Mascots, or hood ornaments, served as a pillar of design in the early days of the automotive industry. Sometimes installed at the factory or added on at the time of purchase as a deluxe accessory, these pieces of art were an important element for brands. With every generation of vehicles, mascots became more streamlined and eventually disappeared nearly altogether in the 1960s.
Today, mascots are reserved for high-end brands that value their heritage and lineage. Rolls-Royce’s Spirit of Ecstasy is the most noteworthy in the auto community today because of its enduring design, and of course, the anti-theft mechanism that makes it disappear instantly. Mercedes is another brand that consistently uses its star ornament on the front of high-end models.
The most iconic mascots came about during the pre-war era in the 1930s. With high attention to detail, unique design, and a bit of risk-taking, here is the list of the Top 10 Most Iconic Mascots.
Three-Pointed Star, 1934 Mercedes-Benz 500k
The Mercedes-Benz 500k was introduced in 1934 and was more opulent and supercharged than the 380 it succeeded. With a focus on performance and luxury, the 500k rocked gorgeous coachwork, 160 horsepower, and an electrical system to run windshield wipers, door locks, and indicators. Although it was not the first Mercedes-Benz to use the now-iconic Mercedes star as the mascot, it’s the vehicle the automotive community has adopted for its heritage and scarcity. The combination of chrome horns on the front, linear grill treatment, flowing body lines, and the iconic star make this vehicle a showstopper.
Gold Spirit of Ecstasy, 1929 Rolls-Royce Phantom II
The Spirit of Ecstasy has graced the front end of Rolls-Royce vehicles since 1911. It remains an iconic symbol throughout the world, even beyond the automotive community. It was created by Charles Sykes, based on a statuette commissioned by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. In this Phantom, the Spirit of Ecstasy stands an incredible 7 inches tall and shines with a rose gold appearance that matches headlights and grill. Today the Phantom has a slightly smaller, updated appearance that gives a more modern look to the iconic sedan.
Flying Lady Mascot, Cadillac V-16 (Cadillac Sixteen)
Cadillac’s top-of-the-line model was launched in 1930 and was the first V16 powered car in the United States. Long, flowing hair was the feature of the mascot on the sixteen. Without the same commitment to design as Mercedes or Rolls-Royce, the woman mascot only stayed for about a decade, making it synonymous with the smooth V12 and V16 engines that Cadillac was known for. Without a reference to the mascot today, it remains a piece of history specific to the 1930s.
Elephant Mascot, Daimler Double Six 40/50 Walter Sport Saloon
The art deco Elephant mascot perched on the Daimler Saloon was designed by Frederick Bazin. Sharing more similarities to the Mack truck bulldog, the elephant brought another level of presence to the long front end of the vehicle. Custom-built for every owner, each one was unique to meet the specific demands of the buyer. With production ending in 1937, this vehicle remains ultra-exclusive due to its ultra-long front end design and short run.
The Pelican, 1937 Packard 1701 One-Twenty Convertible Victoria by Darrin
Without much-documented history, the Pelican was a shorter-lived mascot that lived on the convertible. With rumors out that Darrin (convertible builder) loathed the Pelican design, it remains iconic for this version. With a drooping neck reminiscent of a swan and wings stretch straight towards the sky, the design was beautiful and controversial. Packard also had the Packard Goddess among other mascots that adorned the front end of its cars during the era.
Greyhound, 1934 Ford Model 40
Ford’s son Edsel initially commissioned the design for the greyhound hood ornament, which was shared with Lincoln after bankruptcy and purchase by Ford. Ford adorned many of its models with the Greyhound including models 40, 48, and DeLuxe Fordor. Although the Greyhound was relatively short-lived during this era, much of the look and feel seems to influence Jaguar’s hood ornament throughout the years.
Torpedo Phaeton Hood Ornament, 1924 Isotta-Fraschini Tipo 8
The automobile was first introduced in 1919 and like many auto manufacturers at the time, the Tipo 8 was a bare chassis and engine, ready for coachbuilders to complete. The company was an Italian manufacturer and specialized in luxury automobiles. Although the information on the snake itself is scarce, it was a unique departure from the traditional likes of other mascots of the era. The model later followed the industry with a winged bird in place of the open-mouthed snake.
1933 Duesenberg SJ Weymann 'Fishtail' Speedster
Dusenberg was an American manufacturer of race cars and luxury automobiles. Although successful from a racecar perspective, the manufacturer struggled to market their luxury vehicles during the 1930s and was ultimately undercut by the Depression. The vehicle mascot that did come out of this era was a sleek interpretation of a bird and provided a unique ornament for the vehicle and roadmap for more streamlined ornament designs.
Radiator Wings Mascot, Ford Model A
Form and function meet on the front of the Model A. The wings were designed as a mascot but also served as the radiator cap with a thermometer to measure pressure. The wings span over 9 inches, making them a focal point. Going a different route than every other automaker made the radiator wings unique and a rare collectible today.
Flying B Mascot, 1930 Bentley 8 Litre
Adorned on the hood of Bentley’s most successful racing car, the Flying B mascot had the icon letter in an otherwise bland market of winged mascots. The Bentley 8 Litre was a completely new model and showed off iconic looks and a smooth engine. The Flying B mascot design has come and gone a few times throughout the years. Most recently, making a comeback in 2019, the Bentley Flying B mascot is now on all Bentley models.
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Photos by Scott Williamson/Photodesign Studios