The History Behind Famous Auto Logos

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Legendary companies are known by their logos. Their logos are a distillation of the entire brand. Depending on the quality of a brand’s offerings, the logo can be a shield of reassurance for consumers.  Car companies are no exception. In a 2018 article, Forbes ranked the top 100 brands in the world by value. The list included 12 members of the automotive industry, trailing only the technology and finance sectors. A great logo can resonate with consumers and even have a cultural impact. Here are some of our favorites and the stories of how they came to be.

Ferrari

The “Prancing Horse” (Cavallino Rampante in Italian) against a yellow shield was in use well before Enzo Ferrari adorned his supercars with it. During World War I, Italian ace fighter pilot Francesco Baracca had the logo painted on the fuselage of his plane. Enzo saw the logo for the first time when he met Baracca’s parents after his death. The pilot’s mother encouraged Ferrari to use the logo proposing that it would bring him good luck. As usual, mom was right.

Jaguar

Originally known as Swallow Sidecars, Jaguar was formed in 1922. The original logo was a winged hexagon reading “SS”. After WWII the company felt the need to change the logo and ultimately the name considering the negative political connotations with the double-S. The company pivoted to the name of a model they’d produced in 1935 — the Jaguar. Since then, the pouncing jaguar of silver has been a British icon.  (We must admit, it was disappointing to see the classic hood ornament swapped out for the grill badge of today’s models.)

Lamborghini

Shields, Cloven-hoof animals, black-and-yellow colorways and Italian supercars are a can’t-miss combination. Ferruccio Lamborghini used this logo formula to great success in the branding of his company. The raging bull of Lamborghini is said to represent consistency, fortitude and power, it’s also synonymous with Taurus, the founder’s zodiac sign. Ferruccio Lamborghini was also intensely interested in Spanish bull-fighting. According to a 2015 Road and Track article, he paid homage to famous bulls with model names such as Aventador, Murciélago and Huracan.

BMW

There are two prominent theories on the creation of the German car maker’s logo. One claims the alternating blue-and-white quadrants of the BMW Roundel depict a spinning airplane propeller against a clear sky.  The case isn’t entirely baseless as the notion sprung from a Great Depression-era advertisement announcing BMW’s acquisition of the rights to build Pratt & Whitney plane engines. According to a 2010 blog by Stephen Williams of the New York Times, a tour guide at the BMW Museum in Munich set the story straight. She explained that the logo was not a depiction a spinning airplane propeller but was meant to show the flag of the Free State of Bavaria.

Mercedes-Benz

“The Best or Nothing.” The global slogan of the German luxury car manufacturer is simple but powerful. The same can be said for the companies iconic three-point star logo. The three points of the star are said to represent air, land and sea – a nod to the capability of his machines and their ability to dominate all three spaces. The laureate wreath encompassing the star was added after Gottlieb Daimler’s Mercedes merged with Carl Benz’s operation.

Rolls-Royce

There aren’t many logos or brands that exude excellence, luxury and quality quite like Rolls-Royce. The double-R logo is timeless, but the star of the Rolls-Royce brand is the Spirit of Ecstasy. Rolls-Royce produced top-shelf automobiles from the outset, but the absence of a hood ornament left customers asking wanting for more. As with any good business owner, they not only fulfilled the request, they over-delivered. Claude Johnson, the company’s managing director, commissioned sculptor Charles Robinson Skye to produce an ornament that displayed, “speed with silence, absence of vibration – the mysterious harnessing of great energy and a living organism of superb grace.” It was then that the Spirit of Ecstasy was created that showed a goddess relishing the experience of a luxurious Rolls-Royce.

Audi

The four rings of the Audi logo tell the story of a union with a sleek and simple design. Audi was a result of a merger to between itself and German auto manufacturers DKW, Horch and Wanderer to form a conglomerate known as Auto Union. With many German factories ceasing regular production during WWII, the Auto Union became all but extinct. 40 years later, Audi was the only member to emerge and still uses the four-ring logo.

Toyota

Today, Toyota is regarded as an automotive industry titan and even ranked ninth on Forbes list of most valuable brands in the world. The industry and the success the company has enjoyed have not always been the same. In 1989, Toyota unveiled its current logo in celebration of its 50th anniversary. According to the company , “the two perpendicular ovals inside the larger oval represent the heart of the customer and the heart of the company” while “the two perpendicular ovals inside the outer oval symbolize ‘T’ for Toyota, as well as a steering wheel, representing the vehicle itself.” The sentiment is nice, but the alternative theories are much more fun. Some speculate that the perpendicular ovals represent thread passing through the eye of a needle, a tribute to the company’s early days as a loom manufacturer.

Cadillac

The Cadillac company is named after famed French explorer and founder of Detroit, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. The logo shows the Cadillac family’s coat of arms. The three colors in the logo show boldness, virtue and valor. Moreover, a crown, a wreath and some ducks were part of the logo. The first big change was the removal of the ducks (or martins) form the crest logo. More recently, the company has opted to ditch the laureate wreath.     

A company’s logo serves as its face to the world is its face to the world. It only needs a quick glance to tell the story of a company or express its values.  

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