Miniature sculptures once adorned the hoods of a wide variety of motor vehicles, adding charm, character and cachet to the classic cars of yesteryear.
Originally these hood ornaments decorated radiator caps, but after the radiator caps were moved under the hood, these miniature works of art began disappearing for reasons of practicality and safety.
Florida Fine Cars took a dive into the past to look back at some of these beautiful works of hood art and their history.
Hood Ornaments Disappeared Due to Risk, Theft
According to Quora, there were several reasons for their demise:
- Bad for aerodynamics
- Projectiles in a crash
- Harmful to pedestrians
- Magnets for theft and vandalism
Today’s Rolls Royces are still adorned with the iconic “Spirit of Ecstasy” flying lady, but the hood ornament has been engineered so it retracts into the hood if someone tries to snatch it off.
Another classic hood ornament, the leaping cat that perched atop the hood of Jaguars for years, disappeared in 2005. The classic cat is still present, but in a flat emblem form.
“The Leaper” was retired from the hood as a measure to protect pedestrian safety due to concern over projectiles from motor vehicles that could occur in accidents.
Mercedes three-point star, once a hot item among teen thieves who resold the hood ornaments as status symbols, has been replaced by a flat emblem on the vehicles’ hoods.
“They just cut back on so many of the nice things that make a difference in automobiles,” said car collector and vintage auto buff Ted Vernon, the former star of the now defunct reality show “South Beach Classics.” “Cars are now just stamped out. They are all the same.”
Vernon is the owner of Ted Vernon Specialty Automobiles Inc. in Miami.
On this day Vernon strolls through his car storage warehouse, pointing out examples of the long gone hood ornaments that added elegance to the every day drive. Today many of them sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay.
Hood Ornaments Added Artistry, Beauty and Whimsy to Car Design
The hood ornaments were huge, heavy and most were made of chrome.
“I have a 1929 Bugatti and the hood ornament is a standing elephant with his trunk in the air,” Vernon said. “The Rolls Royces – if you try to grab the hood ornament (today) it disappears.”
He said Rolls Royce’s Spirit of Ecstasy flying lady hood ornament is “sacred” to the brand.
“You have to keep it,” Vernon said.
Several classics in his warehouse are old enough to have hood ornaments atop their radiator caps, which were located on the front of the vehicles’ hoods.
The hood ornament doubled as a radiator thermometer, and displayed a temperature gauge so the driver could make sure his engine wasn’t overheating.
The Boyce MotoMeter on the Ford 1929 Model A was both elegant and functional, as an example.
“It was set in the radiator cap. If it turned red, you knew you had a problem,” Vernon chuckled.
The old hood ornaments added a style and character that has disappeared from modern cars, he noted.
“It’s sad. They have lost their personality. I used to wait as a kid until the first new cars came out every year. They were all designed differently. They were works of art back in the 1950s,” Vernon recalled. “They run better now and the technology is better but they are not fun to be in anymore.”
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