still sold in Canada in feet and inches, though I may be wrong about that.
        Either way, welcome to metrication in Ireland. The process started somewhere in the early ’80s and only finished when the everything switch was officially flipped to metric in 2005.
        I grew up knowing my weight in stones and pounds, the temperature in Celsius (usually), height in feet and inches (though it was stated in centimetres on my passport), road speed limits in MPH (the only km/h speed signs in the country that I knew of were within the bounds of Dublin Airport at the time), the capacity of drink cans and bottles in either millilitres or litres depending on size, and bought beer by the pint.
        Speaking of the pint, that was legally defined as a 454ml measure so that it could continue to be legally sold in pubs under the traditional name post-2005.
        Eleven years later, things really haven’t changed much. “Feels like it’s about fifteen or so out today,” “I’m five-eleven in height,” and so forth. Road speeds are typically given without reference to units – “we’re going around one-ten,” etc., though “it’s about an hour’s drive” is also fairly normal.
        What’s odd is having US-market European vehicles where things like the coolant temperature gauge and cabin heater are calibrated in Fahrenheit. On American cars I can understand it, but in an early ’90s Peugeot it just seems a little strange to me.

        1. Preludacris Avatar

          You’re right, the entire construction industry in Canada uses feet and inches.

      4. Vairship Avatar

        I was wondering if the lead photo showed a Canadian car:
        1) it’s a Corvette, which are rare in Europe
        2) speed is shown in MPH
        3) coolant temp is shown in degrees C

  13. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    but can you switch the kPa oil pressure reading to psi? those sly communists are sneaking their way into our gauge clusters every which way

  14. dead_elvis Avatar

    I half expected that yer snazzy Kizashi would have been one of the contenders, based on absolutely nothing whatsoever on my part.

    1. Tanshanomi Avatar

      Nope. Just a typical dual-scale speedo. As seen on Hooniverse.

      1. Alff Avatar

        Put some air in that tire, for crying out loud.