What is the history and meaning behind five of the most recognisable hood ornaments in motoring?
Rolls-Royce — Spirit of Ecstasy
It might sound like something a drug dealer dishes out on street corners every Saturday night but the Spirit of Ecstasy is one of the most recognisable symbols of luxury on the face of the earth — a woman leaning forward into the wing, arms outstretched to resemble wings. The classic bonnet ornament was commissioned in 1910 to convey “the spirit of the Rolls-Royce, namely, speed with silence, absence of vibration, the mysterious harnessing of great energy and a beautiful living organism of superb grace.” Mission accomplished.
Bentley — Winged B
Any carmaker who wants to compete with Rolls-Royce needs a hood ornament to match, and this flying initial does just that. The Winged B delivers what it promises on the packet in a simple design that’s remained largely unaltered since it first appeared on the British autos in the 1920s. It was removed in the ‘70s for safety concerns, returned in 2006, then faced safety issues again in 2010, when 1500 vehicles were recalled over fears the retractable marque could impale pedestrians in an accident. Looks good, but.
Mercedes-Benz — Tri Star
Right up there with McDonald’s golden arches and Nike’s swoosh on the podium of modern marketing’s greatest triumphs in branding. A registered trademark since 1909, the linear no-fuss design represents the peak of German engineering, featuring three points that embody Merc’s ambition of “universal motorisation”, to succeed “on land, on water, and in the air.”
Bugatti — Dancing Elephant
The prancing Stampy conveys the large, powerful vibe the Italian luxury manufacturer was going for when Ettore Bugatti commissioned his brother Rembrandt — of course he was an artist with a name like that; renowned for his bronze sculptures of wildlife — to craft a hood ornaments a century ago. Elephants have since disappeared from Bugatti’s bonnets, replaced by far more conservative badges.
Jaguar — Leaping Cat
Another hood ornament jumping straight out of the jungle, embodying the grace and speed of the luxury British carmaker itself. It’s also another marque that’s fallen out of favour with regulators while remaining as popular as ever with thieves, which explains why the Leaper is no longer a standard feature on factory models but can be purchased as an accessory