The History of the Hood Ornament

Allegedly, history’s first hood mounted decorative piece dates back to the 14th Century BC, and belonged to the Egyptian Pharaoh King Tut. He sported a sun-crested falcon on his chariot, a gesture he believed would bring good fortune. However, in the modern era, practicality brought hood ornaments into mainstream automotive design.

In the early 1900’s, car design was still in it’s infancy, with the general arrangement of key components remaining very similar across the industry. Manufacturers built their cars with a large radiator at the front of the vehicle. This placement was a result of primitive, inefficient cooling technology. This required the radiator to have a large surface area to allow the incoming air to draw heat from the water in the radiator.

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A Boyce MotoMeter on top of the radiator of a Bugatti Type 40. Author Thesupermat CC BY-SA 3.0
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In 1913, the Boyce MotoMeter Company of Long Island received their patent for an aftermarket gadget, the ‘MotoMeter’, that screwed into where the radiator cap lived. The device displayed the temperature of the water flowing through the radiator, allowing the operator to detect and therefore prevent the cooling system from overheating.

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Boyce MotoMeter with ornament fitted on a Ford Model T in 1914.

Eventually, the MotoMeters became available as a option from the factory by most manufacturers. The company began to expand it’s product range, and added different sizes. Diverging from it’s original, practical purpose the MotoMeters became a more stylistic feature, often reflecting the owner’s lifestyle, status, and passions.

In the late 1920’s the MotoMeter slowly became obsolete when manufacturers began implementing dash mounted temperature gauges as standard. Their aesthetic purpose had stuck. This meant companies pounced on the opportunity to have a stand-out feature creating more identity for their brand and products. A whole industry emerged offering bespoke, purely aesthetic aftermarket statues carved from an array of metals including brass, bronze and silver.

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After market ornament on a 1928 Mercedes-Benz 630K. Author: nemor2 CC BY 2

In 1925, Mercedes-Benz began adorning the front of their vehicles with the ‘Three Pointed Star’, making it one of the only brands that used it’s logo as the statue, while most other companies opted for animals or mythical beings. The Ford placed a Quail on it’s Model A, and the Ford Model 48 and DeLuxe Fordor featured a greyhound leaping from the bonnet. Also in 1925, Pontiac created the ‘Chief Pontiac’ mascot, frequently seen with his head ejecting out of the hood, shooting in direction of the vehicle.

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Chief Pontiac hood ornament. Author: Brian Snelson CC BY 2.0
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The Ford Model A Quail ornament. Author: Sturm CC BY-SA 4.0
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Ford Model 48 Greyhound ornament.
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From the late 1940’s, as the jet and space age dawned, a new theme can be seen with the ornaments (also the automobiles themselves) becoming more futuristic and technology focused, mainly featuring aircraft or rocket styling.

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1956 Chevrolet Bel Air hood ornament.
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1956 Oldsmobile Super 88.

Safety restrictions against ornaments started in the late 1960s where it was feared that a fixed metal protrusion could be hazardous. The restrictions caused a dramatic decline in the decorations implementation. Some companies fit spring mechanisms that would allow the accessory to fold in the event of a collision. While not illegal, aftermarket ornaments without any safety devices have fallen into a legal grey area. It is not a punishable offence for fitting one, but drivers could be penalised where it can be proven that the ornament had caused additional damage or harm.

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Rolls-Royce is one of the only brands that retains the once popular hood ornament with ‘The Spirit of Ecstasy’. In 1911, the second Baron Montagu of Beaulieu was hunting for a decorative statue to embellish his Rolls-Royce. He contracted English sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes with this task. What Sykes returned with was a woman with her finger to her lips, and given the fitting name of ‘The Whisperer’, modelled after Eleanor Velasco Thornton. Thornton was an actress that also happened to be the Baron’s mistress, fueling the secretive nature of the statue’s name and design.

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The Spirit Of Ecstasy on a Rolls Royce Corniche. Author Jed CC BY-SA 3.0

Not wanting these modifications to catch on, Rolls-Royce went to Sykes directly for a statue that could be used on all of the brand’s models. Sykes presented an altered version of ‘The Whisperer’ to Rolls Royce renamed; ‘The Spirit Of Ecstasy’. This ornament has featured on every one of the companies cars since.

Since it was implemented, The Spirit of Ecstasy has been a target for thieves. On more modern Rolls-Royce models, the driver can choose to remotely hide The Spirit of Ecstasy with controls in the cabin that will retract her under the hood, out of sight. Sensors are also in place that can detect if an attempted theft of the ornament is taking place, which results in the car rapidly withdrawing her into her stowed position, denying access to the thief.

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The Story Of The Worst Plane Ever Built – The Christmas Bullet

On the 1st of September, 1865, William Christmas was born in Warrenton, North Carolina. Christmas graduated from George Washington University in 1905 as a Doctor of medicine, but his true passion was for aviation. Despite having no background in engineering or aeronautics, Christmas left the world of medicine and pursued a career in the relatively new field of aircraft design.

The Christmas Bullet.

Dr Christmas’s first plane flew in 1908, and after a successful flight, was destroyed to keep his creation a secret. The proof of this however, is purely anecdotal with no witnesses other than Christmas vouching for the events.

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