Two things can help a car company to reach ‘iconic’ status.
First, its commitment to cutting-edge engineering and building vehicles that are at the forefront of the market. And second, its logo – that instantly identifiable symbol of automotive excellence that distinguishes it from the rest of the pack.
Vogue Man examines the best car logos and the stories behind them:
There is a popular misconception that the iconic blue and white badge of BMW (short for Bayerische Motoren Werke) symbolizes a spinning propeller. In actual fact, the logo – which dates back to 1917 – was inspired by the colors of the Bavarian Free State’s flag. The aviation connection comes from a 1929 advertisement in which the BMW roundel was incorporated into a propeller. At the time BMW had acquired the license to build Pratt and Whitney aircraft engines. The BMW logo has remained largely unchanged over the past century.
The Prancing Horse (or Cavallino Rampante) of Ferrari is arguably the most evocative of car logos, and so is the story behind it. The horse was originally painted on the side of Italian first world war fighter pilot Francesco Baracca’s aircraft. Enzo Ferrari was persuaded to adopt the logo for his racing cars by Baracca’s mother, who said it would bring luck. Ferrari placed the Prancing Horse on a yellow background (the symbolic color of his hometown of Modena). Under the rambunctious stallion are the italicized letters ‘SF’, which stand for Scuderia Ferrari. Scuderia is Italian for stable.
This British carmaker was originally founded in 1922 as a motorcycle sidecar business (Swallow Sidecars), but a year later shortened its name to SS Cars and began to fashion coachwork for chassis built by Fiat, Austin and other companies. It wasn’t until after the second world war that the company was renamed Jaguar Cars – ‘SS’ by this time was dropped for its unfavorable overtones to the Nazi party – and the famed jumping jaguar logo was created. It is meant to symbolize the company’s core values of grace, performance, power and the ambition to move forward. Jaguar owners were once able to order a bonnet-mounted ‘leaping’ jaguar ornament, until safety regulations outlawed this ornament. You’ll now find the motif on the boot and steering wheel hub.
The ‘Raging Bull’ is on many levels a fitting symbol for the Sant’Agata Bolognese-based supercar company. The most obvious synergy is that company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini was born under the Taurus star sign, but the connection runs deeper as the industrialist developed a particular fascination for Spanish fighting bulls after a visit to the Seville farm of breeder Eduardo Miura in 1962. Lamborghini subsequently decided to use the fighting bull as a logo for the car company he was establishing. The Lamborghini Diablo, Murcielago, Aventador and Huracan were named after famous fighting bulls.
The three-pointed star is a simple logo, yet it has greater recognition than arguably any other automotive motif. The story goes that in 1909 the sons of company founder Gottlieb Daimler recalled a postcard their father had sent to their mother. On it was a three-pointed star he said would one day shine over the factory and bring it prosperity. Daimler senior had apparently conceived of the symbol as a representation of Mercedes’ intended dominance over land, sea and air. From that point on the company adopted it as its logo (in fact, both three- and four-pointed stars were trademarked, but only the former was used). The three-pointed star was enveloped in a laurel wreath from 1926, which has since morphed into an unpretentious circle.
The very first Rolls-Royce cars weren’t adorned by the celebrated ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ figurine that has since become such an integral part of the brand’s folklore. The motif came about after many customers began fitting their cars with personalized mascots, some of which the Rolls-Royce top brass felt were inappropriate for the marque. Managing director Claude Johnson subsequently commissioned sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes to craft a more fitting mascot. The result was something the artist described as: “a graceful little goddess, the Spirit of Ecstasy, who has selected road travel as her supreme delight and alighted on the prow of a Rolls-Royce motor car to revel in the freshness of the air and the musical sound of her fluttering draperies.” We couldn’t have summed it up any better.