Thursday, 6 January 2011

Emblems of Speed: Vintage Automobile Mascots

"Mercury" ~ Buick Motor Car Co., 1931
Manufactured by Ternstedt

If necessity is the mother of invention, then design is undoubtedly its grandchild. The analogy is particularly apt when applied to the evolution of automobile mascots and ornaments. At the dawn of the 20th century, the 'horseless carriage,' which came to be known as the automobile, slowly crawled into being and with it, technological advancement - the age of progress and adventure had arrived. In those first few decades, the automobile became more than just a mode of transportation; it became a symbol of speed, modernity, novelty, efficiency, comfort, luxury and most of all, status - all of which were embodied in the sculpted hood mascots and ornaments which came to represent an automobile company's distinctive marques. 

For those wealthy enough to afford them, more often than not, luxury automobiles sported radiator caps associated with an automobile's marques - themselves hallmarks of fine automobile craftsmanship. But their existence came into being out of basic necessity: the first mascots were used to cover the radiator caps on early vehicles, which were outfitted with a temperature gauge (also known as 'motometer') to indicate to the driver if a car was in danger of engine overheating. Thus, mascots offered an elegant form of practicality to necessary functionality. Car manufacturers seized on the popularity of these early radiator cap ornaments and began to commission little mascot figurines from artists and sculptors to lend distinction to their models, perching them prominently on the hood of a car with the automobile manufacturer's logo obviously displayed. Soon enough, hood ornaments became highly sought after signatures of style and car owners began to seek customized creations from the likes of (jewellery) designers such as René Lalique and other artisans and sculptors to express their individuality. (The notion of a hood mascot is attributed to Lord Montagu who, in 1896, placed a bronze statuette of St. Christopher - for centuries the patron saint of travellers - on the hood of his 4-cylinder Daimler.) (Sources: Dean, F.,, undated;, undated; Top Gear Magazine,, 2007) 

A rare kneeling "Spirit of Ecstasy" ~ Rolls Royce

As new developments in car manufacturing progressed, the need for a temperature gauge was eliminated when water temperature gauges were mounted on the dashboard instead of on the hood of the car and radiators were put out of sight by being placed under the hood - and radiator caps were no longer needed. These changes in automobile design rendered the once-purposeful hood ornament completely decorative. Having lost its purpose, the mascot was now free to become an object of art - from the simple to the sophisticated - limited only by the creative imagination of artisans and creators. Mascots took on all sorts of forms: goddesses (and gods) of speed (both in naked and clothed form), sails, winged wheels, birds, swift land animals and later on, in the 1950s, when the jet age came into existence with popular air travel, aeroplanes and other symbols of streamlined speed were adopted. (Source:, undated)

Some of the best recognized examples of vintage ornamental mascots are Lincoln's Greyhound, Pierce-Arrow's Archer, and of course, Rolls-Royce's Spirit of Ecstasy. The work of sculptor Charles Sykes, the Spirit of Ecstasy was commissioned by Claude Johnson, Rolls-Royce's managing director, in 1911. It is generally thought that Sykes used Eleanor Velasco Thornton (secretary and rumoured mistress of car enthusiast, Baron Montagu of Beaulieu) as his model for Ecstasy. Eleanor Thornton is also thought to have been the model for The Whisper,  the mascot on Baron Beaulieu's Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. For his part, Sykes described Ecstasy thus: "A graceful little goddess, the Spirit of Ecstasy, who has selected the road 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." (Sources: Dean, F.,, undated; quote: Williams, B.,, 2009)

 "Spirit of Ecstasy" ~ Rolls Royce
Image courtesy of:

The age of the ornamental mascot came to an end more than forty years ago, in the 1960s, with its heyday long in the past. For the sake of pedestrian safety, American health and safety officials deemed the hood mascot too dangerous in 1966 (pedestrians hit by cars were being pierced and injured by mascots), followed more recently by European Union legislation which has banned hood mascots. On a more aesthetic level, most car manufacturers consider the notion of a mascot as something out of date and unfashionable.

Nowadays, only a few mascots are still in existence and are mostly found on the hoods of  luxury cars such as Rolls-Royce (Spirit of Ecstasy), Mercedes (Three-Pointed Star - symbolizing 'universal motorization' on land, sea and in the air since 1910), and Jaguar (Leaper - the leaping jaguar created in 1937 by artist and sculptor, Frederick Gordon Crosby, who also designed Bentley's Flying B); Dodge still uses the Ram on its trucks and has done so since the 1930s; now it appears affixed to the grill - the projecting image of durability and toughness. (Source: Dean, F.,, undated)

However, one surviving custom mascot maker is still in existence, a remnant of a once-glorious past: Louis Lejeune Ltd. Located in London, England, the small brass foundry was established by Emil Lejeune and his wife, Augustine, in 1910 as AE Lejeune (AEL). The foundry was taken over and renamed by Emil's son, Louis, in 1933. Then, in 1979, it was bought by Sir David Hughes - himself a well-known sculptor of heraldic animals and crests and run by his son, Tim, since 1998 - the company began to produce custom-designed mascots of the finest quality, using traditional materials and techniques once more (Lejeune Ltd. has crafted a pheasant for the Queen, a leaping frog for Princess Diana and a polo player for Prince Charles). (Sources: Williams, B.,, 2009; Top Gear Magazine,, 2007;, undated)

"Cinq Chevaux" by René Lalique ~ 1925
Image courtesy of:

Better known for his art glass designs of perfume flasks, vases and light fixtures - including panels for Europe's premier luxury locomotive, the Orient Express - René Lalique, one of the most distinguished glassmakers and jewellers of the 20th century, also turned his talents to creating unique automotive mascots that could be mounted on any vehicle. In fact, Lalique's elegant creations have come to typify the automobile's 'Golden Age,' created in a bevy of colours and finishes: satin, clear, frosted, and in tones of amethyst, amber, grey, blue and topaz.

It was not until the 1920s that Lalique designed and produced his first glass hood mascots (Cinq Chevaux  is a primary example) for Citroën, the French automobile company's 5CV model. In all, Lalique created 29 other mascots, all of them made of very high quality glass and mounted on special metal mounts - produced in two sizes, large and small, in England by the Breves Gallery - with the purpose of being illuminated at night; these are now highly collectible and often fetch prices in the thousands. 

Lalique's Renard (1930) mascot is probably the rarest, with only a few examples still existence today, and his largest (ten inches long) and most famous being Victoire or Spirit of the Wind (1928) which was used in the 1928 Paris Motor Salon, mounted on the Belgian-made luxury car, Minerva. The Tête d'Aigle, also created in 1928, was favoured by those in the Nazi regime, and fitted to Nazi officers' vehicles during World War II. (Sources: Benford, T.,, undated; Williams, B.,, 2009) 

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"Victoire" by René Lalique ~ 1928
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Although Lalique's mascots generally represented the swiftest animals and fowls in Animalia - swallows, eagles, falcons, greyhounds and horses, for instance - he also turned his creative hand towards the human female nude form (Vitesse, ChrysisSirène). (The difference between Vitesse and Chrysis is that Vitesse leans forward in the wind while Chrysis arches back, hands behind her head and streaming hair.) 

As with anything of value, pre-war Lalique mascots were copied and forged and it is rare to find an authentic Lalique glass mascot. But Lalique was not the only glassmaker to venture into the automotive field by creating mascots; mascots were also created by the British firms of Red-Ashay and Warren Kessler, Ernest Marius Sabino of Paris, and the American Corning Glass Co. of New York. Aside from his Victoire created for Minerva in 1928, Lalique produced mascots for other high-end manufacturers, including Bugatti and Bentley. (Benford, T.,, undated) 

"Hirondelle" by René Lalique

"Pintade" by René Lalique ~ 1929

"Tête d'Epervier" by René Lalique

"Coq Nain" by René Lalique
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"Comète" by René Lalique ~ 1925

"Tête de Belier" ~ 1928
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"Renard" ~ 1930

"Faucon" ~ 1925

"Vitesse" ~ 1929

"Sirène" ~ 1920

"Archer" ~ 1926

"St. Christopher~ 1928

"Lévrier" ~ 1928 
"Tête d'Aigle" ~ 1928

"Coq Houdan" ~ 1929

"Tête de Coq" ~ 1928

"Hibou" ~ 1931

"Epsom" ~ 1929

"Longchamps" (Version 'A' - Double Mane) ~ 1929

"Longchamps" (Version 'B' - Single Mane) ~ 1929

"Perche" ~ 1929

"Petite Libellule" ~ 1928

"Grenouille" ~ 1928

"Sanglier" ~ 1929
(Glass hood ornaments all by René Lalique and owned by Ele Chesney)
The above eighteen images are courtesy of:

"Perche" by René Lalique ~ ca. 1940

"Paon"  by René Lalique ~ 1928

"Chrysis" by René Lalique ~ 1931
1929 Stutz Lebaron

1931 Buick Series 87

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1955 Rambler Custom

1954 Dodge Royal

1936 Cadillac Series 40

1929 Packard Phaeton

1936 Buick Model 46

1947 Mercury
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1940 Chevrolet

1940 La Salle
Photographs by Jill Reger ~
The two images above are courtesy of:

Morris Minor 1000

The three images above are courtesy of:

The above five images are courtesy of:

1958 Bentley Silver Cloud
Photograph by Paul Bauke


1951 Pontiac

Photo by J. Le Moss
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1951 Pontiac

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1949 Pontiac Silver Streak
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1949 Pontiac Silver Streak
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1954 Pontiac

1954 Pontiac
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1936 Pontiac
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The two images above are courtesy of:

The above thirteen images are courtesy of:

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1938 Willys Aftermarket

1936 Pontiac

1946 Plymouth

1935 Pontiac Sedan
Photographs by Jill Reger ~
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1933 Buick Series 86 Victoria Coup

1942 De Soto Hot Rod

1947 Delahaye 135 MS ChapronCabriolet

1950 Ford

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air

1951 Kaiser Special

Buick Eight

Cadillac Sixty Special Fleetwood

1936 Delage D8 120 Chapron

1955 Jaguar Mark 7

1947 Lincoln Continental
Photographs by Kevin Hulsey
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(R. Lalique)

Packard's "Goddess of Speed"

1928-29 Pierce-Arrow's "Archer"



(R. Lalique)

Ford Lincoln Phaeton

1932 LaSalle

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Photograph by Brian Mullin
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1955 Cadillac mascot
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Pontiac Chief

1936 Pierce-Arrow's "Archer"

1933 Chrysler Imperial

1929 Buick


1956 Ford

1950 Chevy

1933 Pontiac

1934 Plymouth

1941 Chevy

1957 Chevy

The fifteen images above are courtesy of:

Photograph by John Roberts
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1946 Cadillac Fleetwood 75 Sedan

1949 Cadillac Series 62 Sedanette

1939 Cadillac LaSalle Coup
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1932 Chrysler
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Jaguar mascot ~ designed by Casimir Brau
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 Delage Greyhound ~ designed by Casimir Brau, 1929

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1938 Peugeot 402

1933-1937 Peugeot

1938-1949 Peugeot

1936-1938 Peugeot

1948-1958 Peugeot

1955-1958 Peugeot
(Source: Automobiles Peugeot)
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"Running Fox"

1960 Rover 100
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Suggested readings:

The World's Great Cars (1989), by Jeremy Coulter: Chartwell Books

The Car and British Society: Class, Gender and Motoring, 1896-1939 (1998), by Sean O'Connell: Manchester University Press ND

Brightwork: Classic American Car Ornamentation (2000), by Ken Steacy: Chronicle Books

Motor Car Mascots and Badges (2005), by Peter W. Card: Osprey Publishing

Classic Cars: 1931-1980 (2007), by Norm Mort: Crabtree Publishing Company

Classic Cars (2007), by Jeffrey Zuehlke: Lerner Publications

Hood Ornaments - Cars: Apart from the whole (2011), by Jill Reger: Blurb


  1. You might just want to drop me a line, I have far more images than you do on this site, and would be happy to share.

  2. Dear Ms. Strauss - thank you kindly for your offer. You do indeed have some beautiful images of vintage cars & ornaments, but I feel that the ones I have on here will suffice.

    Should they so choose, viewers have the option of seeing your images on your site.

    Ŧhe ₵oincidental Ðandy

  3. Emblem is the same as a symbol of a vehicle, is one of the distinguishing characteristic that should never be overlooked in a car.