A Look at the Evolution of Hood Ornaments for Students in Auto Body Schools

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Hood ornaments: they stuck out like a sore thumb, but they sure made a car look classy. Although they were once a sign of coolness and great branding, they are largely gone from most automobiles for a number of reasons.
What happened along the way for us to not see them on cars much anymore? How have we gotten to the point where only a select few car companies still even use them? Here’s a closer look at how our motor mascots have grown and shapeshifted over the years.

The Earlier Days

To truly start analyzing the history of hood ornaments, you have to go back—way back—in time, all the way to Ancient Egypt. Adorning the chariot of the famous pharaoh Tutankhamun was a gold-crested falcon, believed by some to be the very first hood ornament. In other words, hood ornaments predate cars themselves.

However, their origins with regards to cars mainly came about in a response to the placement of early temperature gauges and radiator caps, since they were mostly exposed in the middle of cars’ hoods in the earlier years. This drew attention to the hood of the car, and provided the initial spark of inspiration that got companies thinking about hood ornaments.

Rise in Popularity, and Eventual Decline

Hood ornaments would be in style largely between the 1920s and 1950s, and numerous car manufacturers would take advantage of this by placing their ornaments on their vehicles embodying the brands themselves (eg. Lincoln’s greyhound or Ford’s flying quail). Companies that specifically sold hood ornaments for people to manually place onto their cars also sprouted up during this time, though the vast majority of these have folded.

Like many trends, this one eventually came to an end. Following complaints and concerns about potential injury to pedestrians, the United States government enforced regulations in 1968 that led to fixed hood ornaments and spinner wheel ornaments being removed from vehicles. Europe would introduce legislation of its own regarding hood ornaments about six years later.

Students at Auto Body Schools Will Understand Why They Fell Out of Style

Part of the reason that hood ornaments have declined in popularity over the years has to do with pedestrian safety. Because of the location of hood ornaments, they run the risk of impaling pedestrians if the car strikes one. This has continued to be a problem for modern car manufacturers with hood ornaments over the years, as Bentley recalled hundreds of their vehicles with a “Flying B” adorned on it because of safety concerns back in 2010. Furthermore, hood ornaments can be easy targets for theft, and this isn’t helped by their continued status as a collector’s item.

Despite all the concerns regarding theft and injury, some luxury car brands have still had ornaments adorned on their hoods in recent years, if only as a means of nodding to the manufacturer’s history and tradition. These include Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz, and Maybach. Additionally, some cars have their hood ornaments designed to retract automatically upon sensing that someone is trying to touch or steal it—such as Rolls-Royce’s Spirit of Ecstasy, an ornament which was first created for the company back in 1911.

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