The first dashboards were wood or leather attached to the front of a horse-drawn carriage or sleigh, to protect the carriage from mud, water, snow, rocks, or anything else that was kicked (or “dashed) up from the horses and the wheels and onto the passengers’ legs and bodies. (See example.)
Dashboards have come a long way since those days. Tillers—then steering wheels—were added, followed by more and more instuments, gauges, and indicators to better help drivers gauge their automobile’s performance and their own driving. Dashboards are now home to glove compartments, air conditioning and heater vents, cigarette lighters, GPS navigation devices, and CD or MP3 players, and now dashboards are all padded. Padded dashboards were first implemented in 1947, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that padded dashboards became widespread for safety purposes.
Today, dashboards seem basic, traditional, and more often than not, unstylish, which makes unique and stylish dashboards from classic cars that much more enjoyable to see.
Photos from AA’s 1970 Drive magazine via Retronaut