85 MPH Speedometer: Why Did Cars in the 1980s Have This?

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The 85 mph speedometer is an eventful happening in car history that makes a lot of enthusiasts and collectors curious. Everyone wonders what could have caused manufacturers in the 1980s to suddenly limit their cars to speedometers that ended at 85 miles per hour.

85 MPH Speedometer (1)


If you’ve bought an older car or a vintage vehicle that belongs to the 1980s, this might have caused you to wonder about the unique speedometer. In this guide, we will take a look at the 85-mph speedometer and even look at some car manufacturers that found a loophole.

The 85-MPH Speedometer on Cars in the 1980s

All vehicles that were produced and sold in the United States of America during the 1980s had a speed cap set at 85 miles per hour. The speedometer, which is usually located on the dashboard of the car, ended at 85, usually at 5-mile intervals on the lines. This means that the needle on the speedometer could not go past 85 miles per hour.


The main reason why all cars had to do this was not to limit the speed of the drivers but to conserve energy instead. This was due to the oil crisis and shortage in the 1970s. The 1970s Energy Crisis happened when the United States, Western Europe, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia faced significant petroleum shortages and increased prices.

In 1973, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, which consists of every Arab country in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Egypt and Syria, placed an oil embargo. This was placed on all the countries that fully supported Israel during the Yom Kippur War, and one of the countries was the United States.

After the oil embargo, the United States dealt with fuel rationing and high fuel prices. There was a focus on energy conservation, which led to different legislative actions that affected the country. One of these was the National Maximum Speed Law, which led to the 85 mph speedometer and a national 55 mph speed limit.

  • Purpose of the 85 MPH Speedometer

The National Maximum Speed Law, which also implemented the 55 mph speed limit, was supposed to conserve fuel use. The government believed that cars and trucks had their highest fuel efficiencies between 40 and 55 miles per hour. But it did not make much of an impact, as fuel consumption only fell by about 0.2 percent to 1 percent during that time.

Purpose of 85 MPH Speedometer

But the 55 mph national speed limit and the 85 mph speedometer did not receive a positive response from the public. Many people drove really fast despite the speedometer, and different movies made fun of the law. There were also some road rallies that broke the law. It only lasted for a couple of months, but the cars were already made and will remain that way for long.

It should also be noted that 85 mph is a bit too quick when driving, and frequently going over this range is highly risky. It will also take a toll on your car when you do it constantly. Most modern cars have a pretty high maximum speed and can go as fast as possible. It can lead to an accident if you’re not careful and also put stress on your car’s engine and transmission.

The Laws Surrounding the 85 MPH Speedometer

Energy conservation was an important aspect during the oil crisis in the United States, leading to some legislative actions. This would affect the country and also the car manufacturers. These included the National Maximum Speed Law and the Emergency Highway Emergency Conservation Act that led to the 85 mph speedometer.

  • Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act

The Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act was a bill that included the National Maximum Speed Limit. It required all states to agree on the limits if they wanted to get federal funding to repair their highway.

  • National Maximum Speed Law

The National Maximum Speed Law removed all the speed limits set by states, which could go as high as 75 miles per hour.

National Maximum Speed Law

It replaced them with a standard 55 miles per hour limit. This law was drafted in response to oil price spikes and remained the same until it was cancelled by 1995.


The federal government hoped that the law would reduce gasoline consumption by 2.2 percent, but it only reduced it by around 1 percent. By 1987, the law was changed to 65 miles per hour.

  • 1979 Speedometer Law

By the 1st of September, 1979, the government added the law on the 85 mph speedometer. This was a regulation that stated that all cars should have a maximum speed reading of 85 miles per hour, and there should be an emphasis on the 55-mph mark, like a square or a circle around the number.

Some car manufacturers tried to go around the law by placing 85 at the side but putting extra lines after it to show higher speeds. Finally, by 1982, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration eliminated any rules concerning the speedometer or odometer because there was a low chance of this increasing fuel efficiency.

Cars That Dodged the 85-MPH Speedometer Law

The 85 mph speedometer law limited cars from increasing their speed, which did not appeal to many drivers in the United States. Also, car manufacturers had some loopholes to go around the law and show their customers that their vehicles could drive way faster than the speedometer said.

This was against the law as the law stated that “No speedometer shall have graduations or numerical values for speeds greater than 140 kilometers per hour and 85 miles per hour, and shall not otherwise indicate such speeds.” This meant that the manufacturer could not place values higher than 85 on the speedometer or use lines to show that the speed could go higher.

  • Ford SVO

The Ford Special Vehicle Operations had the ability to go up to 140 miles per hour, but the car was limited to 85 miles per hour based on the law. Due to this, Ford SVO added graduations to the speedometer of the car to show its buyers that, despite being limited to 85 mph, the car could go higher.

Ford SVO Review

The speedometer started from 0 to 85 with white letters and lines, but after 85, there were other orange lines with no numbers. It looked like a decorative strip of hash marks that counted up to 140 mph in 5 mph increments. Based on this law, the Ford SVO speedometer was illegal.

  • 1979 Ferrari 308 GTB

Also, Ferrari released the 1979 308 GTB for the American market and did something similar. Rather than lines or graduations as the law stated, it stopped the speedometer at 80 mph, and the rest was a bright red arc that looked like a decoration.

Since the Ferrari was a global car, it’s important to note that the car has a maximum speed of 157 miles per hour. Ferrari most likely added the arc after 80 mph for its American customers to see and know that they could drive much faster than the government allowed.

Repealing the 85 MPH Speedometer Law

The law for 85 mph speedometers was discontinued by 1981 because there was very little evidence to show that it was working, increasing fuel efficiency and changing driver behavior. The president at that time, Ronald Reagan, played a role in repealing the law since there is no data that showed that the 85 mph speedometer rule made drivers more responsible.

Repealing 85 MPH Speedometer Law

Porsche immediately transitioned back to higher speedometer readings. It provided retrofit and recalibration options for the cars that they released between 1979 and 1982. Many other vehicles continued with the 85 mph speedometer even after the law was repealed until it was time to repeal the law.

For instance, the Buick Riviera in the 1980s came with a digital dashboard that did not have numbers above 85 mph. When customers drive faster, the dashboard will show 85-85-85, even if there is space for even 100. By the 1980s, many car manufacturers had changed their speedometers.

Modern-day speedometers are now designed with a maximum speed of 160 mph, even if the car cannot achieve that as its maximum speed. For example, the Toyota Yaris has a top speed of 109 miles per hour, but the speedometer goes up to 140 mph. Also, the 2018 Nissan Sentra features a 160 mph speedometer, but the car only drives up to 118 miles per hour.

Frequently Asked Questions

– What Is the Maximum Speed on a Speedometer?

The maximum speed on a speedometer is usually 160 mph, even if the car cannot go that high. It is because the auto manufacturers want their speedometers to be easier to read, and the standard operating speed for American cars is between 45 mph and 70 mph.
This range is placed at the top of the speedometer, making it easy to see whenever you’re driving.

– Can Your Car Go Up to 160 Mph?

Yes, your car might go up to 160 mph, but it depends on the maximum speed. Even if the car cannot go that high, the speedometer might also have this on the gauge. Car manufacturers cannot make different kinds of speedometers for their cars, so they have standard ones.

If you see 160 mph on your car, you should probably avoid trying to meet that speed.

– What Limits the Maximum Speed of a Car?

The speed limiter is a device that limits the maximum speed of a car. For some types of cars and in some jurisdictions, the speed limiter is a requirement for all cars. But for other vehicles, even the driver can program it. There are other parts like the tire speed and spoilers, all of which stop the car from driving too fast.

Why Did Cars in the 1980s Have such High Speedometers?

The 1980 Renault 5 Turbo uniqueness extended to its speedometer design as well. Cars in the 1980s had high-speedometers due to advancements in automotive technology and the desire to showcase speed as a selling point. It was a way for car manufacturers to tap into the excitement and fascination surrounding speed and performance during that era. High-speedometers became a status symbol, enhancing the appeal of cars in the 1980s.


The 85 mph speedometer is an important part of car history that many car enthusiasts look at, especially if you’re buying a car from the 1980s.

Here’s a summary of our article before you go:

  • The 85 mph speedometer was a limit placed on all cars in the 1980s due to the oil crisis and shortage in the United States.
  • The 85 mph speedometer was implemented in 1979 as part of the Emergency Highway Conservation Act.
  • There was also a National Maximum Speed Law, which placed a 55 mph speed limit on the entire country, and all states had to abide by it.
  • The 85 mph speedometer law was repealed in 1981 because there was no proof to show that it helped with fuel efficiency or made drivers more responsible.
  • Some cars dodged the 85 mph speedometer law by adding an arch or colored lines after the 85 mph line to show drivers that they could go faster than the limit.

If you’re with a car that comes from the 1980s, you might notice that its speed is limited to 85 mph. You can check if the car can go beyond this speed, but since it comes from the 1980s, this will probably not happen.

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