Not too long ago, hood ornaments were the norm on most cars. This practice be traced back to “moto meters” in the early 1900s which were temperature gauges installed on the radiator caps of the first automobiles. As cars evolved, manufacturers moved the ornaments from the radiator caps to the outside of the dashboards. In the 1920s, automakers started to dress them up with different design elements, and by the 1940s, hood ornaments were the norm for most cars. It was mostly about aesthetics – miniature statues of animals, people or even smaller versions of the cars themselves were much more appealing than boring old radiator caps. Those caps are now tucked away inside the engine compartment out of view, but for many years, they were the first thing you saw on the front of a car.
The most recognizable hood ornament today is the “Spirit of Ecstasy,” aka the Rolls Royce hood ornament. You can read more about it here. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at some other iconic hood ornaments.
The Leaper used to adorn the hood of every Jaguar model, gracefully leaping forward, signifying the power and elegance of the vehicle from which it proudly leaped. This iconic mascot has been the subject of controversy in recent times when banned for safety reasons from cars supplied to Europe while it continued to be fitted on cars destined for the United States, Middle East and Far East. It has now been dropped from all the latest Jaguar models, although some customers add it to their car as a customization.
Mercedes-Benz 3-Point Star
This ornament symbolizes the rich heritage of the German brand that spans decades of successes on the road and racetrack. The three-pointed star is actually one of the only hood ornaments that’s still in production, making it unique as a stalwart of an ancient era. Adorning the C-Class facelift and S-Class these days, you’ll find the 3-pointed star encircled in silver, which you might think of as not being very safe in the event of a pedestrian collision. To circumvent this danger, the 3-pointed star is mounted on a spring-loaded ball joint that can flex out of the way, and break if need be to reduce pedestrian injury.
Chevrolet Bel Air
Chevrolet gave a classy nod to aviation excellence by equipping the Chevy Bel Air with an aviation-inspired hood ornament in the form of a jet. The jet was inspired by the popular art deco styling of the era, with a hawk-head as its nose and a trailing tail down the center of the hood. The “hood bird” didn’t last long beyond the 50s but goes down as one of the classiest designs to have adorned the hood of one of America’s great classics.
Mack is a truck and bus manufacturer established at the beginning of the 20th century. It became known as “the bulldog” during WWI. Since 1922, Mack’s logo has been the English bulldog. Sixteen years later it became an identifiable and stylish hood ornament on all models. The gold-plated bulldog and all its drivetrain components are produced in-house by Mack. If the bulldog is chrome plated, it means components are borrowed from other manufacturers.
Bentley “Flying B”
As the rival to the Rolls-Royce, it seems fitting that Bentley has its own elaborate hood ornament. The iconic capital letter B stands proudly with a pair of wings extended behind it and has done so on numerous, though not all, Bentleys throughout the years. Several theft and safety issues plagued the Flying B and there were even some recalls in the past for faulty hood ornaments.