Hood Ornaments: American Classic Cars 1930s–1950s
When Car Emblems Made Bold Statements
Several decades ago, car hood ornaments were more than just emblems identifying car manufacturers—they were adornments that made bold statements.
History reveals that many hood ornaments were themed to reflect the most powerful (or modern) technology of the times—locomotives in the 1930s; airplanes, torpedoes & gunsights in the 1940s; and jet aircraft and rockets in the 1950s. These technology imageries coupled with several other stylized shapes and themes inspired a wide array of hood sculptures that still fascinate classic and vintage car aficionados today.
When the next county fair or antique car show rolls around in your area, take the time to visit. You'll be amazed at the display of immaculately kept (or restored) classic American automobiles sporting their original grills, trim and yep, you guessed it—beautiful hood ornaments.
In the meantime, take a "scroll" through this photo exhibit of several American car makers and their hood ornaments from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.
The Origin of Hood Ornaments
Early automobiles had their radiator caps outside of the hood and just above the grille. Since the exposed radiator cap occupied a prominent place on the vehicle, opportunities arose to transform it into an art form.
Hood ornaments (or car mascots as they are known in the UK) were especially popular in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s as a way of individualizing the car and representing an automaker's vision of their cars.
Buick Hood Ornaments Evolved Over Time
The Buick Motor Company was originally incorporated in 1903, by David Dunbar Buick in Detroit, Michigan. Later that year, the struggling company was taken over by James H. Whiting who moved it to his hometown of Flint, Michigan.
Throughout the years, Buick hood ornaments were characterized by stylized versions of:
- Female figures . . . Early 1930s
- Locomotives . . . Late 1930s
- Airplanes . . . Early 1940s
- Gunsights . . . Late 1940s to Mid 1950s
- Jetfighters . . . Mid to late 1950s
Cadillac Hood Ornaments With a Female Influence
The Cadillac Automobile Company was founded in 1902 and was subsequently purchased in 1909 by General Motors. Over the following 30 years, Cadillac established itself as America's premier luxury car.
Throughout the years, Cadillac hood ornaments were characterized by stylized:
- Woman with feathered wings . . . 1930s to Early 1940s
- Woman/airplane . . . 1940s
- Woman/rocket . . . 1950s
Chevrolet Hood Ornaments Emphasized Speed
In 1911, the Chevrolet Motor Company of Michigan was incorporated by Louis Chevrolet, a race car driver who eventually partnered with William Durant (original founder of GM) in 1915. Louis Chevrolet eventually parted ways but the namesake company grew to become General Motors' top-selling line.
In the early years, Chevrolet hood ornaments were characterized by stylized:
- Eagle . . . Late 1920s to Early 1930s
- Locomotive or locomotive/eagle . . . Late 1930s thorugh the 1940s
- Eagle/airplane and an Impala . . . Early 1950s
- Gunsights . . . Late 1950s
Plymouth Hood Ornaments Inspired By Sailing Ships
The Plymouth automobile was introduced in 1928 by the Chrysler Corporation.
From the 1930s to the early '50s, Plymouth hood ornaments were typically characterized by stylized sailing ships or schooners.
Pontiac's Powerful "Chief" Motif
In 1926, General Motors introduced a modestly-priced car line produced in Pontiac, Michigan (so named after a famous Ottawa chief).
So, it's no surprise that throughout the 1930s, '40s and '50s, car hoods would be adorned with sleek variations of a "chief" with head-dress motif.
Another identifying ornamental feature of Pontiacs were their "Silver Streaks"—one or more narrow strips of stainless steel which extended from the grille down the center of the hood.
I came across the photo below and was intrigued. But I can't find any reference to the model or year of this vehicle.
My guess? Since it's slightly reminiscent of some Pontiac "Chief" hood ornaments of the late 1940s and '50s. Maybe this one is a custom piece. Bottom line, it's a beaut!
What Are Hood Ornaments Made of?
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.
I Could See Myself Cruising Around in This ...
© 2009 Dee Gallemore