Old School Gaming, Technostalgia

I’m Your Turbo Lover: Turbo Dashboards and Other Oddities

I’m your Turbo Lover! Tell me there’s no other!

Tomy Turnin’ Turbo Dashboard, Tomy Turnin’ Turbo Dashboard!

Even the name suggests the blasting of power chords from a ’78 Firebird’s tape deck. Just yell it out right now—Tomy Turnin’ Turbo Dashboard! Of course, we were five and we didn’t know what a tape deck was, or how to load Raw Power into it. But many of us could recognize a Firebird at that young age. And if we wanted to dream about driving one and have our feet touch the pedals, then we could achieve a reasonable facsimile of the experience through the Tomy Turnin’ Turbo Dashboard.

Much retro ink has been spilled on the Turbo Dashboard, and it’s reasonable to assume that for most of us, these dashboard toys did more to  set us upon this path of irrational, oft-boneheaded, never-dull automotive enthusiasm than anything short of the Oldsmobile ads in your father’s vintage Playboy collection. But to be honest, I never had a Tomy Turnin’ Turbo Dashboard. Only the cool kids had one, and even they got bored with it around the time they could actually reach the arcade controls at Vinny’s Arcade-O-Rama and the words “Atari Jaguar” entered their collective vocabularies right around the holidays. Tomy wasn’t the only company making novelty plastic dashboards, after all; a company called Playmate also made one, and as far as motoring experiences go it blows the Turbo Dashboard off its virtual road.

Ages 3 AND UP! Hooray, I’m within age range!

For one, it was based on a Corvette, which really stuck it to Tomy’s Teutonic snobbery. There’s something to be said about American pride, especially when you’re 5: if you’re gonna live in this country, pinko, you better root for the home team! Also, the headlights popped up and illuminated, which was a handy way of letting your father know what he was about to step on at 2 in the morning. Unlike the Turbo Dashboard, the Fun to Drive Corvette Dashboard (its official name) featured a road located in front of the wheel, as on a real car, instead of the center console as seen on another flimsy motoring toy, the Scion.

Light! Sound! Action!

Differences are minor. Both toys had flimsy gearknobs that were usually the first to break after someone dropped it, usually on a toe or a neighbor’s cat. Both Hoovered D-cell batteries like a Pharaoh feeding on grapes served by his cortege. But instead of 4 gears, the Corvette’s shifter was more like an airplane throttle: push forward to slow down, pull down for TURBO POWAH! By then, the rear end of the C4 Corvette would be permanently ingrained in young retinas everywhere, unlike the 1/43rd Genericar toy enclosed in the Turbo Dashboard. Which was admittingly cooler, so that’s a point for the latter.

Here’s another major difference: unlike the Turnin’ Turbo Dashboard, whose name alone has catapulted into retro ironic-cult status,the Playmate Fun to Drive Corvette Dashboard has been all but forgotten. Googling “Playmate dashboard toy” will bring forth pictures of naked woman, sandwiches, bloody molars, Taylor Lautner, and South Park Jesus action figures. But this rarity also renders it a valuable garage-sale fixture: the Corvette Dashboard can actually be found for sale. Here’s one in Pennsylvania that’s slightly broken, as they tend to be. But this is where it gets pricey: here’s a mint-condition example in Australia, for the kingly sum of $118USD, and another in Pennsylvania (why are there so many in PA? Are they stuck in a technological void?) that’s still within its box, so you know it’ll get expensive—$200 expensive. Is your childhood worth that much? People have paid more for less.

The thrill of the open road!…until it breaks.

Then again, perhaps. It’s not a far stretch to say that every person who considers themselves a petrolhead today has set their fingers atop the flimsy plastic steering wheel and made car noises with their mouths. Even the poor, benighted souls who revel in their ignorance of all things automotive have probably fiddled with the gearknob a bit, before going back to reading Sports Illustrated For Kids or whatever it is that people who aren’t into cars are into. After all, our parents sure as hell weren’t going to give us all those quarters for OutRun in case we spent it on Laffy Taffys. And every dentist’s office across America had one of these, even if it was usually broken. What else was there to do while we waited?


If it didn’t play with one, you’re probably lying. But it’s not too late to start.

The thrill of the open road!…until it breaks.
  • Baron Von Danger

    Bitchin' dashboard! Bitchin' dashboard! Bitchin' dashboard!

  • Deartháir

    I, or someone I knew, actually had the Playmates version; I remember not liking it because there was a screen showing a car on it, and I was dismayed that as such it was inaccurate. REAL cars don't have pictures of cars on them.

    Okay, they do NOW, but back then, they didn't. I wanted the realistic looking dashboard like on the Tomy version!

  • P161911

    I got one of these instead.
    <img src="http://www.handheldmuseum.com/Kenner/Kenner-RedlineBox.jpg"width=500&gt;
    Which apparently I need to try and find because they are worth $50-150 on eaby.

  • Everyone is concerned when games like Death Race and Grand Theft Auto come out that it will lead to roving gangs of murderous teens hell bent on death and destruction. If the concern is that video games can lead children to do things, then why were these not banned for their potential to make kids jump behind the wheel of a real car?

    • bzr

      Or, as the Turbo Dashboard's graphics include a parked car, why is there no concern over kids ramming their car into another one at high speed?

      Bring me Tipper Gore, NOW!

      • Why is there no concern over the increasing suicide rate coinciding with the proliferation of Camrys? THAT'S the real beige pachyderm in the road.

  • hglaber

    My brother and I had steering wheels from old riding lawn mowers – not only indestructible, but much more practical since mounted horizontally it can be a truck/bus wheel, vertically =ship's wheel, mounted on a broom handle=manually-operated winch, plus they can easily be used on long car rides (TV in the car? Dad didn't even allow radio unless there was a ballgame on). Batteries never died once.

    I think they cost a buck a piece from a rundown lawnmower repair place/junkyard.

  • tonyola

    So this is where Chevy got its inspiration for the 1984 Corvette.
    <img src="http://www.advancedelectronics.org/images/1988%20Corvette%20dash.jpg&quot; width=400>

  • I had the Playmate Fun to Drive Corvette Dashboard. I remember that it was all I wanted for Christmas or a birthday one year. It was awesome… for the first 2 days. Then the batteries died, and replacing those D-cells was a costly proposition (read: shit-ton of allowance/chores), so it got relegated to the back of the closet, then, eventually, to garage sale fodder. But for those 2 day, I lived!

  • I would only have loaded Raw Power into the tape deck inadvertently if it was on the other side of the Bert and Ernie tape.
    I remain baffled by the labeling convention of cassette tapes, and double sided DVDs usually result in me yelling "WIDESCREEN!" at inanimate objects.

  • K5ING

    Here's the toy dashboard I used to play with back in the early-mid 60's. It had a windshield with working wipers, working horn, working turn signals, working idiot lights, a rear view mirror on the dash, etc., and made an engine noise when you turned the key. It was my favorite toy back in the day.

    <img src="http://i151.photobucket.com/albums/s141/K5ING/Misc/dash.jpg&quot; border="0" alt="Photobucket">

    • izaya

      what is the name of that steering wheel that is cool