80s Engine Computer

Engine management for 1983 Chevy C20 Pickup truck using period correct hardware.

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The old Pickup I've been tinkering with for years, is lacking in the technology department. The most advanced thing in it is the electronic distributor, and that didn't exist when it was new. I changed from an Atari 1200XL, to a Commodore 64, as I gave away the Atari. The Commodore is far more capable anyway, so I am happy to switch over. I'm hoping to get things like temperature, pressure, and other monitoring on the C64, so that I can drive and not worry. The old truck is very reliable, but it requires more attention and knowledge to drive than a modern vehicle. I could just use one of the Arduino Megas I've got on the shelf, but it's not as fun or authentic. I eventually plan to update the truck to woodgas, methane from a bidigestor, or even electric. All of those updates will be in the restomod project on here. This is all about getting a C64 to monitor and control a pickup truck from 1983. Any feedback helps, as I'm very new to the C64. Cheers.


Ihaven't driven the truck in a few years, and it's in pretty rough shape. I started restoring it once again, and it at least runs and drives. The Atari was given away, and I got a Commodore 64 from my cousin for helping him build a new patio. I decided on the C64 as it seems far easier to work with and offers more capabilities.

This project has been on hold for a bit while I focus on making sure the truck is healthy. It is my daily driver, and I want to make sure it is running in top shape at all times. I love the 1980s, and want to keep the technology as period correct as possible.
I am actually switching the main computer from my rare, prized Atari 1200 XL to the RC2014. It is a new, modular computer system based on the Z80 processor, and running Microsoft BASIC. It will give me the option to add features to the truck monitoring system any time I like, and see what is possible with 80s technology in modern times.

  • 1 × 1983 Chevy C20 Pickup Truck Rusty old work truck. Test bed for many projects.
  • 1 × Commodore 64 1980s home computer, which will run all the control software for the system.
  • 1 × Small, vintage CRT color monitor. Installed in dash to display digital gauges and graphs.
  • 1 × Commodore to S-Video and Composite Cable

  • Found A Disk Drive Solution

    Dustin11/29/2020 at 04:41 0 comments

    I was searching for interesting C64 hardware, and found a very cool piece of software. It lets you emulate a disk drive on a Raspberry Pi. This would save me quite a bit of money and time messing with old disk drives and such, and no need to buy custom chips and such,

  • Software Development Tools: C64 Flash Cart

    Dustin11/28/2020 at 17:17 0 comments

    While browsing the modern hardware for the C64, I found a useful little project that could help speed up development significantly. Its a flash cartridge that uses a dual port RAM chip. The C64 sees it as a ROM chip, and a microcontroller feeds that RAM chip data. A PC feeds the micro, and you can make updates without restarting and such. A very handy feature indeed. I assume I'll have to make one myself, as the project seems to have gone dorment. Still very glad people publish stuff like this.

    I've never made a custom board before, so that should be interesting. I kinda worry it would fry my C64 though, so there's that. I need to learn more about so many things for this project. It's going to be very difficult for me, but it will force me to learn tons of new skills.

  • Possible Inteface Hardware

    Dustin11/28/2020 at 04:26 0 comments

    I found a possible interface and software solution to at least get started. It's from Australia, and designed for a robotic arm, but could help me with my project. Would be a fun bit of hardware to own anyway. Still need to research much more.

  • This Has Already Been Done...

    Dustin11/28/2020 at 03:08 0 comments

    I found someone who had done exactly what I wanted to do, but way back in 1984, when my truck and the C64 were new. If I can track down the software, I can use it, Otherwise, I have to make it all myself. I'm not great at programming, and this articel hints at using assembly language, which I have never used. It's a good start, as it proves what I wish to do is possible.

  • Rethinking The Hardware for This.

    Dustin11/25/2016 at 19:07 1 comment

    As my Atari 1200XL is pretty rare, and in need of minor keyboard repair, I have decided not to use it to power this project. I may add it in some day for use at car shows, but I want to make sure I have something more reliable and less valuable for every day use. I really want to go 8-bit on this, as that is what would have been common at the time this truck was made. I will be designing this in multiple stages. First will be using an Arduino Mega just to make sure I get something monitoring the engine as fast as I can. Then I will probably switch it over to use the RC2014 Z80 system to get an 8-bit, period correct system in right away, then I will build something custom and etch my own PCBs and put it all together. Very busy these days, can't spare the time or money to knock this all out any time soon.

  • Project On Hold.

    Dustin08/18/2016 at 17:08 0 comments

    As the truck this system is being designed for is now my daily driver, I have to come up with something faster and more reliable to make sure I don't destroy the engine I put $1,500 into a few months ago. It is running weird, and I have been spending the past few weeks working out all the little problems I can and adding gauges to things that need monitored. I still plan on making a period correct monitoring system for this old truck, but I may not be working on this much for a while until I am certain that my truck no longer needs any more attention to be a reliable daily driver.

    I still welcome any and all input on this project as it is the kind of challenge that I really want to be taking on.

  • Best Way To Load Programs???

    Dustin08/05/2016 at 07:44 0 comments

    I have been trying to think of a very simple way to load my engine monitoring program at startup, without having to use a ridiculous cassette drive, or a separate computer. I think I have finally found the answer: Custom Cartridges. I SHOULD be able to write my programs to a chip, stick that in a custom PCB, then put that in the Atari and leave it there. This should be the easiest way to load the program every time the computer is started. So far I have found something that may prove useful:


    I still need to figure out what IC to put on the board, as well as how to flash it. Will research this later.

  • More Atari Interface Research.

    Dustin08/03/2016 at 21:51 0 comments

    A major step in this project is to determine what the Atari can physically handle. After that, I can plan out all the features, then start developing those features. I haven't found many good resources yet on Atari inputs and outputs, but this looks to be a good start:

    I will be going through that shortly to compile a list of realistic capabilities for the Atari 1200XL, regarding physical interfacing.

  • Preserving Original Hardware

    Dustin08/01/2016 at 17:03 0 comments

    After much consideration, I am rethinking using my Atari 1200XL for this project. I have much restoration to do on this particular PC, and it's going to be intense, and fairly expensive. I don't like the idea of leaving my most prized possession sitting in a truck regularly. This leaves the project at a weird place.

    I do have a possible solution for daily use: Atari 800XL implemented on an FPGA development board. I could stuff this into my dead Atari 400 Case and run it as a hardware emulation with working SIO port and such. I am currently working on getting the software needed to do this, before buying an FPGA board. I found this:



    Getting one of those running would be quite the project for me, so I will continue to develop the software on Windows 7 with the Altirra emulator, and send programs to my 1200XL via SIO2PC adapter when I get one in. I may just do the entire project on original hardware, as planned, and use it sparingly, such as for car shows and such.

  • Initial Thoughts: Realizing The Scope of This Project.

    Dustin08/01/2016 at 02:22 0 comments

    Came up with the idea for this project when I first posted it here. Posted it as a way to motivate myself to really look into it and see if this is even possible.

    Currently trying to learn Atari BASIC using the Altirra emulator on my desktop. I have just about burned myself out after working a 10 hour shift, and trying to learn this stuff.

    Taking a break now to figure out how I am going to create and test programs on my PC and get them onto my physical Atari 1200XL. I have a few Atari 410 Program Recorder audio cassette drives, that should still work, but I have no idea how to write the program on my PC and convert it to a .cas file to write to the tapes. I have found and am hoping it will be able to help me out. Once I have figure out how to get my programs from Windows 7 onto an audio cassette, I will begin testing the original hardware to make sure everything still works. I have a cheap audio cassette recorder with a line in jack, so I could convert the .cas files to .wav files, then play them into the recorder and record them to cassette. I have not sorted out the details yet, but this is the best chance I have at getting programs onto my Atari without actually typing them in manually. I'd really just like to keep multiple copies of my programs on cassette, in case i need to load them into my Atari.

    Another problem that needs solved: How to load my program into the Atari every time I start it up. I can always load them from cassette, but this may take quite a long time for bigger programs. I may be able to find a cartridge that I could write the programs to, but I have not looked into it yet.

    Realizing how big this project really is. I may need to start an entirely new project just to restore my Atari and hardware to working condition...

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Peabody1929 wrote 11/28/2020 at 21:31 point

Back in the day, one car manufacturing company used an Intel 8096 in the engine control computer.  You might find it interesting.  

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Dustin wrote 11/29/2020 at 04:45 point

I do find that quite interesting. Do you happen to know which one off hand? Very interesting, the more I think about it. Thank you for the lead.

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agp.cooper wrote 08/03/2016 at 07:06 point

I doubt any version of a PIC was around then. The Atari was 6502 based so I would start there. Checkout the Internet for single board 6502 designs or roll your own (this is a pretty basic microprocessor).
As an engine analyser I would go with a nice front panel (i.e. a display and input panel) with labels, LEDs and switches (failing that an LCD panel).  Programming your board may be a challenge but there are free compilers around providing you map your ROM/RAM and IO in a similar way to some existing designs (for example your Atari 1200LX).
You will most likely be using a EPROM for your code so an EPROM writer (but a cheat could be to use an Arduino to boot up the 6502 by loading the RAM).
So basically start at both ends: The 6502 board and the other the front panel (i.e. what would your display look like?).

Look forward to watching your progress, AlanX

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Dustin wrote 08/03/2016 at 14:23 point

Thanks for the input. Alot of this is up in the air still. I have to do some serious research into the capabilities of the 1200XL before I can make any final decisions. I'd really like to do everything from the Atari, but the 1200xl only has 2 joystick ports, which limits me to 8 I/O pins, I believe. The 800XL has 4 joystick ports, so I may have to buy one for this project. I'd be ok running a custom 6502 board as well.

For the interface, I was hoping to install a small color CRT TV or monitor for the 80s into the dash and have the Atari generate digital gauges and graphs. I'm wondering if there is any way to log data on an Atari...

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agp.cooper wrote 07/31/2016 at 05:04 point

Perhaps a 6502 or an 8085 with an LED display?

It depends really on how 1980s you want to be?

LCD displays were around (I had an LCD watch 1978 and a Toshiba T1000 in 1988) so there is a cheat.

The IBM PC XT was around in 1983 or there about so you can use an IBM keyboard.

Interfacing to these keyboards is a pain however.

Can you use a modern AVR in th sub-systems (such as the keyboard translator)?


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Dustin wrote 08/01/2016 at 00:52 point

I'm trying not to research all the different options from the 80s, as I would end up giving myself an excuse to spend money on all the cool computers and processors of the era. lol. I have considered a few, but happen to have an Atari 1200XL, and Atari 400XL already. I really like the idea of using the 1200XL as it is one of my favorite possessions, right up there with my truck. The goal is to combine and enjoy my two favorite possessions: truck and 1200XL. 

I very well may have to use modern subsystems, but am hoping not to. This is a critical system though, so I will develop a simple backup system based on a Raspberry Pi or Arduino though. I know PIC chips were around back then, but I have no idea what it would take to acquire and implement them. I'm going to try to do everything the hard way, then simplify if no preferred options are found.

Hope I answered all your questions ok. I just came up with this idea the other day when I first posted the project, and have been trying to sort out the details since. I will answer any questions I can. :)

Know of any really cool 80s tech I should have in this rusty old monstrosity?

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