Love is... two-stage dash lights, or illuminated seatbelt latches


Author: Alastair ClementsPublished:

What's the best thing about your classic? Forget handling for a moment, or power, noise, performance, ride, comfort – in fact, forget all of the traditional criteria by which you would judge a car's abilities.

Likewise, leave aside styling and aesthetics, because these are taken as read: chances are that one of these qualities – or more likely a blend of two or three – will have been the reason you bought the car in the first place.

No, what I'm talking about are the little things, those charming intricacies that you only appreciate through long-term ownership and intimacy with a car, the quirks that would be insignificant to any objective assessment, but that always give you an inner smile.

I'll kick things off with my 1957 Magnette. The roof-mounted clock is a bit too obvious (and doesn’t work properly), so I'll go for the two-stage dash lights. Long before Saab came along with its Nightvision switch, the Magnette's illuminations would allow you to light up all of the instruments with a soft green glow, or simply the fabulous half-octagonal speedo. A completely pointless feature, perhaps, but a source of endless delight for me.

With the Volvo 1800ES the MG replaced, it was the glass tailgate, in particular the delicious fluidity of the beautifully engineered rotating catch that locked it. A close second was the illuminated seatbelt latches so you could find them in the dark. Could any detail be more Volvo?

My Suzuki Whizzkid offers similarly tactile pleasures. That little car is all about immediacy and agility, and that is somehow perfectly encapsulated by the window winders. No electric motor could hope to rival the speed of this manual system, which drops the glass in just a single rotation. It's always a surprise to passengers more used to the stiff, low-geared systems of older British classics.

So come on, share those little details of your classic that make it so special to you.




On the SM it would have to be the lights, they light up the road perfectly as driving along - I wish I had the original stereo, as that had a mic to record your thoughts (pointless feature, but fun)

On the Minor I love the main beam swith being on the floor, why an earth did we stop that?

Valve Bounce

I love the vacuum operated seat back locking mechanism on my old Mercedes Coupe, completely unnecessary, completely baffling when you first start using the car, but spellbinding when it's working. Especially the little pifffff sound when you open the door and you look down and see the catch disengage. Well you did ask..


It's the sunroof winder on my Merc W123 saloon - a manual control, obviously, but a beautiful chromed folding handle which unfurls for winding duties with a lovely precise click. Opening and closing the roof is a genuine tactile pleasure. Electric roof controls just don't do it for me.

Chris Martin

I know what valvebounce means, my 450SLC has the same vacuum operated seat back release; pointless but a gentle reminder of the engineering capability of the Merceds Benz boffins.
As an aside to the other post about a 123 series sunroof, I have had several with electric sunroofs, and at least one with a manual version, but best of all is my latest, and the first I have found; it has NO sunroof! Brilliant, no leaks, no blocked drains, no rust. Much better, thanks.
But, I have to add another quirky example similar to Alastair's initial post.
In the early seventies a bus driver friend of mine in Potters Bar had a nearly new Humber Sceptre, (the one based on the shell codenamed 'Arrow', like the Hillman Hunter) which had those little rectangular plastic covers for all the dash warning 'idiot' lights. They were made of two different thickness plastic halves that could be turned one way for a brighter light in daytime, and then to the thicker plastic, to allow less light through, for night driving.
Clever, and cheap, some innovations do deserve to be widely adopted.
Chris M.



I delight in really well design details; as a child I drew cars and mechanical details. Now I sometimes go to my 1989 MX-5 and can’t help caressing the door handles or popping the bonnet just to stare at the cambox and plenum chamber. Even the original daisy wheels with their seven spokes (because it saved weight) please me.
However, for sheer practicality, this is the first car I’ve owned with pop-up headlights which can open or close with the push of a button, no worries about ignition keys or light settings.


My 1982 SN Prelude, '81 HB Mazda 929 coupe and W111 220Sb Benz all have funky speedos/tachos and I think this is partly the reason I bought them.
The tach-in-speedo of the Honda delights with two arcs swinging from a similar axis, the 929 is a typical 1980s 'Star Wars' dash and the (newly acquired) Benz is vertical and just plain looks cool. Always a treat to look down in any of these!

Jonathan Wadman

Assuming it's OK to comment on a car I no longer own, I would have to nominate the illuminated column stalks in my 1995 Alfa 145. An honourable mention also to the parcel shelf in an aunt's early-1980s Nissan Micra. It pivoted at either end so that you could lift it up and reach into the boot even if the back seat was fully occupied. Very useful for picnics on wet days.



That's a great suzuki, im impressed at how you managed to maintain your car in a perfect condition and by the looks of it you really love it. I also own a suzuki but not a classic car like yours(yours is a unique one). I really want to customize mine and im having a hard time finding the best place to buy oem suzuki parts, if you can give me suggestion please do so, thanks! :)


Really good website this is, full of useful information and advice. Thanks for sharing. 


I’ve been looking at classic cars lately. Anyone has any recommendations? My last car broke down due to faulty swirl flaps. It was a relatively new BMW car too, so I’m now thinking of switching things around and trying out a classic. Triumph Spitfire looks really classy and attractive, but I’m not too keen on it having only 2 seats. BMW E30 is another option, but the look is slightly too boxy. I might go for a Saab 900 Convertible. There is one on sale near where I live. Does anyone have any reviews on it?


Best regards / Peter Mould / pmwltd

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