Automotive brands are some of the most established, powerful and recognisable in the world. Emblazoned on the front (and back) of one of the most expensive single purchases we make, the best car logos become badges of pride, as well as signifying quality of design and engineering.
Many are over a century old now, but like all the best logos (opens in new tab) have stood the test of time and won a place in the logo design hall of fame (to make your own see our how to design a logo guide). Read on to discover the fascinating and unusual stories behind seven of the best car logos of all time...
Mercedes-Benz's three-pointed star is now a powerful statement of efficient German engineering and premium quality, but its roots are rather more charming.
In 1872, Gottlieb Daimler, technical director of petrol engine manufacturer Deutz, drew a star above his house on a postcard of Cologne and sent it to his wife, vowing that one day the symbol would adorn his own factory.
Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft trademarked that three-pointed star as its logo in 1909. Following a merger in 1926, the company was renamed Mercedes-Benz and acquired the Benz laurel wreath, which became a simple ring in 1933.
Mercedes-Benz doesn't just make cars, of course – and the three points are said to represent motorised dominance of the sea, air and land.
Enzo Ferrari first saw the prancing horse that would later adorn his eponymous sports cars on the side of a First World War fighter plane, flown by ace Italian pilot Count Francesco Baracca.
Baracca's parents urged Ferrari to use the symbol as his logo, to bring him luck, as they believed it had for their son. He did, when founding the Scuderia Ferrari racing team in 1929 – adding canary yellow to honour his home city of Modena.
If luck translates into profitability, it certainly paid off – nowadays, Ferrari-branded merchandise brings in almost as much cash as the cars do.
Count Baracca, however, was not so fortunate as he was later killed in action. As a mark of respect, Ferrari made the horse black – rather than red, as it was on the plane – to mourn the ace pilot that inspired the iconic logo.
In 1902, the Cadillac Automobile Company chose the crest of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, who founded the city of Detroit in 1701, as its logo. However, the plot thickens: 'Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac' was not in fact his real name. He took it at the age of 24 when he enlisted in the military, to give the illusion that he hailed from high society.
On his arrival in the New World, no one could check his true origins, and Cadillac assembled a coat of arms from various sources. The three coloured bands represent boldness, virtue and valour. The crest also incorporated a crown, a wreath, and a several Merganser ducks – a rather humbler creature than the prancing stallion above, or the pouncing big cat below.
Re-workings of the Cadillac logo in 1999, 2002 and 2014 lost the ducks and the crown in favour of a sleeker, more modern metallic shield.
Symbolising speed, strength and power, the leaping jaguar is a hugely distinctive and highly energetic addition to our list of iconic car logos. It is usually depicted in simple yet refined colours such as black, metallic grey and gold – intended to represent elegance, integrity and high-performance, as well as class and sophistication.
Until fairly recently, a highly distinctive jaguar ornament could be seen leaping from the hood/bonnet of classic Jaguar cars, but pedestrian safety regulations mean they are no longer permitted.
Swedish car manufacturer Volvo can boast another fascinating tale behind its logo, and it's one steeped in mythology and ancient symbolism. Its distinctive logo is the symbol of the Roman god Mars, long associated with war and weaponry – but also the alchemist symbol for iron, and masculinity.
Volvo needed a badge that lived up to its reputation for safe, sturdy and reliable vehicles, and adopted the circle with upward-pointing arrow in the 1920s. The name 'Volvo' itself means 'I roll' in Latin, although the association with wheeled vehicles is fortuitous. It refers to the company's original output: ball bearings.
06. Alfa Romeo
Even a quick glance at the Alfa Romeo logo implies there's a decent story behind it, and you wouldn't be wrong. While the red cross on the left-hand-side is the symbol of Milan, home of the Italian car maker, on the right it appears to have chosen a man-eating snake.
Otone Visconti, a knight from the former ruling family of Milan who fought in the First Crusades, is said to have taken the symbol of a serpent devouring a man from the shield of a Saracen he defeated in battle. Alfa Romeo, however, claims that the man is in fact emerging from the snake, purified and renewed, and the scene is a symbol of rebirth.
Sometimes the heritage behind a highly recognisable logo can be a little cloudy, as is the case with the 'bowtie' marque adopted by American car-maker Chevrolet. There are, in fact, three different versions of its origin story, from three different members of the family of its founder, William C. Durant.
Durant himself claims the design was inspired by wallpaper in a French hotel, and this version was upheld in Chevrolet's 50th anniversary publication.
According to his wife Catherine, a 1911 advertisement for 'Coalettes' fuel in a 1911 newspaper was actually the source of inspiration. Their daughter Margery disagreed, and argued that Durant simply sketched a nameplate design "in between the soup and the fried chicken" one evening.
Chevrolet itself now acknowledges the uncertainty, with its 100th anniversary publication stating the logo's true origin is unknown.
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