It’s nice to believe that cars are purely about performance — that what matters is track times and vehicle specs, not superfluous details like the assembly of letters that make a name. But it’s not. The automotive world works on many levels, even those that can be the most superficial. Every car bears a name and every brand has a badge. And that name and badge make a difference.
Behind the creation and evolution of automotive emblems there’s often tradition, folklore and mystery. So we’ve compiled a bit of history on the most famous automotive emblems — from Alfa Romeo to Volvo. We can’t cover every car brand, but we can give you the skinny on the major names. True identification in the sea of cars on the road is what every automaker wants, so let’s shed some light on how identification is best achieved.
A Quick Primer on the Hood Ornament
Not every brand has a fancy, protruding hood ornament, nor can every brand pull one off. Companies like Bentley and Rolls-Royce lead the pack when it comes to sculpted hood candy, while brands like Jaguar and Cadillac no longer slap sleek leaping cats or wreathed crests (respectively) on their cars. The hood ornament started when radiator caps were located on the outside of the car, rather than in the engine compartment. Companies started making the cap the visual focal point, giving rise to iconic hood ornaments like Bentley’s Flying B, Packard’s Winged Woman or Pontiac’s Indian Chief. Hood ornaments can take the form of a three-dimensional representation of the brand’s emblem, like Mercedes-Benz’s three-pointed star on the 2012 E-Class, or they can be completely separate from the brand emblem, as is the case with the 1978 Ford Thunderbird’s model-specific ornament. Hood ornaments today are viewed as overwrought and detrimental to aerodynamics, to the ornamentalists’ chagrin.
So, since they are too many, only some of them will be explained here and the rest are available here
Carmakers love wings, and Aston Martin is no exception. The British carmaker was founded in 1913 by two gents, Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford. While they were selling Singer cars out of their Bamford & Martin shop, they came up with the idea to produce their own vehicles. Some years later, the name transitioned from Bamford & Martin to Aston Martin Motors, born from Martin’s name and the Aston Clinton Hillclimb in Buckinghamshire, where Martin would drive from time to time, no doubt spiritedly. The logo itself denotes speed (hence the wings), but it has evolved over the decades from simple superimposed A and M letters within a circle to, in 1927, a V-shaped winged logo and then, in 1987, to what is essentially the modern version. The emblem today employs straight wings and the Aston Martin name front and center, and it’s one of the more elegant brand emblems in existence today.
Lamborghini‘s logo traces back to founder Ferruccio Lamborghini’s 1962 visit to Don Eduardo Miura’s ranch, where fighting bulls were bred. So heavily influenced by the power and presence of these animals, Lamborghini adopted the bull as the emblem for his cars. Soon after, he began to use the names of fighting bulls and bullfighting terms for his cars (except for the Miura, which was named after the breeder). Names like Islero, Espada, Urraco, Jalpa, Diablo, Murcielago, Gallardo and Aventador evoke the snorting bull emblem. We’re still trying to figure out the Countach, however.