Wisdom > Trivia

When hood ornaments were a thing

See which ones you can identify without reading the captions

One of the most respected emblems in the world today. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Hood ornaments are a rare sight now on modern automobiles, but back when cars had just definitively taken over horse-drawn chariots as the main source of transportation, “motor mascots” were a common finishing touch on a car.

The hood ornament was an aesthetic detail that grew from a practical necessity: The radiator sat at the front end of the car, with the cap exposed to the elements. Manufacturers saw that the cap could also serve as a focal point for the brand, and thus the hood ornament became a de rigueur fashion statement.

The exposed radiator cap was a natural candidate for some embellishment on this 1914 Star Tourer. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
The stork of Hispano-Suiza symbolized the marque's graceful lines. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
The streamlined Chrysler Airflow was revolutionary at the time for its styling. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
Chrysler's sleek Airflow also had an aero emphasis on its hood ornament. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
The hood ornament on this 1927 Chrysler Imperial was supposed to represent a Viking winged helmet, but we think it also reminds us of Harry Potter's Golden Snitch. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Even when cars had evolved to bring the radiator inside the hood, manufacturers continued to employ hood ornaments as these symbolized their respective brands’ ethos.

Bentley’s “Winged B,” Rolls Royce’s “Spirit of Ecstasy,” and Mercedes-Benz’s “Tri-star” are just some of the more familiar icons.

The Cadillac Goddess on a Series 20. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
Cadillac Series 20. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
Rolls-Royce 'Spirit of Ecstasy'. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
Packard Goddess of Speed. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

More mass-market brands such as Ford, Chrysler and Dodge had their own respective symbols, while lesser-known marques such as Willys Knight and Pierce-Arrow had some very intriguing designs.

Many of these were cast from bronze, zinc, or bronze and then chrome-plated. They can fetch a small fortune among collectors today.

This Buick had so much steel in front that impalement by hood ornament was the least of a pedestrian's concerns. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
The coming of the jet age was influential on Buick. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
A Willys Knight stabbing you through the chest in a collision would have been quite painful. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
Ford went through different hood ornaments like this one on the Prefect. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO
And this one on a Ford Custom V8. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

By the late 1960s, automotive regulations began to cause the gradual phaseout of this automotive detail, as there was great concern about the injuries these would cause to pedestrians in the event of a collision.

Very few manufacturers use hood ornaments now, and these are designed to retract into the body in case of a collision. The rest is history, as they say.

Andy Leuterio

Andy is both an avid cyclist and a car enthusiast who has finally made the shift to motorcycles. You've probably seen him on his bicycle or motorbike overtaking your crawling car. He is our motorcycle editor and the author of the ‘Quickshift’ column.