If there’s one feature I miss from old cars, it’s the hood ornament.
Long gone are many of the miniature sculptures from the noses of cars, both for reasons of design as well as pedestrian safety. They don’t work on many present-day designs, but they’re absolutely stunning riding on the beasts of their era.
Let’s savor the great hood ornaments of Pebble Beach.
Some early hood ornaments were functional, like this 1911 Oldsmobile Limited Series 27 Clark Carriage Limousine’s Boyce Moto-Meter. The Moto-Meter was an early temperature gauge that attached to a car’s radiator cap.
It was an early device used to warn a driver that the car may be overheating before temperature gauges became a standard addition to the car.
Once the temperature gauge moved to the dashboard, however, the front of a car’s nose remained the place to add a miniature sculpture.
Many featured references to flight, or complimented the manufacturer’s badging well.
Birds were common, both fashioned realistically as well as in streamlined, art deco winged beast form.
Many of the Duesenbergs had both real birds behind the wordmarks on their on their noses as well as a fanciful pointed pedestrian impalement device evocative of the speed and sensation of flight riding on top of the hood.
This 1938 Horch 853 Erdman & Rossi Special Roadster kept its hood-wings simple, but all the better so as to not distract from those louvers.
Horch was the company that merged with three others to become part of Audi, as you can tell by the four Auto Union rings on its grille.
Some hood ornaments, like this Mercedes star, have suvived to the modern day.
Likewise, Rolls Royce has kept their Spirit of Ecstasy sculpture, even if they do spring-load it for safe keeping now. This example was from a 1911 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Thrupp & Maberty Limousine, which predated the need to hide the little lady on its front.
Bentley, too, has a recognizable link to the past on its modern cars—minus the stand-up flying B, of course.
Not all hood ornaments were shiny metal. Here’s one made of gorgeous frosted glass.
Once the radiator cap had been moved from the tip of the car’s nose, however, things became a bit more simple—especially on race cars where speed was valued over detail.
This 1954 HWM Cadillac-engined race car, for example, had a simple screwed-on badge.
This Siata ditched the exposed screws, but put a car right on the nose of the car. (Cue Xzibit.)
The most spectacular ones to me, however, will always be the little sculptures. There will always be a part of me that hopes they, like the big broughams they once adored, will make a comeback. Nothing says true luxury and class like looking over a big chrome swan.
With so much changing in cars with autonomous technology and design, why not bring back the hood ornament? After all, taking a lovely chrome lady to the ribs has to beat that Google flypaper hood idea.
Photo credits: Stef Schrader