Positioning of controls

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Paul_C

I've been prompted by the current thread in "How to drive an auto properly" to mention this subject.

As someone with an interest in older cars, maybe I've taken it for granted that people are aware of the variations in control layouts, but thinking about it carefully, I guess that younger folk who have never driven anything but a modern car (and particularly a modern European/Japanese car) may not realize that many of the current "standards" for control positions were not always so.

Here are some to get you thinking (and you might just get the impression that I'm not over-enthusiastic about modern ideas on control layout ;) ):

1. Headlight dimming/dipping. We've already mentioned the move from floor switch to column stalk, but the latter has two distinct variations today. With one you push the stalk forward (away from the wheel) for high beam, pull back for low beam. The other variation, which I prefer, has a spring-biased switch so you pull it toward the wheel for high, then pull again to revert to low. Some British cars had different arrangements. The old Hillman Imp, for example, used a completely separate stalk on the left of the column (actually the stalks came out of the dash on these cars) with just a regular up/down movement. Up was high beam, down for low beam, and a sprung position below that for flashing. Overall though, I still prefer the floor switch.

2. Light switch. These always used to be on the dash, with the pull-out variety being common for many years (pull out one notch for parking lights, all the way out for headlights). I really dislike the modern trend toward putting the light swtich on what has already become an overcrowded column stalk. It's not as if you're reaching for the switch every two minutes and need it right by your fingertips, is it?

Some time ago I had to drive a car with the light switch incorporated as a rotary control on the end of the turn-signal stalk. If you went to signal a turn and hit the stalk at the wrong angle, you turned off your lights! :eek: This thing even had a second ring on the fat stalk a little way back for the rear fog lights!

3. Horn. While we're around the column controls, I'm not keen on the horn being on the end of a stalk. The old-style chrome ring on the wheel was far better, and easy to tap from any position. Anybody who drives a lot of modern cars care to put a rough estimate on how many new cars still have some pad/button arrangement on the wheel instead of a stalk button? American cars firmly rejected the stalk horn and retained the old system -- at least I've never driven a U.S. model with a stalk horn.

4. Wipers. Another control which seems to have migrated onto column stalks in recent years. Are there any new models which still have the wiper control on the dash?

5. Parking brake. I'm sure there must be people here who have never driven anything without the centrally mounted floor lever, as fitted to just about all European cars for the last 30 years. When front bench seats were still common in British cars, the brake could often be found on the right-hand side, between the seat and the door the door. The 1961 Hillman Minx my family had for years was arranged this way.

Pull-out brake handles located just under the dash (with either a button in the handle, or a twist to release it) were also in widespread use on both British and American cars. U.S. models adopted an arrangement with a small pedal fitted hard up against the left side of the car, so you use your left foot to apply the parking brake. There is then a hand-operated pull out just under the dash to release it. This system is still in use on many American models (and in some cases has an automatic vacuum release).

6. Gear/Transmission Selector. A rare example of something which has migrated away from the column rather than to it! Column mounted selectors were always more popular in the U.S. than on British cars, but they could still be found (in decreasing numbers) on some British models until about the mid/late 1960s. In the U.S. at that time, floor-mounted shifts had something of an imported/sporty image about them (e.g. my old 1966 Plymouth Barracuda had a floor selector). Despite more widespread adoption of floor shift in later years, column mounted selectors are still in widespread use today in North America.

7. Ignition switch/Starter. Column mounted switches incorporating a steering lock have only been in use since about the late 1960s. Prior to that the switch was mounted on the dash, either to the left or the right of the driver, depending upon the model. European and American steering lock switches have also diverged on the sequence of positions. Modern European types are generally LOCK--ACCESSORY--IGNITION--START whereas American manufacturers adopted ACCESSORY--LOCK--IGNITION--START. This latter pattern in fact follows the arrangement which was most common on the dash-mounted types: ACCESSORY--OFF--IGNITION--START.

The starter position was not always incorporated into the keyswitch in the past either. Many British cars up until the 1950s had a separate starter knob or button on the dash which you press after turning on the ignition with the key.


That's probably enough for now. Comments anyone?
 
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Well, the 1987 Fiat Uno didn't have much on the stalks if anything. Instead it had a couple of big boxes of switches either side of the steering wheel! Also the 1992 Uno (yes, I have experience of both!) definitely had the rear wiper on the dash, not so sure about the front ones though.

Astras and Focuses, the two modern cars I have most experience of, switch the headlights via a rotary switch by your right knee. Fog light controls are in the same place on both cars (although they are separate buttons on the Astra).

The Megane Scenic has an "automatic" handbrake, although you still need to apply it via a pull out handle under the steering wheel.

My Astra steering wheel has the horn buttons under where your thumbs rest. The only time in 3 years that this has been a problem was on Friday, when someone in front of me braked very hard on the A1, and my hands tensed up as I quickly changed lanes round him (I wasn't tailgating, he really did jam on the anchors for seemingly no reason on a totally clear, wet road, proper ABS moment!). OK, he deserved a toot, but it wasn't intentional!

Nissans of the 80s and early 90s often had the indicators on the right hand stalk, I have seen this in a Datsun Cherry and a Nissan Sunny.

The Mk4 Astra really has very little on the stalks. Indicators and beam selector on the left, wash wipes on the right. Stereo controls and horn are integrated into the wheel itself (I am yet to find better stereo controls!). I don't know where the cruise control would be fitted, but I have a feeling it would be a couple of buttons on the end of the left stalk.

Oh, what about old hydraulic citroens? No brake pedal, they had a rubber mushroom instead. The idea was that your foot could slide off the throttle directly onto the brakes for an emergency stop, saving vital 100ths of a second!
 
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The Honda Civic has the gearlever coming out of the dash, by the way. Looks weird.
 
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david and julie

The original 60's Mini must of had one of the most basic arrangements ever. Talk about spartan, even down to sliding windows! If you are lucky enough to see a good one now they are like a time warp. Great little cars though even so and not much to go wrong.

Just had a thought, could you imagine some of todays drivers managing with setting the likes of the mixture or advance and ****** on the go? plus no sideglass or heater etc. The pioneers would think us a right soft lot.
 
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I think I remembered when I was young, my grandfather has a floor button switch for the wipers on his Morris Minor ???


Off topic,
My grandfather has the 2nd Morris Miner built off the production line, 3 years waiting list ! Would've been a good investment now :cry: Kept it for 8 months and got fed up with the media !
 
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Off topic,
My grandfather has the 2nd Morris Miner built off the production line, 3 years waiting list ! Would've been a good investment now Kept it for 8 months and got fed up with the media !

HeHe was that a minor or a miner..sorry couldnt resist just made me smile
 
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Paul_C

Wow, I seem to have started something here!

Nissans of the 80s and early 90s often had the indicators on the right hand stalk, I have seen this in a Datsun Cherry and a Nissan Sunny.
That seems to have been a common trait for Japanese cars. Of course, as they drive on the left in Japan, their domestic production is RHD, so not surprising that they use the same arrangement for exports to the U.K. In fact most older British models always used to have the switch on the right side of the column.

The more widespread adoption of left-side signal switch here seems to have arisen from European imports. Presumably manufacturers just didn't see the need to tool up for making alternative switch assemblies for the small proportion of RHD cars produced. American cars always have the switch on the left side as well, as you would expect.

Just had a thought, could you imagine some of todays drivers managing with setting the likes of the mixture or advance and ****** on the go?
I doubt whether most of today's drivers even have the slightest idea what that means. Thinking about the mixture, for those of you who drive a variety of modern cars, how widespread are manual vs. automatic chokes now? The automatic choke seems to have taken a long time to catch on in Britain and Europe, whereas it's been common on American engines since at least the 1950s.

I think I remembered when I was young, my grandfather has a floor button switch for the wipers on his Morris Minor ???
No idea about the Minor (or miner either for that matter ;) ), but the Imp I mentioned above had a floor-mounted manually-operated screen washer pump. Surrounding the rubber pump cover was a metal ring linked to switch contact paralleled with the regular wiper switch, so you could squirt water on the screen and the wipers would run until you lifted your foot back up. You could also just blip the edge of the ring with your toe for a single-wipe facility. Of course, that was on the deluxe model which even had screen washers!

On spartan, I've never driven a Citroen 2CV, but I believe that the early models didn't even have a fuel gauge, just a dipstick on the filler cap.
 
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I've been in 2 different 2CVs. The first one was when I was a kid, someone's mum had one. The second one was I thought about buying one to run around one summer, a guy was selling it for £200. But when he took us out for a test-drive I was more than a little discouraged by it's 50mph top speed (600cc air-cooled twin), and the fact the straw was coming out of the seat cushions!

Apparently you can make them quicker very cheaply by doing things such as lighten or remove the flywheel. I bet they're great fun to drive, but you wouldn't get anywhere in a hurry!

Don't they drive left-handed on the continent because Napolean was left-handed? I seem to recall that he was the one who started all that nonsense!
 
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david and julie

Adam said.

Oh, the one sold from 1959 you mean?

My first 1959 was called an Austin Seven ;) and then Mini Minor it was probably much later when the name was shortened to Mini.
 
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david and julie

masona said

I think I remembered when I was young, my grandfather has a floor button switch for the wipers on his Morris Minor ???

Do any of you remember the Ford Prefect/Pop 100E I think, that had wipers that worked off the inlet manifold? When you were ticking over they went like hell and over about 30mph they hardly moved at all. :LOL:
 
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david and julie said:
My first 1959 was called an Austin Seven ;) and then Mini Minor it was probably much later when the name was shortened to Mini.

Touché David! Was it really called the Austin Seven before it became Mini Minor?

I read that a few dealerships in London had specially made stretched versions as an advertising gimmic, and were then inundated with potential customers for these Mini limousines!
 
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My 1968 beetle that I had as a 17 year old had windscreen washers that ran off the air pressure from the spare wheel - which presumably was slowly flattening it....

And heating that could melt the soles of your shoes, but did nothing to clear the front window. Ahh - the pretty patterns that your breath made when it condensed and froze onto the inside of the window screen - not that great for forward visibility mind.
 
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