If you like cars, you know about shows such as Top Gear, Mecan Auctions and Chasing Classic Cars. People are loving the classics, the lines, the stories and the workmanship in these vehicles. There is one part of an old car that should not be overlooked and that is the hood ornament. At one point there was over 20,000 individual hood ornaments, or car mascots as they were otherwise called, created for individuals or as part of a car’s brand. They were, in essence, the vanity plates of the classic cars.
Of course you don’t think that they were made purely for decor? Well, partly, yes, but hood ornament sculptures were actually part of the radiator caps located on the top of the hood made of brass, bronze, zinc, chrome plate, silver or nickel. There were even glass hood ornaments made by René Lalique. In the early years, there was a thermometer attached to the cap to measure the heat of the water vapor rather than the water itself. The driver could see the thermometer in the hood ornament from where he sat and it would tell him the status of the engine temperature
Hood ornaments were a reflection of the art of the day. Many were custom made for the car owner – for instance, Princess Diana’s hood ornament was the The Leaping Frog. There are stories such as the Buick ‘Goddess’ Ornament, a sculpture of a nude woman with a flying scarf in the breeze was done in honor of the dancer, Isadora Duncan, who was killed when her blowing scarf was tangled in the rear axle of the car in which she was riding and she was strangled. Another was the Buick’s Mercury Logo. If it looks familiar it is also the FTD Florist Logo. Why? Because early Buicks were used as FTD delivery vehicles.
..The FIRST commissioned mascot, the celebrated ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ or ‘The Flying Lady’,was based on the Rolls Royce’s original hood ornament, ‘The Whisper’, sculpted by the artist, Charles Robinson Sykes. The man who commissioned it, the 2nd Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, was a big promoter of motoring in the early 1900’s in England and publisher of Britian’s pioneer automotive magazine. This famous mascot has been a Rolls Royce icon for over a century. The model was Eleanor Thornton, Lord Montagu’s secretary, mistress and mother of his child. Unfortunately, she drowned in 1915 when the ship she was traveling on with the lord was torpedoed during World War 1 and sank. Lord Montagu, of course, was rescued.
But alas, when radiator caps were put under the hood, hood ornaments began to disappear but remained on luxury cars as a status symbol.