Hood ornament

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1913 Boyce MotoMeter
1970s MAN truck
Home-made hood ornament on pick-up truck in Texas

A hood/bonnet ornament, radiator cap, motor mascot or car mascot is a specially crafted model which symbolizes a car company like a badge, located on the front center portion of the hood. It has been used as an adornment nearly since the inception of automobiles.[1]


In the early years, automobiles had their radiator caps outside of the hood and on top of the grille which also served as an indicator of the temperature of the engine's coolant fluid.[1] The Boyce MotoMeter Company was issued a patent in 1912 for a radiator cap that incorporated a thermometer that was visible to the driver with a sensor that measured the heat of the water vapor, rather than the water itself.[1] This became a useful gauge for the driver because many early engines did not have water pumps, but a circulation system based on the "thermo-syphon" principle as in the Ford Model T.

Hood ornaments were popular in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s with many automakers fitting them to their vehicles. Moreover, a healthy business was created in the supply of accessory mascots available to anyone who wanted to add a hood ornament or car mascot to their automobile. Most companies like Desmo and Smith's are now out of business with only Louis Lejeune Ltd. in England surviving. Sculptors such as Bazin, Paillet, Sykes, Renevey, and Lejeune all created finely detailed sculptures in miniature.

Legal restrictions[edit]

Restrictions to the fitting of ornaments on the front of vehicles have been introduced in some jurisdictions, because of the increased risk of injury to pedestrians in the case of an accident. In the European Union, since 1978 all new cars have had to conform to a European directive on vehicle exterior projections. Rolls Royce's mascot is now mounted on a spring-loaded mechanism designed to retract instantly into the radiator shell if struck with more than 10 kilograms of force. The Mercedes three-pointed star folds flush with the bonnet on impact. Breakaway nylon fixings are available that comply with EC Directive 74/483.[2]


Many automakers wanted their own emblems displayed on their vehicles' hoods, and Boyce Motormeter accommodated them with corporate logos or mascots, as well as numerous organizations that wanted custom cap emblems to identify their members.[1] The company had over 300 such customers at one time during the mid-1920s, for car, truck, tractor, boat, airplane, and motorcycle manufacturers, and in 1927, had 1,800 employees in six countries: U.S., England, Canada, Australia, France, and Germany. The hundreds of motor vehicle manufacturers before 1929 meant many customers for their customized emblems.[3]


Along with the grille, the hood ornament is often a distinctive styling element and many marques use it as their primary brand identifier.

Examples of hood ornaments include:

Additionally, many vehicle models such as Buick's Regal, the Chevrolet Impala, or Chrysler's Cordoba had their own unique emblem and accompanying distinctive standup hood ornament.

The importance of design[edit]

The radiator cap was transformed into an art form and became a way of individualizing the car, "representing a company's vision of the automobile", or "speaking volumes about the owner" of the vehicle.[1]

Materials used in manufacturing[edit]

Hood ornaments are usually cast in brass, zinc, or bronze and finished in a chrome plated finish. During the years when chrome plate was unavailable, they were plated in either silver or nickel. Some also incorporated other materials, such as plastic, bakelite, or colored glass, while others incorporated a light bulb for illumination at night.

The best-known glass mascots were made by René Lalique in France.[10] Other sellers or producers of glass mascots include Sabino in France, Red Ashay in England, and Persons Majestic in the U.S. The latter two had their products made in Czechoslovakia. The Lalique company, like Louis Lejeune, is one of the few survivors from this era of motoring.

Popular collector's item[edit]

There is now a collector's market for hood ornaments and car mascots.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c d e Hinckley, James; Robinson, Jon G. (2005). The Big Book of Car Culture: The Armchair Guide to Automotive Americana. MotorBooks/MBI Publishing. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-7603-1965-9. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  2. ^ "Car Mascots and English Law". http://www.louislejeune.com/. Louis Lejeune Ltd. Retrieved 4 January 2014. 
  3. ^ Koma, Victor. "Reaching the Boiling Point: A History of Boyce Moto Meters". PreWarBuick.com. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Ralston, Marc (1980). Pierce-Arrow. A. S. Barnes. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-498-02451-1. 
  5. ^ Hernandez, Lolita (2004). Autopsy of an engine and other stories from the Cadillac plant. Coffee House Press. p. 151. ISBN 978-1-56689-161-5. 
  6. ^ Hyde, Charles K. (2003). Riding the roller coaster: a history of the Chrysler Corporation. Wayne State University Press. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-8143-3091-3. Retrieved 24 September 2010. 
  7. ^ Clinard, Marshall Barron; Yeager, Peter C. (2005). Corporate crime. Transaction Publishers. p. 255. ISBN 978-1-4128-0493-6. Retrieved 24 September 2010. 
  8. ^ Crandall, Larry (March–April 1999). "The Spirit of Ecstasy". Tampa Bay Magazine 14 (2): 133. Retrieved 24 September 2010. 
  9. ^ Flory, J. Kelly (2008). American Cars 1946-1959: Every Model Year by Year. McFarland. p. 384. ISBN 978-0-7864-3229-5. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  10. ^ Wraight, Tony. "René Lalique pre-war Car Mascots article". Retrieved 16 March 2013. 

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